Building software is a team sport. And to be a great coach, it’s vital for leadership to have a clear picture of what the team is working on and how much bandwidth they have to take on new things. It’s equally important to set the team up for success by empowering them to understand how their work and the work of their peers ties into the big picture. As Mark Cook, VP of Product at Quri, experienced, even before you hit scale these can be tough problems to solve.
Quri helps brands see how their products are displayed in stores and analyze performance data, enabling a true data-driven approach to merchandising. As the head of product and engineering, Mark oversees two engineering teams with a total of 10 people, as well as one product manager and one designer.
The whole team tracks and manages their work in Jira Software. However, from the Jira Software boards and backlog, it was hard for Mark to understand all the work that was happening and when it would finish. To understand the feasibility of his roadmap, Mark wanted a clean read on this information without digging through heaps of Jira Software tickets. Mark first asked the team to use a 3rd party Gantt chart solution, but this presented challenges. There wasn’t a clean integration to Jira Software. This meant the tool required constant updating (a time-consuming task, in and of itself) and it wasn’t reflective of the most current state of work. And it felt like more of a tool for management and not something that would actually help the team with their work.
Mark decided to make the switch to Portfolio for Jira when he discovered that it automatically stays updated as things in Jira Software, such as issue status and backlog prioritization, change. He also identified that Portfolio could be just as helpful for his team as it was for him.
Better visibility helped Quri’s engineering team tie their work back to the big picture
Mark’s team saw some immediate benefits once they got up and running with Portfolio. The team used Portfolio’s scope table, which takes the Jira Software backlog and puts it into a spreadsheet-like view with clear issue hierarchy, to gain visibility into how their work fits into the big picture. With this additional context, Mark noticed his team began to break down work with more detail and into smaller increments. According to Mark: “Previously folks would say, ‘It’s hard for me to see how my ticket fits into everything else, it’s hard for me to understand where there are gaps in scope.’ The view from Portfolio made it easier to structure stories, tasks, and epics because you can see everything more clearly. Issues became smaller, and things were better thought out. It made the team more efficient because no one is spinning their wheels.”
Quri’s VP of Product uses Portfolio to see work across the whole team
Portfolio has not only been helpful for the team, but it’s enabled Mark to have a clearer view of what the team is working on, which has been helpful for optimizing the capacity of the team. According to Mark: “I use Portfolio as an observation window to see what’s happening on the team. It helps me see when people are coming free about 2 to 3 weeks ahead of when they are.” Mark brings this information to the team’s weekly near-term roadmap planning meeting where they make decisions about prioritization and schedule. Getting more insights into the team’s capacity and the full scope of what the team is working on helps the team to be confident in the feasibility of their projects and the priorities they set.
Having more visibility into what the team is working on has also been helpful for improving the team’s processes. As Mark describes, “I noticed progress was not being made on a specific epic, and then when you drill into it in Portfolio’s scope table you realize the status of a lot of stories are code complete. This led me to identify that we need a better process for making sure things get reviewed. I can see where bottlenecks are. This was a nice efficiency gain.”
Getting started with Portfolio
Mark says one of the most important parts of ramping up was simply getting the team to understand the value of the tool. He did this by making Portfolio a part of his weekly planning meeting.
To get the most of out of Portfolio, it’s important to have estimates associated with work (even if they’re just placeholder estimates that Portfolio can automatically assign). That said, as part of the change management process to introduce Portfolio, Mark requested that the Quri team start estimating their work. While estimation is important for understanding the relative size of work, Mark also understands in software development, there are a lot of unknowns and approaches estimation with that perspective. According to Mark, “We don’t hold anyone to the estimates. We don’t say this should take you two days, why aren’t you done? Rather, it’s more about understanding whether this a month-long project or two-week project.” Quri estimates all their issues in hours/days, which Portfolio can be configured to use.
The basics of how Quri builds a Portfolio plan
Quri keeps the style in which they use Portfolio simple. They haven’t set up any additional hierarchy beyond epics, stories, and tasks (the out-of-the-box hierarchy in Jira Software). They work with the kanban methodology and use their kanban boards as their Portfolio issue source. They generally use releases in Portfolio to group issues together where it makes sense. Releases are most often used to help the team get an approximate date for when a collection of stories will ship. Mark notes that unless they specifically need to deliver something to a customer, they don’t set a fixed release date (which lets the team know whether their work can fit within a specific timeframe).
Quri uses Portfolio for Jira to help give their engineering and product teams a better understanding of how their work all comes together to deliver value to the business. With this additional context, the team is empowered to be more autonomous, to better scope their work, and to identify gaps where they may not have before. Portfolio also helps Quri by giving the management team a better view into what work is happening and when it will be complete, which has helped to better manage the team’s capacity utilization, increase confidence around prioritization and give longer lead times for planning. With their relatively simple Portfolio setup, the tool has helped the team make some big strides in the way they build products.