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How we do it: Visualizing sprint planning with Span™ Workspace

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on Jun 19, 2019 6:00:00 AM
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Assumptions – we make them all the time, yet every agile developer knows how they can derail progress, often at the exact time when sprint deadlines are looming. For our agile development teams at Nureva, using the sprint planning process to dodge this issue is a priority.

“We talk a lot about being specific and complete,” says software developer Rikki Prince. “Sprint planning goes badly when we’re vague. The good times are when we’re really tight and specific about as many tasks as we can.”

But getting clarity before the stories are handed out isn’t easy. That’s why we put a lot of effort into sprint planning – and why Span Workspace is our go-to solution to get it right. A visual collaboration platform like Span Workspace gives teams the space and tools they need. Here’s one example from Rikki and his teammates – involving a prototype, a flexible canvas and asynchronous collaboration.

How it worked

The challenge? A project with a complex set of deliverables and a tight timeline. This is how one team got past uncertainty and achieved sprint success.

Creating a prototype

When the team got together to scope out the work – and create a plan to deliver it quickly – they knew there was no room for vague assumptions. So the first step was to create a comprehensive working prototype.

“We wrote code that worked well enough but hadn’t gone through the required rigor to go into production,” Rikki explains. It was an excellent reference point for coming up with the actual tasks and stories, but a lot of planning was still needed to turn prototype into product feature. “We needed a way of taking everything that was done in the prototype, figuring out the components and then breaking it down.”

In other words, they needed a flexible tool to turn that learning into action. Luckily, that’s exactly what Span Workspace is designed for. Rather than trying to create a mental picture of all the prototype elements and then add stories directly to Jira® Software (and then again when things were inevitably missed), the team pulled out a Span Workspace canvas.

Visualizing sprint planning with Span Workspace

Mapping the work

They began by using digital notes to break down the prototype into a huge number of specific tasks. Span Workspace helped them take advantage of every team member’s expertise.

“Each person was responsible for a particular part of the prototype and knew it very well,” explains Rikki. “When one of us went into the canvas, we filled in the details for our particular component.”

Time was tight (isn’t it always), so the team worked on the canvas individually whenever they had time. “We didn’t have to set up a meeting when everyone was available and wait for it (and then have people come late and wait even longer),” says Michael Phi, the team’s software test developer. “There was none of that. Whenever we were free, we could go to the canvas and pop in items.”

Span Workspace kept everything organized. “We created groups for each component that was prototyped,” explains developer Konrad Wisniewski. “Then we went through the code and for each major change, we created a note.” The team set up color-coded groups so visualizing would be even easier.

Vertical groups tracked the work for each component, while horizontal space captured other aspects of the work. “We all put in the coding tasks, and then Michael would visually line up which types of testing had to happen for each part,” says Rikki.

When there were areas that were still unclear – even after prototyping – they captured that, too. “We made sure to mark them in big letters on the canvas: DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!” says Michael.

Organizing the details

The notes were in, the groups were filled – now refinement was needed. “We could consolidate and organize things a little bit more to make it more coherent,” says Michael.

“I took a look at the whole canvas, now that we had it filled in, and grouped the tasks into stories that would each deliver a chunk of value,” Rikki says. It was simple to create new groups as needed, duplicate or edit notes and drag them where they belonged.

With some input from the team and more organization, Rikki took the last step and added everything to Jira Software.

Why it worked

The team attributed much of the success of this project to sprint planning with Span Workspace. Here’s why:

Visualize everything

Jira Software is great for managing sprint details – but seeing the big picture is not easy. “In Jira, stories are linked together but each opens in a separate tab or browser window,” says Lakshya Tandon, another developer. Teams can drill down to a high level of detail, but it’s hard to see tasks in the larger context.

Span Workspace’s large amount of digital space and flexible notes and groups make it easier to picture how the details come together. “We can see if one story is much bigger than another story, and if we need to rebalance things we do,” says Rikki. This means that by the time stories are sent to Jira, they are better understood – both as discrete bits of work and in the larger context of the product. “Using Span Workspace to plan and visualize really helped us.” 

Keep it simple

Using Span Workspace at the planning stage also keeps things simple – which in turn keeps the team working together. “It’s quick to set up, quick to invite the team to a canvas – and then we’re off,” says Rikki. “It’s nice that it’s so slick.” Getting started is hassle free, which means there’s nothing to distract from teamwork.

Simple tools also keep people from overcomplicating things at the beginning. “With the character limit on notes, you can read it in two seconds and understand what it means,” says Michael.

Using Span Workspace to map agile stories and tasks

Collaborate how you like

Though Span Workspace is designed for real-time collaboration, it works equally well when the work is asynchronous. “We sat at our desks and looked over the canvas when we had time,” says Konrad. “If we saw something missing, something that we forgot, we could add it or take what someone else wrote and modify it a little bit.”

Using digital tools also meant that collaboration could happen anywhere. Whether a developer was in the office or working from home, he had the same ability to contribute. (And if the team had remote members, like some of our other scrum teams, it wouldn’t have been any different.)

Span Workspace made it easy to draw on everyone’s insights. “It’s a lot better than one person sitting down and planning everything, handing it over and asking if it’s good,” Konrad adds. “We can all slowly make it better and better.”

Get everything you need

Everything the team needed to convert prototype to project was on hand in Span Workspace – notes and groups, for sure, but other tools as well.

“We can import PDFs,” says Lakshya. “All the prototype details were in a high-level design document, which we could add to the canvas.” The sketching tool in Span Workspace also came in handy.

Best of all, everything was in the same place and accessible on any device. There was no need for paper printouts or sticky notes. “Plus, we don’t really have any wall space in our area anyway,” says Michael.

Asynchronous teamwork with Span Workspace

Adjust and iterate

“There were many iterations of the canvas,” says Michael. “We made mistakes, replaced our notes with new text, organized things, changed colors.” Span Workspace made it easy to stay flexible while the team was still unsure of exactly what they needed.

Span Workspace also helped the team work in any order. “In Jira, you have to create a story first, and then you can create the tasks inside it,” says Rikki. “Span Workspace really helped with this particular project because we could create all of the tasks and then group them into stories.”

The results

The outcome of this planning approach was clear. “The two sprints after this were the best running sprints we’ve had since I’ve been here,” says Rikki. “Our burndown chart was near perfect for both.”

The team attributes the success to two things – making a prototype and using Span Workspace to capitalize on that effort. “We were able to group and design stories in a way that let us work quickly and smoothly,” he adds. “Using Span Workspace for planning was really excellent. It worked really, really well.”

And that’s just the beginning. Our scrum teams also use Span Workspace to make sprint retrospectives more collaborative and efficient – get the details.

Topics: Agile Span Workspace Scrum Sprint Planning