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How ZenHub Activates Design Strategies at the Institute of Design

It’s thrilling to watch the platform we built being used in unconventional ways, proving ZenHub’s flexibility and ability to facilitate Agile concepts in a team environment even when the projects are not code related. A clear example is how Adam Kallish – Adjunct Instructor at IIT Institute of Design (ID) – is using ZenHub to teach his course ‘Agile Culture’. ID’s mission is to use human-centered frameworks and practices to reframe the current understanding of large problems for new types of value.

The course ‘Agile Culture’ objective is to expose and prepare ID students to understand the connection between strategy and execution within an organization. Additional learnings of this course are the role of digital platforms like Slack, Mural, GitHub, and ZenHub play in communications, team alignment, and velocity.

In Kallish’s words ‘Design Thinking is about defining the right work, and Agile is about doing the work right.’ ‘Agile Culture’ emphasizes clarity of purpose and that all work directly supports the overall value delivered to the market and customers. His course is a balance of understanding key principles, values, culture/behaviors, and practices of Agile, and applying them through learning by doing with peers on an actual problem to create a prioritized backlog of work.

We sat down with Adam Kallish to learn more about how he uses ZenHub while teaching his ‘Agile Culture’ course:

How are you using ZenHub to teach your design course?

Kallish: GitHub is associated with software development, but when you abstract it, it is a content management system. A GitHub Issue can be anything – a story or even an Epic. In ‘Agile Culture’, we use GitHub to define stories, iterate on those stories, and create acceptance criteria. ZenHub is the way students manage their Kanban and understand the velocity of their teams in completing tasks. I assign all homework as GitHub Issues and students use ZenHub to track and comment on them until closed. ZenHub becomes the single source of truth for students to understand the status and completion of tasks.

For example, students take their work of breaking down a project strategy done using a Mural template and then identify possible stories that can fulfill the strategy. This is called decomposition or breaking down goals into clear units of value, which can map back to a goal, called traceability. Student teams open up issues in GitHub that contain story iterations, then write acceptance criteria statement iterations. These stories have specific Epic tags.

Students use the relative estimating of t-shirt sizing (S, M, L) to determine how difficult it will be to build their stories. ZenHub is used to create a prioritized backlog of work and certain stories are put into the icebox pipeline that are not relevant for a first release. ZenHub is easier to use and understand the movement and priority of work items on GitHub, especially for non-technical people.

An ID team using GitHub to do their work and using tags to filter their backlog
An ID team using GitHub to do their work and using tags to filter their backlog

What are the results and benefits of using ZenHub?

Kallish: ZenHub is a great way for students to understand how to tackle tasks as a team completes them. It is visual, easy to use, and the Kanban structure shows them how to track the progress of tasks. Moreover, ZenHub allows students to understand the velocity of the team and how they burndown, or complete their tasks. Students stay in GitHub to do the work and use ZenHub to stay on task.

Burndown chart example in ZenHub

Students comments on their experience in using Slack, Mural, ZenHub, and GitHub have been fairly positive:

"One of the key elements of Agile is transparency and using Slack, Mural, GitHub/ZenHub caused us to directly encounter this transparency. In addition, it spurred good class discussions based on what we experienced."

"When we got used to that set of Agile tools, we felt immediately that our team velocity increased dramatically."

"For sure, these tools help up to organize our work better. The real-time feedback is useful as well because it updates the progress of our work. It’s pretty important in team collaboration."

Kallish: I am starting to ask teams to use two main ZenHub reports to understand team velocity: Control Chart and Cumulative Flow. These reports are very helpful in understanding how and when the work is getting done and what possible blockers may be in the way.

ID Students presenting their final work through ZenHub

ID Students presenting their final work through ZenHub

Kallish: Two new ZenHub solutions I am excited about are Workspaces and Roadmaps. I like the capability of taking different project repositories and being able to stitch them together into a single workspace if there are interdependencies. Roadmaps is a great addition as it can give a high-level situational awareness of completion of epics and related work. I am considering using these for another course I am planning at the Institute of Design. In that course, students will be mainly using ZenHub to comment and iterate on task items – not GitHub directly. This decision was made as the goal is to merge tasks and velocity together and for my purposes, ZenHub is the only platform to do that.

ZenHub has become an invaluable tool for ID students, allowing them to manage and estimate tasks and understand how team velocity impacts in successfully completing course assignments. Now students understand better how agile practices work in synergy with design thinking practices. By improving collaboration and transparency across work, ZenHub has increased student’s communication and project outputs. Visit our product page to learn more about how ZenHub can bring agile project management to your team.

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