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Teams that serve the business, such as Business Operations and Business Intelligence, are faced with a barrage of urgent requests and never-ending list of business-critical projects on a daily basis. How can teams control this chaos and ensure they work on the right things? Traditional project management can be cumbersome. Agile methodologies designed for product development don’t quite fit with this type of work. Or do they?
PagerDuty’s business teams have developed a lightweight agile process that helps teams move quickly, but intentionally. This process has four key tenets you can introduce to your teams for more effective planning: transparency, prioritization, breaking down work, and measuring progress.
The first step to adopting this lightweight agile process is visualizing all current and planned work in a single view. Before we introduced this process, our teams received requests via chat, email, or verbal conversation. Team members kept track of their to-do lists in their inbox, post-its, and shared documents.
We’ve since moved all requests to a single task management tool. The team can now see what everyone is working on, so work is not duplicated. Leadership also has better insight into what work is in progress. Having a single list of requests for shared visibility allows us to cleanly divide tasks in that list.
After you collect all requests in a single list, it becomes much easier to decide what is most important. There is always more work to do than there is time, so you need to make tradeoff decisions to ensure you’re spending time on the most valuable, high impact work. By regularly evaluating the comparative value of requests, you will optimize value delivered.
After you have decided what work is most important, break down projects into smaller pieces. This exercise will help you capture more requirements. Breaking projects into individual tasks also allows the team to work concurrently against a single goal. This will increase speed to delivery and allows you to measure progress.
Reliably predicting when work will be done is the holy grail of project management. Breaking projects down to consistently small tasks, ideally 1-3 days to complete, allows you to measure average number of tasks completed by the team per week, or throughput. You can use this metric to fairly accurately estimate when a given project can be completed.
For example, you break down a project into 80 similarly small tasks. You estimate this is only 80% of total project scope, expecting about 20 more tasks to emerge throughout the project for unanticipated requirements and stabilization efforts. You therefore estimate total project scope will be 100 tasks. If your team completes an average of 20 project tasks per week, you can predict this project will be completed in 5 weeks.
Look at project size and team throughput every week to keep a pulse on progress. If scope grows more than expected or team throughput changes, you can adjust project scope or estimated completion date to meet business objectives. Over time, teams will size and complete work more consistently and will get better at predicting completion dates.
To get the most out of implementing more lightweight, agile processes, frequent communication is key for teams to effectively coordinate and collaborate. Our teams meet weekly to get aligned on priorities. Individuals share what they plan to work on in the next week and raise dependencies or if they need any help. We check in on team progress metrics and adjust plans as needed.
This lightweight process helps teams coordinate their work, communicate status, and nimbly change plans when needed. The business benefits by keeping teams focused on the most valuable work. It is also possible for business teams to organize their work without a professional project manager or sprints. We hope that these tips enable you and your team to adopt best practice, agile processes for any project to maximize efficiency, transparency, and predictability!
This blog was co-authored by myself and Simon Darken. Once a year, PagerDuty’s SREs get together for a three-day, in-person offsite. With the team spread...
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