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Project Management

Zooming in to Track Progress: Taking GitHub to the Next Level

When we have a million things on our plates, tracking work is essential to staying organized and getting things done on time. For teams working in GitHub, issues are a great way to keep track of work that needs to be done. They connect your team in a central place where everyone can see each task awaiting completion. While organizing issues, using features like labels helps classify them; how can teams be more strategic when planning and prioritizing their issues?

For one, there are sprints. Sprints are short, time-boxed periods of time in which your team aims to get a set amount of work completed. Usually running for one or two weeks, sprints help create focus within your team’s work and allow your team to be more Agile.

If your team is already in GitHub, it might seem logical to use the features that are natively part of that tool. Enter GitHub milestones. Milestones let you set a key ‘deliverable’ date in the future that your team is working towards, and enter a description to keep the team aligned. You then just select the issues that need to complete by the end date, and let your team go to work. If, and inevitably, when a new issue is created, because, well, there’s always more to do, you can add them to the milestone. But milestones aren’t perfect, especially for Agile teams.

The trouble with tracking work using milestones

If you want to visualize how much of the work you’ve assigned to the milestone has been completed, GitHub has a completion graph feature. An easy-to-read line graph populates how much you’ve done and how much is still left to complete.

Here’s where many teams, especially those tackling a variety of product challenges, may start to find milestones limiting.

Not all issues are ‘valued’ the same – some take much more effort than others. If your team is getting more thoughtful with how they work by using techniques such as story point estimation, GitHub’s out-of-the-box milestones will require a lot of manual work to use, as they aren’t purpose-built for Agile events like sprints, backlog refinement, and planning poker. At Zenhub, we’ve seen far too many organizations relying on third-party tools, like planning poker tools, to bridge the gap. Not only do additional tools cost time and money, but they also lead to annoying tool sprawl.

Another limitation of milestones occurs when not all of the planned work is complete by the end date. Then what happens to those leftover issues? Do they remain in the GitHub abyss, never to be seen again? Likely, it will require a lot of manual work to reprioritize the leftover issues into a new milestone.

Finally, milestones can be very limiting to teams who are working in multiple repositories. This is common on cross-functional teams or teams that are working on both open source and owned code. In GitHub, milestones function per repository. That can be good for teams working out of a single repo, but it will be a slow, manual task to set up for those who work out of multiple repositories. This can also be limiting to teams that might be working in both public and private repos, such as teams that contribute to open-source projects.

These challenges can be detrimental to the progress of an Agile team. When we’re trying to work cross-functionally and continuously iterate, issues like missing information can make or break a project and push back deadlines. To make matters worse, overcoming these obstacles often comes at the cost of unnecessary work and increased context-switching to make milestones effective.

The solution? Enter automated sprints

Experiencing these issues can cause confusion and increase the amount of work that your team needs to do to stay organized. The easiest (and least stressful) solution is to use Zenhub Sprints. In contrast to GitHub milestones, Zenhub Sprints make tracking your work a lot simpler and automated. Unlike milestones, Zenhub Sprints are per workspace, meaning that your team working across multiple repositories can track their short-term goals all in one place.

For your team, this means that it’s possible to stay in one place. Context-switching can throw off the most organized of people, but being able to manage everything in one place ensures that you’re able to maintain focus and work on what matters most. Seeing the small pieces of the puzzle unified in a single location can also help your team get a better understanding of the big picture, and makes sure that each of these goals fits perfectly into the overall team’s vision.

These small goals also better help us understand the total workload that the team is taking on. Does your team estimate? Did you just spend time and money on that estimation tool no one really knows how to properly integrate with? Zenhub offers a built-in planning poker feature that will help your team be more accurate with what can be accomplished. Let’s avoid tool sprawl whenever possible, right?

ZenHub's Planning Poker Feature

Measuring Your Success

Tracking your velocity rate, how much effort of work is completed during your sprint, will let you set more realistic and achievable goals. You can leverage automation in Zenhub to help understand how much effort of work your team can accomplish in this set amount of time. Gone are the days of manually tracking your work in spreadsheets- give that reporting task to Zenhub to handle and give yourself more time back in your day!

Remember when we talked about real life, and how work you thought might get done, didn’t. You can give thanks to automation again, and pre-decide, should unfinished work move into the next sprint, or does it go back into the backlog? The choice is up to you! Again, these small but powerful automations will give you time back in the day to focus on what is really important to your business, not the small stuff!

Change your mind? That’s allowed! You can remove issues from your sprint and Zenhub insights will keep track of the scope change for your sprint. A change in priority also might occur, because again, this is real life. When you create an issue and add it to the sprint after it has already started, it will show up as an added scope change.

Zenhub also will create a burndown chart for you to show what issues you’ve planned to do, and how on track you are to hitting your goal by the desired end date. You can see all of your estimated issues in a list, and decide what needs to be top focus, and what might be aspirational. You are also able to get a granular view of your short-term progress, which might help with managing conversations with expecting stakeholders. After all, healthy organizations ensure that everything is kept as transparent as possible, allowing for easier communication and collaboration.

ZenHub's Burndown Charts

Remember, sprints are designed to direct focus for short-term planning; one to two weeks. It’s a sprint, not a marathon. Check out Zenhub epics and projects to help with tracking your long-term goals. After all, understanding how your team sprints is the foundation to finding success within your long-term goal strategy.

Real-life (and Agile!) is all about having a plan and then being able to adjust quickly. But you have the ability to use data to drive your decisions when it comes to sprint planning for your team. Want to learn how others have approached this? Check out the Zenhub Community to get advice from your peers around the world! There’s no better way to learn and grow than real-world advice from your peers.


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