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The Epic Board – Get with the Programme!

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on October 6, 2009

The Epic Board has become somewhat of a local attraction over the last couple of weeks!

Aside from being the high point of a visit by a number of McKinsey Management Consultants (who apparently stopped to take pictures – no joke), the Epic Board also got the nod of approval from Howard Averill, CFO of Time Inc.

It’s at times like these that I am reminded of how far we have come with Agile Programme Management over the past few years.

I introduced the Epic Board as a programme management tool – a tangible release plan that can help you to plan software development programmes comprising multiple separate projects combined with Business As Usual Activities.

This task-board-like creation creates a cohesive and collaborative centre piece around which you can hold your Scrums of Scrums or your Programme Planning sessions.

Our Epic board has grown (to cover most of my office) over the last five months. It now tracks top-level deliverables (Epics, Milestones and Objectives) across seven separate teams, four divisions and two separate disciplines i.e. Web Development and Infrastructure Engineering.

It’s quite amazing how the introduction of something so simple could have such a profound effect on the way we define, monitor and discuss project delivery and resourcing.

If you want to know more, check out the Epic Board section of Agile101.

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Agile Epic Board – Epic Card Template

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on August 20, 2009

The Agile Epic Board is a Project and Programme Management tool – that is, in it’s simplest form, a tangible release plan.

Although I use this board to track our development programme across multiple products, teams and sprints, the Epic Board can also be a very useful project management tool.  See The Epic Board – An Essential Project Management Tool.

This concept can work at multiple levels – i.e. a tool to track the delivery of multiple Epics associated with a particular Theme OR the delivery of a number of Stories associated with a particular Epic or Minimum Marketable Feature (“MMF”).  Bear in mind this tool is used to track progress across multiple sprints – sprint specific delivery is tracked using a Task Board.  (See: The Difference Between Agile Themes, Epics and User Stories)

Due to popular demand, I’ve put together a simple, generic, template that you can use to produce an Epic Card and its component parts. Here it is!

Agile Epic Card

Here’s a snippet of the template, which you can download below. Note that it is sized to allow you to stick it to a 5″x8″ index card (if you should so wish!)

Title

This is the title of your Epic – just enough to act as a reminder of what it represents.

Theme

This elaborates upon the higher-level goal/objective to which the Epic contributes.  E.g. If the theme is to Increase Traffic, the Epic could be ‘Launch a Video Section on X site’.

Product Owner

Self-explanatory

Deadline

Some Epics will be deadline-driven, others will not be.

Description

A top-level overview of what this Epic is about – the main outputs etc.  It may include a sketch or dev notes etc.

Effort Points

This is a measure of the relative amount of effort required to deliver this Epic vs. other Epics using Story Points. You may use T-shirt sizing to establish this value. (See: Agile Estimation and the Cone of Uncertainty)

Value Points

This is a measure of the relative amount of value delivered by this Epic vs. other Epics using Value Points – You could also use the T-shirt sizing concept to establish this value. (See:  Value Points – Estimating the Relative Value of a User Story)

Score

In a sense, the point score could be looked upon as the ‘Profit’ delivered by this Epic – it is calculated as follows: Score=Value-Effort

This score helps with prioritisation at a top-level – it is not an exact science, just a useful little tool to drive conversation.

To Do List

This list acts as a reminder of what you need to deliver in order to ‘complete’ the Epic.

We use it in numerous ways – for example:

  1. A list of User Stories (not the full story, just a reminder) required to deliver the Epic.  We then differentiate between the ‘Must-Haves’ and the Nice-to-Haves’ OR we sub-divide by MMF.
  2. A list of products/sites involved in a plugin upgrade – we need to check each off as we test/release/upgrade them.

This template produces an individual card for each item on the To-do list – these cards can then be grouped into sprints on the Epic Board – (See: Introducing the Agile Epic Board – for pictures).

We re-visit this card at the end of each sprint (at the Programme-level planning session/Sprint Review) and check off whatever was completed.

You could also generate a release-level burndown chart off the back of the card without too much trouble. I might offer an upgraded version of this template that allows you to do just that – leave me a comment below to let me know if you’d like this, then subscribe to my RSS feed to be notified when I do.

For a more detailed view (and some photographs) on how to build and use an Epic Board, check out the Agile Epic Board channel on Agile101.

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Download: Agile Epic Board - Epic Card Template

Download: Agile Epic Board - Epic Card Template

 

agile-epic-board-epic-card

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The Epic Board – An Essential Agile Project Management Tool

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on July 25, 2009

thumbs_upI introduced the Epic Board as a programme management tool – a tangible release plan that can help you to plan software development programmes comprising multiple separate projects combined with Business As Usual Activities.  This task-board-like creation creates a cohesive and collaborative centrepiece around which you can hold your Scrums of Scrums or your Programme Planning sessions.

This concept helps to create visibility across teams and reduces the amount of documentation existing at a portfolio/programme level.  But, most importantly, it makes things easy!

Gone are the days where we all trudge into a room to review a stack of release plans/backlogs in hopes to join up the dots. Now, we all stand around one board and can see everything at a glance:

  • Which teams are likely to bottleneck in 4 sprints time?
  • Which teams have big milestones approaching that may impact another team?
  • Where are all of the dependencies between the teams?
  • How should we distribute the workload?
  • What have we delivered over the past few sprints?
  • Are we on track at a programme/project level??

It’s brilliant.

What I didn’t mention before was that this tool is also useful as a project management tool and even as a team management tool. You simply adjust the level of granularity to accommodate the situation.

The concept is simple.

1) You get all of your high-level objectives up on a board in order of priority

2) You build columns to represent sprints (add rows for multiple teams)

3) You arrange stories/epics/themes/objectives into sprints – it’s okay to have varying degrees of granularity represented, the closer you get to a sprint, the more detailed you can be (if you want to)

4) Feed requirements into teams via the Product Manager so they can discuss them at their requirements workshops

5) Once a team commits to a sprint at their Sprint Planning Meeting, adjust the board to reflect their commitment(s)- this sprint is now fixed.

6) Confirm what was delivered at the end of the sprint- check off what was successful/accepted

The objective is to get everything up there on the board so you can see what’s going on. There are so many different things you can do to improve visibility:

  • Mark it up with pre-agreed deadlines
  • Tag stories with post-its  to highlight an existing risk or impediment
  • Differentiate launch-critical deliverables e.g. different coloured cards/symbols
  • Use symbols or colours to group all cards associated with one theme or epic.
  • Once a sprint has been delivered, check off the cards and make note of the achieved velocity in the sprint box
  • etc…

Have a go, spread the word and send me pictures of your boards once you’ve created them – I’ll stick a few pictures up!

A few people have asked me to share some Epic Board tools and templates – Feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed if you’d like to be notified when these are added.

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Here’s ours Epic Board – it keeps growing… we’re not going to let a little glass wall stop us! :o)

Epic-Board

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