Tool for Planning Sprints with Multiple Teams

Last post 04:05 pm September 9, 2020
by Adam Young
8 replies
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06:20 pm September 1, 2020

My organization requires all its scrum teams (7 teams) to come together as a single unit on a quarterly basis to plan all their user stories for the next 3 months. During this process, each team presents their user stories and they are placed into sprints to evaluate the feasibility of the plan. In addition to this, teams can trade user stories and identify dependencies.

We could discuss whether or not this practice is inline with the Scrum framework, but I'm more interested in any tools that may be available to help us in this process. We currently use Azure DevOps, and the SpecMap add-on has been working okay for us. Unfortunately, though, it does lack some features we would like to have.

Are there any alternative DevOps add-ons that would help us out with this process? I think the main thing we need is the ability to place all our backlogs next to each other and the ability to drag stories from backlog to backlog. Having segmentation for sprints would also be nice.

07:59 pm September 1, 2020

We could discuss whether or not this practice is inline with the Scrum framework, but I'm more interested in any tools that may be available to help us in this process

How many products are there? Does each have a Product Backlog, and a Product Owner who accounts for value delivered?

03:35 pm September 2, 2020

Thanks for your response, Ian. There is one product, but each team works on a portion of the product (with only a little overlap). Each portion of the product has a Product Owner. In some cases, a single individual serves as the Product Owner for two different teams.

06:34 pm September 2, 2020

One product ought to have exactly one Product Owner, and exactly one Product Backlog. My advice is to focus on achieving this clarity of product ownership, and of transparency over backlog management and value delivery. Only then can an informed tool choice be made.

07:10 pm September 3, 2020

Thanks for your feedback, Ian. Unfortunately I don't have much influence over such matters.

Given my constraints, is anyone aware of any good tools that would improve our experience? Is there another forum I could try that is more focused on tools?

08:26 pm September 3, 2020

Before I talk about tooling, can I invite you to consider a situation where there's a more emergent approach to planning work? i.e. inspect & adapt more every sprint, and throughout each sprint, so that such a quarterly rhythm becomes obsolete.
Because if you reduce the size of each iteration, you might dramatically reduce both the complexity, and the need to manage risk.
In turn, this could lead to a much lighter planning exercise, and make the choice of tool less critical.
 

But if you're looking for a visualization tool that allows maximum flexibility, the traditional answer would be pens and post-it notes. You could organize those notes in any way you want, and can even "break the rules" by sticking post-its and strange angles or where the lines don't allow - to symbolize uncertainty or dependencies.
Done on a big enough whiteboard, you can even start drawing lines and other shapes.

Of course most teams are not collocated in 2020, so you might want to use an online whiteboard (Miro is one option that I know and like to use).

If you have more specific needs, maybe you can get a more specialist tool. But the more you specialize, the more likely you will be beholden to the limitations of the tool.

10:25 pm September 3, 2020

Thanks for you input, Simon! Our teams are global so the whiteboard isn't an option. I checked into Miro and it does appear to have some amount of integration with Azure DevOps. I will definitely investigate it further!

Regarding our approach to planning, the advice provided by Ian and yourself does make a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately, my efforts thus far have been unsuccessful in bringing about any change. For added context, I am one of the Product Owners in the scenario I mentioned in my original post.

07:27 am September 5, 2020

Our teams are global so the whiteboard isn't an option.

Right now that's almost certainly not an option in most global organizations; but it's also the kind of comment I've heard for years around similar issues.

So just to challenge the status quo a bit further: how much would it cost to fly everyone to one location; have this co-ordination event in-person; and have them work in the same location for the rest of the week?
It's probably a fraction of the waste caused by misalignment, disagreement, and colleagues not liking each other enough to share information, or just being too unfamiliar to give honest feedback.

Once per quarter might be too intensive for everyone to do this; but in principle doing it this way once or twice per year might solve a lot of problems

04:05 pm September 9, 2020

That's a good point, Simon!