A Kanban Board for Features

We’re using PivotalTracker as our agile planning tool. It’s great for maintaining a backlog of prioritized user stories and managing the flow of stories within an iteration. We’re really happy with it. But recently a new requirement came up: How can we manage our bigger features? How can we make sure all the stories we realize help us reach an overarching goal? The solution is to use an offline Kanban board.

User Stories Ensure Flow

With agile project management tools, you usually manage user stories (even if they are sometimes called “features”). User stories have two important criteria: they should be small (2-3 days worth of development), and they should be independent of each other. If your user stories fulfill these two criteria, you get a smooth flow and optimal throughput.

Strategic Product Management with Features

Aforementioned criteria limit the usefulness of user stories for strategic product development. If you want to be able to define and reach business goals, you usually think in bigger parts: Features. For me, the most important criteria of a feature are: What business goal do we want to reach with it and how can we measure success. If you are committed to user centric design, your business goals should be aligned with your users’ needs and wants. Features tend to be at least one order of magnitude bigger than user stories and measuring success usually takes weeks or even months.

Breaking Down Features into User Stories

To be able to keep a smooth flow in your development, you need to break down your features into user stories. Each one should be small and independent and create a piece of user value. But only a set of such user stories combined will leverage the full benefit of the feature they belong to.

Tracking Features on a Kanban Board

To track the development and success of features, we found tools like PivotalTracker ill-suited. As I need to look at each feature daily to either develop a rough idea into real user stories or to follow up with the success metrics of the feature, I prefer to have a physical kanban board right in front of my desk. That helps to radiate the non-urgent but very important success metrics of a feature to the rest of the team and helps me not to forget anything.

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