How Agile board makes my life easier

I’m going to show you how I personally use the Agile board in YouTrack to visualize, track and manage my own marketing activities.

How we do it at JetBrains

Every JetBrains product has a dedicated Product Marketing Manager (PMM), and for YouTrack, it’s yours truly. As part of the product team, I’m involved in the development process and I participate in daily stand-up meetings and discussions.

As a PMM, I use the YouTrack Agile board in two different ways. On the one hand, I refer to the development Agile board to stay aware of what’s going on with the product so I can write about new features and enhancements and prepare for new releases. On the other hand, I run my own marketing activities not directly related to the product development.

How my personal Agile board is organized

Product marketing tasks are a part of the Marketing project in our internal YouTrack instance. They are divided among the different products via subsystems, and my subsystem is called (take a guess) YouTrack Marketing. That’s what I use to filter my tasks on the Agile board.

So my general Agile board settings look like:

1. Project: Marketing

2. Query: Subsystem{YouTrack marketing}

3. Visibility: my board is visible to anyone who has access to the Marketing project.

Here’s what the Agile board settings look like:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 15.52.31

My sprints normally last 3 months and I refer to them as seasons: Spring 2015, Summer 2015, Fall 2015 and Winter 2015. Some people call them quarters but seasons sounds much more romantic, doesn’t it?

On my Agile board I use these states: Submitted, To be discussed, In progress, Wait for Reply, and Fixed. States are completely customizable in YouTrack as you may know. Just keep in mind that when you add a new state to your board, it’s automatically added to the set of states for the whole project.

I use swimlanes to organize my tasks, identified by Feature and Campaign issue types. For example, ‘Release YouTrack 6.5’ is a big Campaign for me, so I use it as a swimlane and place all release-related tasks under that swimlane. Often I create Features and Campaigns just to organize the tasks inside them and to gather general results as well.

YouTrack Agile board

In my usual workflow, when I create a task for myself or someone else, it starts off as Submitted. Our marketing tasks are often discussed with the product team, the design team and/or the marketing leader. In this case, the task moves to the To be discussed state. If no discussion is required, the task goes directly to In Progress when me or other person starts to work on it.

When a task involves some communication with a customer or a third part outside the company, there may be some Wait for Reply. Finally, when completed, the task becomes Fixed. Done may be a more accurate term for marketing tasks, but we are a software development company so that’s that :)

I normally prioritize my Features and Campaigns from top to bottom. It’s all about milestones so I try to complete urgent tasks first. However, I normally work on several Features at a time.

How Agile board helps me track my tasks

My Agile board gives me great visualization. I see all my current and planned tasks in one place, along with their states. Not just the tasks I personally work on, but also those I’ve assigned to the design team, the web team, the research team, etc. to complete a large Feature or Campaign.

Second, my Agile board shows me my progress at a glance. The Progress bar shows, as a percentage of the total, how many tasks have been completed and how many are in progress. It is a ready indicator of how realistic my plans and estimations are. I also use the Progress bar when I want to add a new task to the board.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 14.06.24

 

 

The total number of tasks inside each column gives a good understanding of my current state as well. I don’t limit my WIP (Work in Progress), as it might involve multiple resources and even teams. Still, I try not to accumulate more than 5 tasks In Progress for me (meaning those that I’m working on personally). If more than 3 tasks accumulate inside the Wait for Reply column, that is a signal for me to ping their Assignees.

Although we are not currently using time tracking at JetBrains, it may be useful to estimate your tasks and track your progress. Maybe not in actual hours, but at least in some ‘units.’ YouTrack Agile board offers lots of support for time tracking. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll be sure to shed more light on this area of YouTrack for you.

Using Burndown and Cumulative Flow

I use Cumulative Flow more often than the Burndown chart, as it gives me two things: 1) an indication of whether my process converges in this sprint and 2) an additional view of how my tasks are currently distributed. For example, I have one week left until the end of this sprint. Most of my tasks are fixed, which is good. However, I still have 7 tasks Submitted that I won’t start working on in this sprint. So my plan is to finish the tasks that are In progress, To be discussed; ping Wait for Reply assignees; and move the 7 Submitted tasks to the next sprint.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 14.49.50

 

I use the Burndown chart from time to time to check how much my progress diverges from the ideal, just to motivate myself. I think using the Burndown is more valuable when you estimate your tasks and track real progress.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 14.48.58

 

From one season to another

I keep trying to complete all the tasks I plan inside one season. But honestly speaking, there’s always something left. A good result is if only 10% of my tasks are left incomplete on the board.

Normally, I create the next sprint in advance, for planning purposes. When the current sprint ends, I review the tasks left over. If any tasks related to a specific milestone have become obsolete, I mark them as such, and move the relevant ones to the next sprint. YouTrack nicely suggests this option automatically when you create a new sprint.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 14.38.14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

This is my personal experience with Agile boards in YouTrack. Should you adopt the same practice? I think you may want to, if any of the following situations apply to you:

  • You have plenty of tasks to work on and manage, i.e. you have your own responsibility zone; OR
  • You need to set and manage tasks for other people from different teams but you’re not their manager, i.e. you are just using shared human resources like a web team, design team, research team, etc; OR
  • You work on a personal project or are responsible for a part of a project with multiple iterations.

Your comments and feedback are very welcome here! I’ll be glad to provide more details if you’re interested.

If you’d like to try a personal Agile board and your company isn’t using YouTrack yet, consider getting your cloud-based YouTrack, which is free for 10 users.

 

 

About Valerie Andrianova

Valerie Andrianova is YouTrack, Hub and Upsource Product Marketing Manager at JetBrains. Her professional interests include issue & bug tracking, project and task management, agile methodologies and team collaboration. Apart from work, she cannot imagine her life without live music, quirky books and lattes with those cute little foam hearts.
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8 Responses to How Agile board makes my life easier

  1. This might be a bit off-topic, or too philosophical, but it relates to the usage of an issue tracker with “agile” features. I love YouTrack (I’m a paying customer for the Cloud version) but I don’t figure out how it solves the problem I encountered with Jira when it comes to synchronize the PostIt®s and the corresponding issues in the issue tracker. I mean: PostIt®s are great for physical interaction and teaming, but they mean a lot of un-agile manual synchronization if you want to keep the issue tracker up-to-date. We also trive live sessions of drag-and-dropping issues, but this turns everyone’s brain into a passive “TV watching” mode. Scrum coaches have no answer for that (except “be creative!” or “stop complaining!”) What is your approach at JetBrains’?
    Thanks for this article, it’s nice to share those things.

    • Valerie Andrianova says:

      Hi Laurent!
      Thanks for raising up a good question. I can say that the process varies for different products at JetBrains (we have a plan to publish more posts covering this topic in future). However, in YouTrack team we don’t normally do drag-n-dropping tasks on daily standups, we look at the board to see the current progress and discuss the bottlenecks when we detect them. The good thing is that stickers on the board already represent real task (issues) the team is working on, so we don’t need to synchronize them. By the way, it would be great if you would like to share your experience with YouTrack.

  2. Andrea Sciamanna says:

    Life would be way easier with Agile boards if you would only start adding the Statuses grouping feature (which I voted, so no need to ask me to do it).

    At the moment, Agile boards are unusable, unless users reduce their projects statuses to a very small amount, which however would make handling ticket’s workflows a nightmare.

    • Valerie Andrianova says:

      Hi Andrea,
      Thanks for your feedback. I think it really depends on your process. I consider a physical board to be a prototype of an electronic board, and on a physical Agile board you normally don’t have too many columns. However, I realize that these columns may not match your states in the issue tracker, so your feature request does make sense.

      • Andrea Sciamanna says:

        Hi Valerie,

        That’s exactly the point.

        We have our development projects filled with statuses controlled by a state machine workflow.
        So users never see all the statuses, but we do need them to properly control the ticket’s workflow.

        But we also need an agile board which show ticket’s based on “macro statuses”. e.g. Open (Open + Reopened), Submitted, In Progress (which contains many statuses), Resolved (again, many statuses).

        So the board would look like a physical board, without giving up the more granular statuses.

        I do see the technical problem here for JetBrains: moving tickets from one grouped status to another won’t allow to change it’s status, but in this case it would be enough to show a dialog asking what status to set, right?
        So not really the end of the world.

        By the way, is anyone is interested, this is the ticket: https://youtrack.jetbrains.com/issue/JT-16965

        Vote, vote, vote! (looks like voting is the only way to get a feature, regardless it does or not make sense).

        • Valerie Andrianova says:

          Hi Andrea,
          Thanks for the details, I’ve got your point and it does make sense. By the way, I’ve got a workaround for you :)
          1. Create additional field of state type for your grouped states on the board.
          2. Choose this field to be used as columns on your Agile board.
          3. Create a workflow that will associate your real states with the Agile board states.
          I haven’t tried it yet, but looks like a way to go. Please let me know what you think.
          Thanks!

  3. Hi Valerie, this is very off-topic, but i can’t find other way to get help :)
    I did some changes in my agile board and since of now the avatars simply don’t appear more!
    I changed all configurations, delete and include issues again, i created other agile boards, but all tasks have the same problem the avatar doesn’t show on the boards.
    Please help me :)

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