Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Agile Planning with MindGenius


Mind mapping techniques can be applied to Agile planning concepts in addition to traditional project management processes. Agile project teams tend to favor low-tech solutions like note cards, sticky notes or a simple spreadsheet list of user stories. As Agile teams become distributed, it is helpful to work off a common product log and be able to quickly adjust the priority of the user stories.

In an Agile implementation, requirements are organized by iterations and iterations are included into specific releases. Each release produces a functional solution that the product owner (i.e. business customer) determines if the functionality should be launched or integrated into the next release. This method of delivery for software projects lowers overall project risk, delivers functionality sooner and results in better defined product at the end of a project.

MindGenius is a useful tool for managing a digital product backlog since MindGenius’s categorization capability reorganizes and maintains a product backlog for future release and iteration planning. This tutorial will show you how to use MindGenius to organize requirements into a product backlog and support planning for prioritization, user story complexity and story point estimation and detailed iteration planning.

Step 1. Brainstorm the product backlog

In an Agile implementation, the product backlog is a prioritized list of requirements that the project team reviews with the product owner. By meeting with the business customer to identify specific requirements or user stories, the project team is left with a list of needs (Figure 1). Scope definition and requirements gathering are common in both traditional and Agile software projects although the process artifacts are different.

Figure 1. User Stories Mind Map
Each user story can be prioritized and organized into specific releases and iterations using a manual Release and Iteration node approach (Figure 2). Each major node is a release and each sub node represents an iteration containing a few user stories. Each user story can be further elaborated with requirement details using additional branches or specifying the detail in the MindGenius note editor.

Figure 2. Manual Release and Iteration Plan
Building the release plan manually is ok but if the project team really wants to leverage MindGenius’s categorization feature, the team should categorize each user story by release.

Step 2. Categorize each user story by release

In the MindGenius template, I’ve included several custom Release category items including release names and a backlog category. In an Agile project, new requests simply get added to the backlog and the project team works the backlog based on the business customer’s priority. Using the Analyze – Category Dropper, I can add specific user stories to the relevant releases.

Figure 3. Categorize by Release
MindGenius will format each user story according to the icon and color for each specific release. By creating a category version of the map (Analyze – Create Category Map), the product log looks similar to a work breakdown structure organized by release (Figure 4). User stories can be moved from release to release and re-categorized based on the team’s priority.

Figure 4. Organized by Release
Step 3. Organize by iteration

In Figure 4, I used MindGenius’s Picture Gallery to assign numbers for each user story’s priority. The hierarchy of user stories can also be used to guide the priority of user stories. As the team works on each release, each user story will be further elaborated so the team understands the specific end user requirement.

In Figure 5, I used the Difficulty category icons to identify each user stories complexity. As project teams organize project backlog user stories into release and iterations, each user story will be assigned a complexity value usually in the form of story points. The abstract estimation and the project team’s velocity will determine how many user stories can be accomplished within the fixed iteration.


Figure 5. User stories by iteration and complexity
Step 4. Develop the detailed iteration plan

By using the Map Explorer, the team can focus on a specific release or iteration and start developing detailed tasks and target dates for each user story. Since iterations follow a fixed duration (i.e. 2 weeks or 4 weeks), the date range for each iteration and release is known. Team members can safely apply the “pick a date” task management to forecast when the specific tasks under each user story will be completed.

Figure 6. Develop a detailed iteration plan
Next Steps

By adopting an Agile approach using MindGenius, project teams can better organize the project backlog and develop release and detailed iteration plans. Using the MindGenius note editor, additional user story detail can be added as well as basic test acceptance criteria. For traditional project managers who still need a Gantt chart, the iteration map can be exported to a Gantt chart format for tracking during the iteration or release. However, for an Agile project, the project team can simply track using the mind map.

Download the attached Product Backlog Template and get started brainstorming user stories and prioritizing the project backlog. I’ve also included the completed iteration plan for reference.

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kelly, Appreciate this article. At my job we have been doing SCRUM for over a year and the posted notes on the board is growing old. This article is one of the reasons it has helped me to request a purchase of the MindGenius Business 5 software. At my job we are trying to do more work with better results and with a quicker turnaround from the moment of conception of the ideas.

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