Chapter 6: Tools to Assist Scrum Masters and Project Leaders
Although it’s always important to remember that Agile will always value people in interactions over tools and processes, it never hurts to have a good tool available to your team. Of course, not all tools are made equal, and some tools will fall just shy of meeting your team’s needs while others will offer so many features they become complicated and less useful. Here are a small handful of tools that can help Scrum Masters and Product Owners keep the team focused, and keep the project on track.
Tools for Integration and Source Control
As part of the Agile Principles, automation is very important to a Development Team. If something can be automated, it should be automated. Use these two tools to help automate some of your Development Teams’ most tedious tasks.
Git is a source control tool. It serves the purpose of giving the team more flexibility. I’m allowing developers to merge their code at a later time. It helps teams keep their code organized, and can even help keep track of different versions.
Jenkins is a continuous integration tool similar to Git, but there are a few core differences. Jenkins serves more as an automation server. It allows teams to build and test software projects while integrating changes as the team makes progress. It is open source and has a host of plugins.
Team Tools for Project Management
Although Agile, either breaks or outright ignore a lot of the rules of standard project management, you’re still working on a project. The people involved in the team and in providing the resources necessary to finish the project need to have a clear line of sight on where tasks are currently at and what’s coming next.
Monday really supports the project management elements of Agile Teams. It provides reporting, time tracking, planning tools, and a calendar, which can be very useful. Monday also gives the team the opportunity to choose between working in a Kanban system, in charts as in a dashboard, or with a timeline similar to a traditional project management approach.
Monday also integrates with a variety of third-party applications, which can make it really desirable for the Product Owner and businesspersons involved in the project. One of the troubles that teams can face with Monday is that it has so many features it’s easy to overcomplicate this tool. This is one of those instances where you may have to weigh the benefit of the tool against the needs of the people on your team.
Trello has been praised as a secret weapon or powerhouse tool for Agile work. It has withstood any criticism that has come its way and supports almost every element of the Agile manifesto. Trello is easy to use, simple, and aligns exactly with the Scrum framework. People can create numerous boards that are either personal or teamwork spaces. Those boards contain lists, and on those lists are cards that stand as tasks—all the cards you can insert checklists, tags, files, and add comments. Essentially people love Trello because it works exactly like a Kanban or Scrum board but in digital form.
Old-School Kanban Board
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Agile Team that doesn’t use an old-school Kanban or Scrum board. These boards are usually a whiteboard or a wall with columns that show the progress and tasks within the current Sprint. They use cards, and the card will move from one column to the next depending on who’s working on it, if that task requires additional resources, and if that task is stuck in one way or another.
Both of the tools above, Monday and Trello, aimed to recreate the old school Kanban or Scrum board. However, given how much technology has integrated into our daily work lives, many developers feel more comfortable having a digital version of this board, in addition to a physical version that they can see every day.
Tools for Collaborating and Communicating
With communication and collaboration being so important to Agile, it’s no wonder that many companies have tried to make tools just for helping Agile Teams communicate. There is some need for precaution with these tools, because as they become more complex, it may make it more difficult for your team to communicate.
Slack allows teams to communicate by allowing people on the project to create Discussion boards and channels. Then within those channels and discussions, every member can alert or call attention to a message from other members and add tags.
This is exceptionally helpful for ensuring that a message gets to the right person. This can also be helpful for connecting teams that may be working remotely or distantly from each other. But the many changes in Standard work methods for software developer’s tools like this can allow people to work remotely and still work collaboratively.
One element that does make slacks stand out from very similar software options is that it integrates with other tools built specifically for Agile Teams such as Trello and intercom. It does come with many advanced features, but when using slack on a basic level, it’s easy to maintain those core principles around simplicity.
Asana is a communication tool disguised as a project management tool. Although at first, it seems that it’s only for organizing large projects, Asana really excels in helping people communicate on specific tasks across a single large project.
Asana allows members to tag others in messages and in tasks as well as assigning due dates or scheduling tasks to each other. The downside of Asana is exactly what makes it desirable. Its wide array of project management tools, such as being able to assign tasks and monitor deadlines, generally goes against Agile Principles.
This is one of those tools that might be great for the Development Team but could be something that the Product Owner might not have a role in, especially if there’s a chance that the Product Owner could overstep their duties and start taking more of a hierarchical role in the team.
Determining Which Tools to Use
It can be a challenge deciding which tools are right to use for your team, especially when you’re supposed to be emphasizing the importance of people over the function of tools. The tools available to Agile Teams have changed drastically since the Agile Manifesto was written in 2001. Additionally, many of these tools, such as Trello and Monday, were created expressly for Agile Teams.
If you want to bring in more tools but aren’t sure where to start, discuss it with your team. It’s possible that the developers on your team are familiar with some of these tools. They may have had experiences that would cause them to encourage or discourage the use of those tools. However, some tools such as Git or Jenkins may be suggested by your Development Team in an effort to automate as much as possible.
When determining the tools that are right for your team and for your project, always remember to employ the creative problem skillset within your team. It may be that none of these tools serve your needs but that there are others available, or internal systems within your company that can help automate and simplify your project.
Always return to that core philosophy of people over tools. These tools are helpful, and our teams are working in a modern age that largely demands digital integration. However, some tools, such as a Scrum board, work best in their physical form. It may be that many of these technology-driven or digital tools will serve to supplement the team’s work rather than direct it.
It may seem as though not using any tools would be most aligned with agile principles, but that’s not usually conducive to a large project. When you are helping to guide both the team and the project, tools can simplify complex procedures and make some goals more attainable. Of course, you may always need to fall back onto the more traditional tools or systems mentioned throughout this book, such as the backlog, sprint events, and one-on-one meetings. Agile also has multiple methodologies that may call for different structures or an even more unconventional approach to a project.