Agile Project Management Reporting - The Reality

08 Mar 2019

On paper, Agile is vastly superior to Waterfall when it comes to reporting. It keeps reporting to a minimum and is only concerned with helping the team improve, as opposed to delivering pointless reports that provide no insights.

The sad truth, however, is that most businesses either struggle to implement the new methodology or go for a blend of Waterfall and Agile. This state of affairs can create gridlocks and hiccups in project management and team dynamics. Here is how to steer clear of them or at least do some smart agile project management reporting.

The reporting foundations

It goes without saying that quality communication within the company is paramount. It lays the foundations for essential project management processes such as reporting. The only problem is that there are multiple ways to go about it.

When it comes to reports in general, they are supposed to explain to all shareholders how well your project is going. They also promote quality assurance and milestone analysis. Agile model is so valuable because it allows you to pick up on issues, challenges, defects, and problems as soon as they arise. What is more, you can bring them to management’s attention and deal with them promptly.

And don’t worry. It is not like you have to spend eternity generating reports. If you set the right metrics and processes from the get-go, you can later simply draw from your agile reporting tools belt depending on what the situation calls for. The bad news is that making it happen is more complicated than it might appear at a first glance.

Tools of the trade

Let us start unraveling the workings of Agile with the Burndown Chart, which is the main reporting metric at the sprint (iteration) level.

Burndown chart

Its purpose is to easily track and communicate project status. This is done with the help of near-real-time progress updates and Story Points that quantify and break down the development work. Ideally, the actual Sprint corresponds to what was conceived in a planning stage. However, one usually encounters technical issues that put teams behind schedule.

This is precisely where Agile reporting comes into play: it gives you the ability to push through the roadblocks. One can, for instance, add new requirements and aim for a Sprint spike after a slower start. The key metric to use here is Sprint Velocity, which represents an average number of Story Points a team can take on per Sprint.

Note that it usually takes a few sprints to obtain an accurate number and attain consistent Story points across projects. In other words, you cannot expect completely accurate outcomes right away.

Communicating the findings

Furthermore, Epic, Product, and Release Burndown have similar functions. They help Agile teams become better and provide assistance when assessing progress toward set goals.

Of course, complications arise.

For example, it is not at all self-explanatory to stakeholders what trend lines and spikes represent. More specifically, they may fail to understand how exactly scope creep and delays impact the project. This is because they do not possess complete information. What might seem like a mere delay could be an overflow of value (team delivering more than initially planned).

To alleviate these problems, make an effort to foster transparency and supply key stakeholders with up-to-date information. The good news is that agile and especially Scrum provide plenty of opportunities for this.

Ups and downs

A Burnup Chart is another handy tool to make sense of reporting ins and outs. As one of the most commonly used agile reporting tools, it reconciles two vital pieces of information:

  • Total work— expressed in story points, work hours, etc.
  • Completed effort— measured as actual progress against total work

Burnup chart

Grasping their interplay and variance leads to better scope management, which spares everyone the hassle of constantly realigning to a new scope. What is more, this kind of awareness should encourage better sprint planning, especially when it comes to creating sprint backlogs.

Finishing touches

For good measure, you can also take advantage of the Earned Value metric. It is essentially the mechanism for calculating whether the invested money justifies the amount of completed effort. The variables that form the equation are:

  • Budget— estimated project cost
  • Actual Cost—the share of the budget spent so far
  • Planned Value— the portion of project scope that should have been delivered
  • Earned Value— the actual value of score that has been delivered

This metric is often a decent ally when Agile teams work within an organization that may not be as Agile. Like all metrics and agile project management reporting tools it can turn into an enemy, but it can also help move the mindset from money to value, which is always a welcome sight for Agile teams.

Using Agile reporting software

The majority of Agile project management tools available today will feature certain reporting functionalities or entire features. If you want to, you can probably find specialized agile reporting software out there. The important thing to remember if you decide to use these is to be careful. If you are not, you can easily start bending the way your team works to those tools or even game them so that your report PDFs look nice. 

You have to actively analyze how such software is serving your team. If it brings something to the table, then, by all means, continue using it. If you, on the other hand, notice any worrying anti-patterns, pull the plug.

Conclusion

Agile project management reporting is more a side effect of working in an imperfect environment than anything else. it can be bothersome and it can devolve into some very unfortunate and harmful practices. On the other hand, if done the right way, it can actually support transparency and help teams discover certain issues that might otherwise take longer to appear on the radar.