Agile software development has become increasingly popular due to its flexibility, adaptability, and focus on delivering value to the customer. However, working out a development timeline for an agile project takes practice, skill and discipline, as it requires balancing flexibility and predictability to create the best environment for developing successful digital products.
In this context, it is essential to follow best practices to ensure the project is on track, on time, and on budget while delivering value to the customer.
In this article, I will introduce the best practices we follow at Remote for working out a development timeline and monitoring progress and include the most important three principles we employ then creating a product backlog, defining user stories, estimating story points, planning sprints, monitoring progress, reviewing and retrospectives, and iterating.
1. Create a Product Backlog: The first process we host when approaching a new project is creating a product backlog. This is a list of features and requirements the client needs to include in the first version of their digital product. It's called a product backlog; we consistently monitor and update it throughout the project.
- Involve stakeholders: We ensure we collaborate with stakeholders to identify the most important features and requirements to include in the product backlog. This ensures that the final product meets the needs and expectations necessary to prove our assumptions.
- Prioritise ruthlessly: We work carefully to prioritise the backlog based on each feature's value and impact on our customer’s business and the systems’ end users. This helps keep everyone involved in the project aligned with the goals as we focus on delivering the essential features first.
- Keep it up-to-date: We update the backlog at the end of every sprint as new information becomes available or priorities change. This ensures that the team can sustain their focus on always working on the most important items as the project progresses.
2. Define User Stories: Next, we define user stories for each feature in the product backlog. User stories are written from the user's perspective and describe their required functionality.
- Refine: We take time to create clear and concise user stories for every task in a feature. This helps ensure that the tasks focus on delivering value to the user.
- Include acceptance criteria: We define acceptance criteria for each user story to ensure that the team delivering each feature understands what 'done' looks like for that story.
- Involve the team: We collaborate to ensure everyone understands and agrees on the user stories. This helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page.
3. Estimate Story Points: Once we’ve defined user stories, we estimate the effort required to complete each story. This is done using story points, a relative measure of complexity, effort, and risk.
- Use relative sizing: We use the Fibonacci sequence to estimate story points rather than absolute numbers. This helps ensure that the team estimates based on complexity, effort, and risk rather than time.
- Involve the team: We collaborate to ensure everyone is involved in the estimation process. This helps to ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of the work and avoids misunderstandings and conflicts.
- Stay focused and disciplined: We ensure we spend only a short time estimating each task. The goal is to get a rough idea of the effort required, not to create perfect estimates.
4. Plan Sprints: We then plan sprints using the product backlog and estimated story points. Sprints are two weeks, and the team works to complete a set of user stories based on our velocity.
- Plan with a delivery view: We plan sprints based on what we can realistically deliver in the time frame rather than what we want to complete. This helps ensure the team is focused on delivering value and avoids overcommitment or rushing.
- Keep it flexible: We allow for flexibility within sprints to accommodate changes in priorities or unexpected challenges. This helps the team adapt to changing circumstances and deliver value.
- Involve the team: We collaborate to plan sprints, considering the teams’ capacity and expertise. This helps to ensure that the plan is realistic and achievable.
5. Monitor Progress: During each spirit, we monitor progress on a metrics dashboard showing our plan against actual story points completed. This helps us to stay on track and deliver value to the customer.
- Use visual management: We use a Kanban board and a dashboard showing key metrics to track progress and make it visible to the team. This helps to ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening and can identify any issues early.
- Hold daily stand-ups: We hold daily stand-ups to review progress, identify blockers, and ensure everyone is on the same page. This helps ensure the team is aligned and focused and can help one another achieve our sprint goals wherever needed.
- Use metrics. We also have a burndown chart to track progress over time and identify any trends or issues. This helps to ensure that the team is making progress and can identify any areas for improvement.
6. Review and Retrospective: At the end of each sprint, we hold an internal demo to showcase the completed work and get feedback. We then hold a retrospective to reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and how the team can work better together.
- Make it collaborative: We involve everyone in the internal demo process to get feedback and ensure that the final product meets our customers’ needs and expectations before a Show & Tell.
- Use data to support the review process. We use user feedback to help ensure that the feedback is based on facts rather than opinions.
- Celebrate success: We always celebrate successes and accomplishments during the review process to recognise the team's hard work and boost morale.
7. Iterate: We use the feedback from the internal demos, retrospectives and customer Show & Tell sessions to adjust the product backlog and plan for the next sprint. Iterate this process until we have completed all user stories and delivered a successful product.
- Continuously review and adjust the backlog: We continuously review and adjust the backlog based on feedback from stakeholders and the team. This helps ensure the backlog is always up-to-date and focused on delivering value.
- Plan sprints based on the backlog: We plan sprints based on the updated backlog, considering any changes in priorities or requirements. This helps ensure the team is focused on delivering the most valuable features.
- Use feedback to improve: We use feedback from internal demos and retrospectives to improve processes and practices. This helps ensure that the team is continuously learning and improving, leading to better outcomes.
By following these best practices, we can confidently and accurately work out a development timeline for our projects while harnessing the best practices in agile software development. This brings numerous benefits to our team and our clients. By creating a product backlog, defining user stories, estimating story points, planning sprints, monitoring progress, reviewing and retrospectives, and iterating, the development team works collaboratively, stays on track, and delivers value.
This approach allows flexibility, adaptability, and a continuous feedback loop, leading to better outcomes, improved quality, and increased customer satisfaction. By following these best practices, clients can expect a digital product that meets their needs, exceeds their expectations, and is delivered on time and within budget.