Azure DevOps (ADO) for Sprint Planning: Four Simple Tips

Agile-principled software development Scrum teams know the importance of collaboration and should select a project management software that fosters such teamwork. Microsoft® Azure DevOps (ADO) is the obvious choice for teams developing in the Azure Cloud. My tenure at iTrellis has allowed me to serve on Agile technology solution delivery teams in many different capacities, and as a result, I have learned valuable tips and tricks to help make ADO more effective when Sprint Planning. Here are four simple ways to use Azure DevOps to efficiently capture group thinking, implement changes, and facilitate team communication. Please note that all of these tips leverage the ADO Agile Process.

1. Rearrange Work Items Faster

Context:  One team working within a Sprint. 

The purpose of the Sprint Planning event is to promote a shared understanding of the work required for the items to be delivered.  For this to happen, the Product Owner assigns a priority to each backlog item.  The prioritized backlog items are then brought into the Sprint.  ADO offers an efficient way to do this through the Planning Pane.   

Too often, I see Product Owners and others click into each task within a user story to reassign it. This process is time consuming if a parent work item has a large number of children associated with it. The reality is that there is no need to click into each item, open it, reassign it, save it and close it. I highly recommend using the Planning Side Pane, which you can access from either the Taskboard or Backlog views:

First click Planning from the Side Pane menu to activate this view. Then drag and drop the work item into the appropriate sprint/iteration or backlog. All of the associated children items will move with the parent, as shown in the video below. Or, you can drag individual child items without impacting the other work items.

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2. Improve Productivity for Recurring Work

Context: Building a backlog template that you would like to re-use.

Often times, we may have a repeat set of tasks to be performed on a recurring basis.  These can be steps, such as a checklist, peer review, research, or testing.  In an effort to make our lives more productive, we want to avoid the time-consuming, manual creation of the same task structure over and over again.  ADO saves you time through the use of copying or cloning work items, as shown in the video below.

For repeat cycles of stories or tasks, Azure DevOps has the following two options available in the Queries view:

  • Clone work item
  • Create copy of work item

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Clone work item in ADO

From the Queries view, click on the ellipsis next to the title of the user story. Click Clone work item to see a new window pop up with the following fields cloned:

  • Assigned to
  • Iteration
  • Description
  • Acceptance Criteria (if cloning user story)
  • Story Points
  • Priority
  • Risk
  • Value Area

Note that if the original work item had associated links for Related Work, those are not carried over. Also note that Clone work item is only available in the Queries view. You will not see this option by clicking on the ellipsis next to a work item title under Taskboard or Backlog. The video below shows us that once Clone work item is selected, we immediately see a cloned version of the work item.

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Create copy of work item in ADO

There are two ways to create a copy of the work item. One option is to follow the same steps outlined above for Clone work item. After clicking on the ellipsis, select Create copy of work item. The second option is to create a copy from the work item detail view. Select the ellipsis located in the top right and click Create copy of work item. In either case, a new window will pop up with the following fields:

  • Project: Option of adding the copied work item under a different project.
  • Work Item Type: Option to change the copied work item to a different type.
  • Include Existing Links: Option to copy the same related links (if any) to the work item. Examples: parent Feature or child task for a user story.
  • Include Existing Attachments: Option to copy the same attachments (if any) to the work item.

Once the selections are final, click OK, and the copied work item detail view opens. If the work item type remains the same, all the fields, including the title, are copied. The video below shows us this step by step process:

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3. Increase Efficiency With Bulk Uploads

Context: Copying or moving entire backlog Work Breakdown Structures of Epics, Features, User Stories, Tasks

As we continue team collaboration which usually results in continuously evolving processes, there are additional features that we can leverage. For a large number of work items, you may want to bulk select them to copy together. Unfortunately, this feature is not yet available in Azure DevOps. However, I have found a useful work around. First you will need to make a .csv (comma separated value) file. (Instructions for creating a .csv file are provided in the Import section.) Once the file is created, the work items can be imported. Here are the steps for this convenient time saver:

Prepare the import file

There are two ways to prepare the import file. You can either prepare it from scratch in Excel or download an existing query to Excel. To start from scratch, open an empty Excel® workbook and add column headers. You will need more than one header if you have parent/child work items, such as Epics, Features, User Stories, or Tasks. Here are some recommended column headers when uploading work items:

  • Work item
  • User Story Title, Description, and Acceptance Criteria
  • Tag
  • Story Points
  • Original Estimate
  • Remaining Hours
  • Assigned To
  • Task Title and Description

I like to start with the work items already in Azure DevOps and determine which fields are being used to track data. Keep in mind that any fields not imported will end up as empty in the uploaded work items. The video below shows the steps to download existing work items:

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Import the file into ADO

Once the file is ready to be imported, save it as a .csv file (For instructions on creating a .csv file, click here.). After that, navigate to Boards > Work items and select Import Work Items. Browse and select the prepared import file, and click Import, as shown in the video below:

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Finally, verify all the Work item details are correct, then click Save items, as shown below:

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4. Avoid Unnecessary Work

Context: As a follow on to tips 2 and 3, once the structure of the backlog is created, there is an easy way to add Requirements and Acceptance Criteria for repetitive user stories.

Creating a new User Story from scratch is not always necessary. Another useful but little known tool is the ability to build a work item from a template. Templates are useful for work items with detailed descriptions for repetitive tasks. This feature allows the work item to pre-populate with common fields, such as Requirements and Acceptance Criteria. To create a template, click on the ellipsis for the work item. Select Templates > Capture. (Creating a template is available in both the Queries and Backlog views as well as the work item detail view.) The video below demonstrates these steps:

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A new window opens with pre-populated fields for the selected work item. Select the Team for the work item and name it. Adding a description and a comment below is optional. Click Save and then close the window. The work item in the example below is a User Story. We will leverage this template the next time we create a new User Story. The fields for the new User Story will be pre-populated based on the template. The template name is always visible when selecting Templates in the option menu of the work item.

Do More With Azure DevOps

These hints and tricks only cover a small amount of what Azure DevOps has to offer. Still, these are some of my favorite tips for accelerating and making the Sprint Planning process easier. I hope these tips will help you work efficiently with ADO to conduct effective sprint planning sessions.

Sahar is a fellow consultant at iTrellis. Her professional work has been across many business verticals such as capital markets, e-commerce, consumer goods, and high tech. When not consulting, she can be found volunteering in local community organizations or running after her speedy 3 year old in the park.

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