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4 years ago

How Timelines Help Project Managers Track Progress

... no matter if it's agile, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, lean, XP or some mix of these methodologies.

Project managers want to track progress in any software development project, small or large. Sometimes they want to track progress not only in one, but in many projects at a time, and they want to be able to do this fast and conveniently. A timeline is a a visual management tool that helps accomplish this. Let's take a closer look in which way.

Regardless of the software development methodology used, projects are meant to be completed. Always. However, at times project managers feel tied to by-the-book canons of Kanban (which is viewed by many as the best visual management system there is, but allows no time-boxing), or of Scrum (which has time-boxed iterations and releases but falls short with the visual part).  What if a project manager wants to get the best both of Kanban, as a visual board, and of Scrum? Obviously, if  projects have deadlines, one can not live by the classical pull and flow formula of Kanban only.

For progress tracking, Scrum allows only one visual report, called the burn down chart. When we want to keep an eye only on one project, such a report would probably be enough:

burn down chart

However, if many projects need a watchful eye of this one person, squeezing many burn down charts on one screen will not make the job any easier. Imagine how hard it would be to make sense of those charts arranged in a grid-like fashion. A project manager will likely want to see how projects correlate with each other, as it might be that the timing in one project affects the other projects. In this case, it would be sensible to drift away from the prescribed tool set of Scrum, and venture into the unknown land, fearlessly mixing sense of time (Scrum) with a neat visual representation (Kanban).  That's how this stylized mix looks as a timeline view for 2 projects (click to enlarge):

Timelines tracking for many projects

Work items in several projects on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

Such a visualization will fit a dozen projects into one screen, showing a project manager how all of them correlate with each other. This timeline has something more in store, than merely registering projects' health in terms of time. Unlike in the burn down chart, one will be able to zoom in on any work item in any project and see what's going on. This timeline bears a certain resemblance to Kanban board, because bugs, user stories and features are presented as cards stretched over time. At the same time, as in Scrum, the forecast will update depending on velocity (if one needs it done that way), and the timeline will show the latest status. If a project manager is in charge of several teams, that do several projects, this timeline will show when one can expect these projects to be completed:


A teams/projects timeline in Targetprocess3

A yet another snapshot of tracking progress with timeline. Here we have Features and User Stories (as in Scrum):Features visualized on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

User Stories inside Features on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

When someone pledges allegiance to Scrum, timelines offer a way to track progress with many iterations. Same for many releases, as opposed to clicking through single release and iteration plans one by one.
Track User Stories by Iteration on timeline in Targetprocess 3

Tracking progress/status for several iterations on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

As we can see, it pays off when we forget about practices that seem to be rigidly prescribed by a methodology. A methodology is nothing, unless it works for our purposes, and helps us do the work better and faster. These timelines can not be, scholastically, classified as belonging solely to Scrum as a method, or to Kanban. While classical Scrum only offers burn down charts for progress tracking, this is not enough when people work with many projects and want to keep their hand on the pulse of all of them. Classical Kanban, in its turn, allows no time tracking as a methodology (and as a visual board). I'm not even sure if what they call "Scrumban" would accommodate this representation with timelines. Frankly, I don't care how it's called. I only care if it works for project managers or product owners, or any other folks in charge of projects, and helps them do their work well. And I wish that people were more of a freethinkers, unpinning themselves from the methodology labels.

Care to take a look where one can afford being a freethinker and still work as a project manager? With no strings attached to Kanban, or Scrum, sticking only to common sense and convenience of work? It's here.

Related articles:

How Visualize: Board, List or Timeline?

Why Visualize?