Stop Asking for Status Decks – Automation

After decades of technological advancement and the numerous software capabilities at our disposal, it’s any wonder that we still use archaic means of getting things done when they can be automated to yield immense productivity gains. I will preface by mentioning that this article may not be applicable in all cases, but is especially applicable in software-centric groups.

Bureaucracy, lack of process awareness, and ignorance are some of the common reasons why departments let automation opportunities go. Many of them don’t have the basic high level technical understanding to know how things could be automated. What’s worse, some managers fail to see the obvious productivity improvements that can save their department tons of time (and money). Automation allows individuals to focus on bigger picture initiatives instead of spending tedious hours formatting PowerPoint decks.

The formula for when to automate is simple:

  1. Ask, is this a recurring task?
  2. If it is, can it be automated?
  3. If it can, does the effort to automate save enough time/resources/etc to make up for the automation effort?

If yes to all 3, then stop wasting time and lead the development of a strategy!

I’ve seen Agile departments with 20+ managers/scrummasters being asked to spend 1-2 hours per week on status reports. In dollars, this is a waste of more than $100,000 per year at a minimum, before we’ve even scratched the surface in terms of the types of tasks that needlessly waste time.

A Better Way to Get Status

Sometimes, the crux of your issues are the tools you use (or aren’t using). For example, Jira is a great organizational tool for breaking down work in language that clearly defines business value. You can programmatically extract stories along with related fields and generate reports and breakdowns on the fly.

Managers should be able to access high level overviews of the teams’ accomplishments at any given time.

A team that is organized well should be using Epics at the highest level, followed by story categories (labels) or sub categories so that multiple, more granular layers can be extracted when needed to give insight into the accomplishments of the team. Open source javascript libraries can take the data from Jira and display them in various ways. The opportunities for automating insightful reporting are endless, but they require asking yourself important questions.

Routines that are no longer serving their original purposes, or worse creating unnecessary work that no one is benefiting from, should constantly be questioned. Managers should question the utility of the individual processes driving their department regularly. Individuals within teams should feel bold enough (ie. empowered) to question the status quo in an effort to drive continuous improvements.

So what types of reports do managers want to see on software projects?

This will vary based on your circumstances, but here are some ideas to get you started:

Level 1 (Highest Level Executive Reports)

  • General breakdown of work categories by volume (eg. Support, Maintenance, Bug Fixes, Enhancements, etc)
  • High level overview of bugs added and bugs fixed, criticality/business impact of bugs
  • Production/Service downtime, length, severity, mitigation time
  • Team velocity trends
  • Business value delivered

Level 2 (More Granular Reports)

  • Epic breakdown with stories outlined
  • User story label category breakdown
  • Sprint velocity/velocity trends (with team capacity factored in)
  • Bugs breakdown with root cause analysis

Note that all of these reports can be automatically generated live at any time if you put the proper tools in place to do so. Moreover, having this automated means that teams don’t have the opportunity to “embellish” status reports since the data is feeding through live.

Cultivate Efficiency Mindsets

Cultivating mindsets is integral to getting what you need out of your teams. If you don’t bring awareness, teams will stagnate as long as the status quo is achieved.

  • Share good ideas and publicly commend those who come forth with them
  • Ask explicitly if teams have noticed patterns that introduced inefficiency
  • Examine tools or discuss possibilities for improvement with tool/process SMEs

Don’t Forget Change Management

Sometimes a shift will cause cascading effects. You will need to be proactive in training and demonstrating the value before process changes take place to ensure adherence. Being sure to illustrate why the changes are being made will also give others the notion that there is a specific goal to be achieved, and that their ideas in accomplishing that goal are welcomed.

I hope I’ve given enough tips to show what your teams are capable of. Ultimately this process comes down to mindfulness and an ongoing drive to improve your teams’ performance.

If everyone does their jobs correctly, then status should always be self evident.

So please, stop asking for status decks.