Ultimate Setup Series: Best Practices for Monitoring Progress
Welcome to Shortcut! Shortcut is project management without all the management, built by our software team for your software team. We help you plan, collaborate, build, and measure success. Speaking of success, we want to make sure that you’re set up for... wait for it…
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That’s why we’ve created this Ultimate Setup Series. This is the seventh post in this series. Read the last post here, which is about best practices for iterations. In this post, we’ll talk about best practices for monitoring progress in Shortcut.
Progress. We all want to make it. Thus, we must monitor it.
Monitoring progress in Shortcut has different stages and levels. We'll start with the Iteration level, which is often a two-week timeframe where a team focuses on a number of Stories to complete.
For Iterations (also called Sprints), monitoring progress is really about getting into the details on the Story by Story basis. Often, engineering managers are responsible for the delivery of the work in the Iteration, and product managers help inform the work priorities and how much time to invest. Monitoring this at the Story level helps teams focus on building the most valuable work for the business at that particular moment.
The best way to stay on top of Iterations is to create a saved Space on the Stories page. Filter by Team to make sure you are seeing the Stories assigned to your Team. Next, filter by Started Iterations. This filter is a bit like magic - it automatically (automagically?) shows the Iterations that are in progress, so from Iteration to Iteration this Space won't need to be manually updated, it will stay up to date with the current Iteration.
With this Space, you can see the work move from heavier on the left to the right as the work progresses throughout the Iteration. Keep an eye out for Stories that seem to be staying in one state for too long. One important role of the Engineering Manager is to make sure the team is supported and not blocked on any work. If a Story is in a state for too long you can open the Story to get more information and see the context in tasks and comments and can offer support as needed.
The second level of monitoring progress is for those larger projects or features that are organized as Epics. Monitoring progress towards these larger goals zooms out from just what is happening at the Iteration level and lets you see when large deliverables will be completed. The goals here are that you are able to stay on top of the Epics your team is working on so you can organize, assign, and provide support as well as synthesize and share the information about Epics to share with leadership.
The Epics page is a great place to see what the different features your Team or Teams are working on, and ensure you’re driving towards completing those larger goals. First, filter by States and whatever your started state is such as In Progress.
Next, filter by Team and select the Team or Teams you want to view Epics so you can see the Epics that are currently being worked on for your Team. This view makes it easy to see the Epics your team is working on and should be top of mind.
To dig deeper click into an Epic and Group by State so you can see the upcoming, current and completed Stories. For everything upcoming or in progress, you can scroll over to see if they are assigned to the current Iteration. This view lets you see what work is left to complete the Epic and whether all the work is assigned to an Iteration. If all Stories are completed and assigned to the current Iteration you know the Epic is likely to be completed by the end of the Iteration.
Another helpful view is to sort by Iteration. This quickly shows you if any new Stories have been added that haven’t yet been assigned to an Iteration. Then you can determine if the Story should be added to the current Iteration or will be worked on next time and this gives you the opportunity to stay on top of what still needs to be completed in this large project.
Next, on the Stories page we can create Spaces that will make it quick and easy to view Stories related to the Epics in which you are monitoring progress.
To create an “In Progress Epics” Space add the filter, Team (for whatever Team is in the In Progress Epi,c and then Started Iterations, then hover and Inverse, so that this will show all the Stories in the in-progress Epics that aren’t yet assigned to the current Iteration. Then a nice view is Table View, and then group the page by Epic. Now we have a great view of what Stories still need to be added to an Iteration for each Epic.
You can also expand and collapse each Epic for a nice summary view of each. Then you can go through and expand each one out, looking at the details of each Story. From here you can schedule a Story to be worked on or gain an understanding of why it hasn’t been scheduled yet. Overall, a great view for monitoring progress on Epics.
Team Progress & Support
Last but not least is monitoring progress through team check-ins and support. A key goal of an Engineering Manager is to support their team, understand their work and progress, and ensure projects are moving forward and work isn’t blocked.
This comes up in daily stand-ups and 1:1 meetings.
Read More: Best Practices for Teams
Daily stand-ups can be a mix of live meetings (either virtual or in-person) and async check-ins. At Shortcut, we do both live and async check-ins.
For the async check-ins, we use an automated reminder in Slack (this system works with any chat tool), which prompts: What did you work on yesterday? What are you planning to work on today? Any blockers? This ensures you can stay on top of where the team may need support and be able to track progress.
Keep in mind, linking to Shortcut Stories here makes it easy to stay updated and the unfurl feature helps see details at a glance. One tip here is for the engineering manager to get in the habit of responding to everything. This way, no one likes feeling like they are wasting their time writing something no one is reading. React and reply to ensure the team knows how valuable these check-ins are.
For the in-person or live stand-ups a great screen to share and look at as a team is the Iteration detail page. One thing you can do to make this page even more helpful and tied to the larger work is by adding the link to the related Epic or Epics in the description. This allows you to quickly hover to see progress.
From the Stories section of the Iteration page it’s great to sort by Owner, then you can walk through what each person is working on. This is a great opportunity to talk about blocked or related work, uncover connections between different Stories that might be helpful, and think about what work can be done next.
Work, work, work.
1:1 meetings are an important part of a healthy team and good 1:1 practices can help you monitor progress and ensure your team has the support they need. A great first question to kick things off is open-ended How are you? This will open up the floor for general feedback and with the right follow-up questions can help you understand what people like, dislike, feel challenged or bored by, and so much more.
Another key question that ties into monitoring progress is asking Are you blocked on anything? Making sure to ask this question outright ensures your team is supported and you keep Iterations and Epics progressing.
Read More: 10 Ways to Use Shortcut Docs
Well, we’ve made great progress, haven’t we? If you aren’t already using Shortcut, what are you waiting for? Start your free trial today.