Creating a Product Backlog — Story mapping

Creating an agile product backlog, story mapping

Story mapping is at the front of my mind because I have spent much of last week helping out a new agile team to use story mapping for their first agile project, as you can see above. Also, I attended a recent agile meetup (under the auspices of the Melbourne Agile Business Analysts group) that covered the topic…see further reading.

When people talk about agile story mapping, a lot of people refer to Jeff Patton’s The new user story backlog is a map blog entry from 2008. At the meetup, it was mentioned that Patton admits that he wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of visually representing a product backlog. He views it as a pattern rather than an innovation, as he puts it in his plog post:

I always remind myself of the litmus test for a pattern. If you explain someone a concept and they say “what a cool idea!” it’s not a pattern. But if they say “we’re doing something like that too!” it’s a pattern. I’ve seen this often enough now that I believe it’s a pattern. – Jeff Patton

“Back of the door chunk priority list”

Here’s a war story about an agile product backlog that was created back in 2006 which is something like what is now commonly known as story mapping. I can see some aspects of the story mapping pattern in the way the backlog was assembled on that project. At the time, I didn’t really have a name for it, but if forced to name it now, it would be, “Back of the door chunk priority list”. Catchy, eh?

Continue reading…

Agile wallboards

The Ultimate (Agile) Wallboard Contest, screen cap

Do you have a space (some call it a Dashboard) where people can see what’s going on with the project or projects that are being worked on at any given time? If  you do, you might like to wander over to The Ultimate Wallboard site that showcases some agile wallboards as part of a competition.

A couple of other sources include:

Here are a couple of agile wall boards that I’ve created over the years, and also some Pro Tips about creating effective agile wallboards.

Multiple Projects

The first one tracks the progress of multiple projects. I called it “The Radar”, based on an air traffic metaphor. I had originally planned to have a circular radar display, but instead settled on a more trad design, so it’s actually more of an Arrivals Board, than a radar.

The “On Radar” column show projects that are registering on our sensors. The fluorescent stars indicate new projects or those that have a changed status. Those projects that have a developer assigned to it, have that dev’s smiling face stuck on it. Those that have a start date, get shunted into their own little “Scheduled” area that  you can’t see on this photo, as it hadn’t been added yet 🙂

The “On the Go” column was originally called “On Approach”, as in the plane is coming in for landing but the team wanted to change that, so we changed this to “On the Go”. These are projects that are being actively worked on.

“Landed” indicates those that have all the features coded and the website is now being tested…the plane is taxiing to the terminal.

“At Gate” – the plane is at the gate. All we need to do now is to get the passengers off and their bags unloaded. In web terms, it’s all signed off and live. Don’t forget to invoice the client!

The whole thing was on a wall covered with IdeaPaint, dry erase/whiteboard paint, so I’m not sure why we have a mini whiteboard in the photo. We used index cards and Blu-tack, as the IdeaPaint surface isn’t great for sefl-adhesive notes.

Agile wallboard for upcoming project pipeline, and those in progress

Project timeline

The wall below is less of an “information radiator” and more of a “big, visible chart” than the Radar in the sense that it wasn’t used to keep track of a project or projects on a day to day basis. Rather, it was part of a retrospective of a 18 month project.

Agile wallboard Mega timeline

Agile Wallboard retrospective timeline detail

I sticky taped together several (at least 10) flip chart sheets and used copious amounts of blu-tack to stick the paper on top of the board that we used for our day to day task wall that you can see at the bottom of this section.

The sticky notes were things that happened over the timeline of the project, grouped together and discussed. Little coloured dots were placed on the sticky notes to indicate whether the events were positive or negative impacts on the project. The notes were

The little figures showed when team members joined the project and the wiggly lines at the bottom were an indicator of the energy levels of team members over time.

Scrum sprint backlog

This agile wallboard is a Scrum Sprint backlog. It all pretty standard, in that it has the Stories in the left column, with columns for tasks for each story, and a column for Done Stories at the right. You can also glimpse a Sprint Burndown on the whiteboard on the right. The items on the left that have yellow Post-It notes on them are the Product Backlog for the project. I used a system called a “Cold, Warm, Hot list”, that I wrote more about at on this posting about Story Mapping.

This board was on a large notice board, so we used push pins/thumb tacks to pin the cards to the board.

A Scrum Sprint backlog agile wallboard

Agile wallboard Pro Tips

Here’s a few things to think about:

What do you want to know?

Don’t just stick some Post-It notes on the wall and think that’s it. Think about what it is you want to visualise and what information you want your team and your colleagues to come away with.

It’s good to be neat

Neat and tidy is good. If  your wallboard is full of illegible scrawl and items that are just slapped up haphazardly, the value that is derived from it is diminished.

  • use block letters that are big enough to be seen without a magnifying glass.
  • Similarly, don’t use an 6H (very light) pencil. Use a dark coloured pen, or a fine (or chisel) tipped marker.
  • a lot of laser printers can actually handle index card stock. Printed index cards are very visible and look very neat.
  • If your board has dividers, it’s a good idea to make sure they are straight by using a ruler, if you are drawing them.
  • You can also use ribbon, string, or masking tape. The latter is good if you have walls that you are trying minimise the damage on.
  • Do a regular tidy up on the board and align the cards, and make sure redundant cards get removed

Make sure everyone knows what it means

  • Think about having a little typed explanation of what the board is meant to be conveying, and put it somewhere near the board. This way, if someone from outside your team comes to have a look, they can figure out what it is the board is about.
  • It’s not useful, if no one can see it. Put the board somewhere that can be easily accessed.
  • It there are any general policies for the board…make them clear. For example, on a kanban board, make sure that the Work in Progress limits are visible.
  • Use visual cues such as arrows or numbering to indicate the flow of a wall.
  • Use visual cues such as colour coding.

It’s not just one person’s responsibility

Make sure that the board is the whole team’s responsibility. Otherwise, there’s a danger that the only person that uses it, is the person who set it up.

  • Get some help setting up the board, and get the team to make suggestions about what is useful to them.
  • Use avatars to assign team members to different items on a board.
  • Inspect the board regularly. Before, during, or after a daily stand up is often good. Sometimes, the end of the day might be good, or before a planning meeting. In any case, try and establish a routine.
  • Every so often, check to see that the board is still useful. If not, change it or try something else.

Have you got any other tips for a useful agile wallboard?