From the MVPs: Managing an agile backlog with Team Foundation Server 2012


From the MVPs: Managing an agile backlog with Team Foundation Server 2012

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Here’s the 16th post in our series of guest posts by Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs). (Click the “MVPs” tag in the right column to see the rest.) Since the early 1990s, Microsoft has recognized technology champions around the world with the MVP Award. MVPs freely share their knowledge, real-world experience, and impartial and objective feedback to help people enhance the way they use technology. Of the millions of individuals who participate in technology communities, around 4,000 are recognized as Microsoft MVPs. You can read more original MVP-authored content on the Microsoft MVP Award Program Blog.

This post is by Claude Remillard.

We have been using Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS 2010) for a couple of years to manage the development of our InRelease product. We upgraded to TFS 2012 not too long ago and as a Product Owner, I must say that I am thrilled with it!

There are a number of features in the interface that help you perform most of the Product Owner functions in a much easier and more natural way.

In previous versions I could create queries in Team Explorer or use the Excel integration to manage our backlog. I can still do that in 2012, but the out-of-the-box experience is so good that now I just use the vanilla template and I am good to go.

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I can manage my backlog priorities by dragging and dropping the PBI (product backlog item) from one position to another on the list and TFS 2012 will manage the priority numbering automatically for me. I can also move a PBI to a given iteration just by dragging it on the iteration or right-clicking to get an option to reclassify it.

Also, I can predefine the iterations with start and end dates, and the system just adjusts to it. This makes release planning easier to accomplish. If you set your forecast to ON at the top of the screen, you can enter a planned velocity and TFS 2012 will show you what fits in each planned iteration you have defined. This is very useful for planning the next iteration and for when you have grooming discussions and you do what-if scenarios with the team and other stakeholders.

During grooming I can also easily add new PBIs with a purpose built box that you can toggle on or off. I find that the backlog is much easier to work with when I sit down with the team and we use the tool as we go (rather than waiting to update the decisions with the team waiting).

Tracking the sprint with the task board is probably the best aspect for the team, and it’s very useful for me to see where they are without becoming “noise”—I am always interested in that! With the new task board you can easily see the status of every task, add new tasks with the touch of a button, and drag and drop to change task status—all grouped by PBI.

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Those are great, but the change goes beyond the improved user experience to manipulation of tasks. What I’ve found is that the team uses the board all the time and seems a lot more conscious of the “PBI” context of their work, which is more conducive to closing PBIs as opposed to just closing tasks.

Having the sprint burn down as a constant reminder in a small format in the corner of the board is also conducive to “context awareness.” The fact that you can click to view it in more detail is intuitive and fast. Very well done!

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Anyways, the net effect of the new agile board for our team is that it provides us with a common view of the world (well, our world)—not one for the PO and another for the team—and it helps us focus on our product and not so much on our process and tools because it meets our needs right out of the box.

I believe agile teams will just love it. I know we do!

  • Most of the other major Agile tracking tools such as Rally and VersionOne have been able to do this for years. It's nice to see Microsoft finally coming into the 21st century with this update, but they still have a long way to go to make this tool as accessible and user-friendly as the software leaders in this genre.

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