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4 de mayo de 2014

How to use Evernote as an agile virtual story board

I'm sure you are familiar with Evernote, the most famous tool for taking notes on a computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone, etc. Your notes are now stored “in the cloud”. You don't need physical notebooks any more. You can take notes everywhere and every time. As a knowledge worker, student, etc., you are so used to it that you can afford the premium cost of $5 per month (being the free version completely functional).

However, have you ever thought using Evernote as an virtual story board on agile projects? I have to say that Evernote is my favorite tool for agile teams (precisely: for not collocated teams). Think of all those features related to writing notes, labeling notes, moving notes from one notebook to another, searching, clipping, etc. Don't you think this is the “low-tech, high-touch” style we are always demanding for agile projects tools? For a collocated team, the best tool is a big wall in a comfortable dedicated room, of course. However, if two or three of the team members are in another sites, or the team is entirely virtual, a centralized repository for requirements and management information is the most useful.

If you are interested in the way I use Evernote as an agile virtual story board, please keep on reading...

In this article I've prepared some screenshots using my own Evernote account. You can see the real interface if you go to Evernote via web or even better, if you have it installed in your computer, you can use your  Evernote standalone. You will need to enter the same user and password: pmpeople.

Think of an agile project. Let's see the shared use of the tool that could be followed by the Product Owner, the ScrumMaster and the Developement Team.

The only prerequisite is that the Product Owner has an Evernote account and she is willing to share her user and password with the rest of the team (she can always create a new Evernote account for the project). The rest of the committed people (and other stakeholders involved as well), could use the same Evernote account. They can use it at the same time, via web or standalone. If someone change something, information is constantly synced “in the cloud”.

Now let's see some representative use cases:

Use Case 1: Backlog Grooming

Product Owner enters Evernote via web. She can see a screen like this one:

In the notebook entitled AGILE: Backlog she will see a prioritized user stories list the team have to develop during the next iterations. Stories are notes. The simplest way of ordering notes is by using a naming convention starting with a number prefix and ordering by title (ascendant order: the lower number the more priority). Sometimes I also add the story size at the end of the title in brackets (i.e. 08. Save a game (3) is for the eight story in he backlog list, titled Save a game”, with a size of 3 story points). The last notes at the bottom could be epics. The first notes at the top should be well defined (recall INVEST/CCC properties for user stories). During the backlog grooming meetings with the team, the deeper knowledge about requirements can be written down in the text of the note. Decisions about sizing and priority are updated immediately.

Use Case 2: Sprint Planning

During the sprint planning meetings, everyone can review the backlog items along with the Product Owner. Somebody could add the task planning details within the note text (final size in story points, definition of done, decomposition on detailed tasks with effort time, and so on). Stories could be re-prioritized just changing the prefix number in the title. Evernote has also a powerful labeling feature.  During the grooming or the sprint planning, it's very common to classify stories according MoSCoW (must, should, could, won't), for example. Do you need to know what stories are mandatory? Just filter by label Must and you have it. If you label stories according feature characteristics you could have a parking lot functionality just by filtering, can you see that?

Sprint planning finishes when the team commits to develop some of the backlog items. Somebody will move these stories from the notebook AGILE: Backlog to the notebook AGILE: Iteration / 1. To Do).

On the other hand, ScrumMaster can take notes regarding process management within the note for this Sprint (she will use the notebook AGILE: Iteration / 0. Process). There will be one note for each iteration inside the notebook AGILE: Iteration / 0. Process.

Use Case 3: Sprint Execution

During sprint execution, which usually takes 2-4 weeks, the SrumMaster can make annotations in that note. For instance: in section Dalily Scrums, she can write down her thoughts about velocity, impediments, risks, etc. In case a certain task is impeded, she can label it like that. Filtering by label “impeded” she could immediately have the “impediment backlog”.

She can also update other sections with the proper information, pictures, photos, etc. For instance, she can paste an image with the updated information radiator chart.

Use Case 4: Sprint Review

During the sprint demo, when a story is accepted by stakeholders, somebody will move it from AGILE: Iteration / 3. Done to the notebook AGILE: Accepted. If a given story is not finished, or the demonstration is not successful, the story is moved back to the notebook AGILE: Backlog. This way, the Product Owner will distinguish at every moment the pending stories, the accepted ones and those in progress.

Use Case 5: Sprint Retrospective

The team can annotate lessons learned and improvement points in the last section of the process note for this sprint inside the notebook AGILE: Iteration / 0. Process.

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