Agile 101 - Agile Teams Use Simple Tools (Except for Testing)
Generally speaking, Agile teams are not big on software tools. Most of the time Agile teams utilize the simplest tool that will perform the job. For example, Agile teams typically do not create formal status reports, but that does not mean they don't communicate. A common approach is to have a central bulletin board with visual content that described the current sprint, status of user stories, any problems encountered, defects discovered, etc. This is often referred to as an Information Radiator.
Similarly, the Agile Team can identify the risks associated with the product backlog and the other aspects of the project. Risks can be plotted on a simple chart showing the total number of remaining risks over time. Since the risks will be addressed and resolved during the project, the remaining risks should show a declining line that trends down to zero at the end of the project. This is referred to as a Risk Burndown Chart.
Here are some additional examples of how Agile uses simple, visual tools to manage an iteration and to manage iterations over the life of a project.
- Flipcharts and whiteboards. These are very good for drawing models and documenting meeting notes. They are simple, visual and allow the team to easily refer back to them as needed.
- Post-it notes. These are good for displaying individual elements of models, showing the status on Kanban boards, posting notes on the Information Radiator, etc. They are easily movable, yet will remain in place long-term for future review and revision.
- Index cards. These are generally used to document user stories and requirements. They are easy to shuffle so that the highest priority requirements are on top. Changing priorities is just a matter of re-ordering the index cards.
- Cell phone camera. This is a simple tool for taking pictures of flipcharts and whiteboards. The digital image can then be shared with virtual team members or emailed to others for discussion.
On the other hand, the quick sprint cycles on an Agile project require good testing, integration and implementation (moving code to production) tools. You cannot spend two weeks doing full manual tests if your entire sprint is 30 days. If your entire sprint is two weeks, your testing must be even more automated.
Over the years, a number of simple software tools have become popular to managing the overall Agile project. These tools allow you to capture stories, prioritize work, capture documentation, collaborate virtually, etc. Even though an Agile management tool is not strictly needed, many organizations find that automating the manual Agile processes can help teams be more effective and consistent across the organization.