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Agile & Product Management

Why All the Fuss About Workflow Automation for Developers?

No doubt some of you read the title of this blog and thought, “Wow, what a silly question. It’s obvious.” And on the surface, maybe it is. But, do we all have the same answer to the question? And if we dig a little deeper, have you thought about exactly how workflow automation should be applied, or at which stages in the development cycle it’s most beneficial?

Recently, we published a detailed report revealing what disruptive software teams care about most in 2022. When asked about their technical and wish list priorities for project management tools, survey respondents said they were looking for the ability to:

  • Standardize workflows
  • Eliminate tedious tasks
  • Spend more time on meaningful tasks
  • Simplify task management

And with 31% of survey respondents indicating that features that make their developers’ lives easier are their most important organizational priority, this is an extremely relevant and timely conversation.

So, how do you use automation capabilities to achieve these goals? Let’s unpack the problems that led to these priorities and take a closer look at how automation can help.

Sprints keep sprinting — but you get the final say

While most Agile and Scrum teams have moved beyond sticky notes on physical boards (if you’ve never seen a sticky note with a sprint task on it refuse to stick on a whiteboard, that’s probably a good thing), sprint planning is often still a manual task that must be repeated for every sprint.

Automation can make sprint planning faster and easier. You define the logic behind your sprints and the tool takes it from there. When you set up your sprint cadence, a series of sprints is automatically created following that pattern. When the end date of the first sprint arrives, the sprint is automatically closed out and you can choose to have the remaining tasks moved to the next sprint. Tasks in the backlog can also automatically be assigned to the upcoming sprint until the sprint reaches the maximum number of predefined story points — your sprint velocity.

For this type of automation to work well, backlog items need to be estimated and prioritized, but if it’s set up in an organized way, your project management tool becomes your sprint planning secret weapon. And of course, you can always manually tweak the sprint to add, remove, and change tasks as needed.

ZenHub's Automated Sprints

If we all agree on story point estimates, why meet?

Speaking of estimates, they’re another great candidate for automation. Everyone can submit their estimate into the project management tool when it’s convenient and the tool automatically determines whether everyone agrees. Now the team only needs to meet to discuss tasks where estimates didn’t line up.

If the entire team is aligned on the effort required for all tasks being evaluated, maybe there’s no need for a meeting at all.

Handoffs just happen

We’ve all been the victim of poorly managed handoffs at one point or another. I’m sure there’s a great metaphor related to sprints and relay teams smoothly passing the baton, but you get the idea. A poorly timed handoff or a dropped baton creates a big problem for the entire team.

When tasks can be moved from one development phase to the next with a simple drag and drop, this problem goes away. The issue always exists in the workspace and repository, but it moves through a series of pipelines that smoothly and automatically shift responsibility from one part of the team to another. The dev team automatically sees that a feature is ready to be worked on. The QA team automatically sees when that new feature is ready for testing. If the feature needs to go back and forth between dev and QA, each team automatically knows when it’s back in their pipeline and ready to action.

Automated handoffs are particularly helpful now that so much work is done in different locations and time zones. The days when we could simply drop by our colleague’s desk and let them know it was “their turn” are likely gone forever. While the old coffee station handoff was a good way to stretch the legs and get a beverage boost, we can all agree it’s not the most reliable approach. And we won’t even talk about the Zoom call handoff and its inefficiencies.

Work being handed off

Reporting goes real-time

No one believes that completing status reports helps to accelerate innovation or increase developer happiness.

With automation, project or epic status can be automatically updated as issues are closed. If the schedule is at risk, the tool automatically provides a new predicted end date based on the tasks still to be completed. This way, there’s no need to manually update reports or provide your latest status in multiple locations. Everyone on the team has the same, centralized view of the overall status, and they can see all of the different workspaces in one place.

The burndown chart is also automatically updated so everyone can see at a glance whether the sprint is tracking on time or falling behind schedule.  Other productivity insight reports can show you when new issues are added to the sprint so you can see scope creep as it happens.

ZenHub's Burndown Chart

Zenhub automates workflows today

The automation capabilities we’ve described here are already available in Zenhub. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how workflow automation can help development teams spend more time on meaningful tasks to accelerate innovation. And we definitely eat our own champagne. If an automation feature doesn’t work well for our own developers, it certainly won’t work for our customers.

ZenHub's Workflow Automation

Once we’re comfortable with a new automation feature, we also do a lot of usability testing with our customers and people who’ve never used Zenhub, so we can make sure it really does work the way people need it to. The user experience with automation is crucial, especially when determining where and how manual override capabilities are needed. If you’d like to see firsthand how workflow automation can help your dev team, sign up for a free trial today.

To learn more about what other factors are the most impactful on developer happiness and overall productivity, check out our 2022 State of Disruptive Software Teams report.


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