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Adrift in a Sea of Conflicting Priorities and Assignments? Here’s a Life Preserver!
By Damon Poole

Do you ever feel like things are out of control on your project, that you are adrift in a sea of conflicting priorities and requests? Do you suddenly find out at the last minute that you are the bottleneck and everybody is breathing down your neck asking you what is taking you so long to create the moveStuff() method but you had no idea that anybody even cared about moveStuff() or that you owned it? Do you ever find yourself in the exact opposite position, wondering why Sue and Bob didn’t get their stuff done that you need and then your boss walks by while you are surfing the net waiting for Sue and Bob? And who is Bob anyway?

The solution is simple! All you need to do is get everybody to move to MS-Project. Well, if you have somebody you can spare full-time to keep MS-Project up to date of course. Oh and I almost forgot, you’ll need to start using a requirements tool. But that’s it really, other than integrating them all together over the weekend and of course that’s assuming you’ve already gotten a CRM tool for workflow.

There is a simpler solution. It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t solve all problems, but it can definitely provide the following benefits:

  • reduce the chaos
  • increase your vision into where you are and what’s going on
  • reduce the number of status and/or project management meetings
  • reduce the need to provide the same information over and over again
  • simplify collaboration both locally and for distributed teams
  • provide a more Agile workflow

The answer is to reduce the amount of rework that you are already doing. Right now you are probably storing defects in a defect tracking system, enhancements (aka RFEs, requirements, etc) in a requirements management tool (usually Excel or Word but sometimes an actual RM tool), and if you are using a project management tool it is probably MS-Project. All three of these product areas evolved to provide different aspects of project management for different groups of people and as a result they have lots of overlap. Considering how hard it is to coordinate three different systems, why not consider standardizing on one system for most of the work? The only question is, which system?

If we are going to try to do most of our project management work in a single tool, we should first decide what the interesting activities are. I believe they are: recording enhancement requests and defects as they are gathered by marketing or reported by users, load balancing, estimated completion calculation, critical path determination, work assignment, workflow, and reporting.

First let’s consider how well suited MS-Project is for doing most or all of these tasks. MS-Project is good at taking a small static collection of large tasks and doing load balancing, estimated completion, and critical path determination. Thus, it is mostly used for the very narrow task of project management of enhancements.

Next let’s consider requirements management. For whatever reason, most people use Excel or Word as their requirements management tool instead of a “real” requirements management tool. Excel and Word are just not appropriate for project management.

Lastly, there is defect tracking. A defect tracking system covers the assignment, tracking, workflow and reporting of defects. There is usually a higher volume of defects than enhancements, and they are usually smaller in scope and have a more complicated and often more time critical workflow. If it works well for defects, it should work equally well for enhancements.

Based on this analysis, it makes sense to extend the project management that you are already doing with a defect tracking system to include enhancements. A generic name for something that is either a requirement, enhancement, or defect is “work item.” By using work items to track all work, it is easy to see where you are and what remains to be done. Now you can use a similar workflow for enhancements as you do for defects, for instance from newly entered, to triaging, to assignment, to test development, to completion, to test, to integration, to delivery. You can easily run a query to see which work items have their code written but do not yet have any tests. Similarly, you can see which work items are done from a coding perspective and have tests but have not yet been verified as done by QA. This will give you a much more complete view of your overall project status and progress.

Original article can be found here.

Whatever you are currently using for defect tracking it will be straightforward to start getting the benefits of managing defects and enhancements together. Just add a field that indicates if a work item is a defect or an enhancement. You may need to make a few more changes to accommodate a slightly different workflow for enhancements than you have for defects, but I think you’ll find it is worth the effort. For one example of how this can work, you can take a look at how AccuRev does it using AccuWorkflow.

Damon Poole is the founder and CTO of AccuRev, a leading provider of Agile Development tools. Eighteen years of software development methodology and process improvement experience spanning the gamut from small collocated teams all the way up to 10,000-person shops doing global development. Damon maintains a professional blog: Agile Development Thoughts. The Software Configuration Management Blog is AccuRev’s corporate blog.

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