Many of our customers are in some stage of transition to an agile approach, and for large companies, a hybrid process is the norm, with some teams/projects/programs using an agile approach and others using a more traditional, waterfall-based approach. As the agile teams adopt Rally, it’s easy to see their progress through the stories, features, iterations, and releases in our products. But what about the waterfall groups? How do customers use Rally to gain visibility into their work? We see two common patterns.

Kanban for Visibility
The kanban methodology is popular among many teams who are trying to optimize the flow of value.  The word ‘Kanban’ means ‘signboard’, and that’s how a kanban approach starts: mapping your value stream so you can gain visibility into where the work is. Our teams internally at Rally use the Kanban approach, and we see it used at organizations with a wide range of different maturity levels.

A waterfall group that’s not prepared to start optimizing the flow can still use Rally’s Kanban tools to visualize their work. One way to do this is to create a sub-project for each phase of development. Set up a Kanban board for each phase with a column for each activity - drafting, review, sign-off, and approval steps.

Create a User Story for each high-level requirement, use case, or non-functional requirement.  You’ll find that you can use the Test Case artifact in Rally to specify the same details you would put in a traditional use case. You can use the predecessor/successor relationships on user stories to track dependencies.

Use the “Ready” option on the board to indicate completion of an activity. You can adjust permissions for those projects to ensure limited access to requirements in different phases. When a phase is complete, bulk move the stories into the next phase.

You can also configure a higher-level board in the parent project to track phase flow for stakeholders, and set up custom pages summarizing approval stages.

When you’re in the development phase, you can use tasks to track your progress. Since your requirements are already test cases, your testing phase can use those directly to track progress; you’re done when all the tests pass.

All of this work can roll up to an initiative in Rally Portfolio Manager, alongside of your agile teams.

Iterations as Phases
Some customers prefer to create one large release for the whole project, and create an iteration for each phase of the project. Create a story for each piece of work that needs to be completed during the phase, whether it’s an analysis activity, a design activity, or a testing activity. You can adjust the iteration dates as your phases slip, and use burndown charts for phases in progress to see whether you’re likely to complete that phase when you expected you would. The downside of this approach is that you have to create a lot more stories.

Our Recommendation
The Kanban approach seems like a much better recipe for visibility - it accurately models what’s actually going on in a waterfall project (a large batch with lots of WIP) and it invites the organization to consider how flow might be improved going forward. Waterfall projects and programs can consider a more gradual transition to an agile approach by reducing batch size and item size. In fact, many of our customers who are just getting started with kanban do it just this way.

Brent Chalker, one of our TAMs, worked with a customer team that implemented Rally for a waterfall project using this recommendation. One of the side-effects was that the process highlighted a number of issues with they way they were working. The team had a highly serial process of user interface design, and a ton of handoffs in their process. Previously, they had used a workflow tool that managed transitions of artifacts between 40 different states and owners. Because the workflow tool worked well, the waste associated with these handoffs had been hidden. When they started to use Rally’s Kanban board, the waste became visible. Hidden queues were apparent.

And this realization was uncomfortable.

If you do try to use Rally to dramatically increase visibility into traditional processes, be aware that it may expose problems like this in a way that inspires you to improve your value delivery flow in the non-agile parts of your organization.

Learn more about how to focus on the most important work with the Rally Kanban Toolkit.

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