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Project Planning and Monitoring with Team Foundation Server, Part 3: Team Load Balancing

Previously we discussed the TFS basics and work scope estimation with TFS . In the following article, we will tell you how to keep the project load under control; what every team member should do when working with TFS; and how to be sure that the development process is running smoothly.

Defining TFS Users Roles

When analyzing everyday work with TFS, we can define the following roles:

  • Developer, tester, designer, and other engineers
  • Team leader, scrum master or project manager
  • Customer, supervisor or another party with the right to overseer the project

Developers and other service providers

At the beginning of each iteration, every team member receives a specific scope of work that doesn’t exceed his/her time resources. At least 10% of extra time is given to fix possible defects or solve unexpected issues that might occur during the development stage. As we have previously shown, some time during the planning stage was allocated as a resource for the daily tasks.

For a full-time developer, it would be approximately seven working hours per day. When working with TFS, a developer has two extra tasks besides the product development: daily updating of the Remaining Work field for all tasks in progress and updating the status of this task. In fact, these two are the only operations that developer has to do when working with TFS. This means that at the end of the working day all team members need to specify how many hours are left to complete their tasks. When the task is completed, they have to change its status to “Done”. In this case, the work scope given to a certain developer will decrease, putting him in the “green” zone of the capacity & time correlation. The whole team will stay in the green zone if every member has this correlation balanced.

The greatest benefit TFS brings to the developer is a powerful code-controlling platform integrated with Microsoft Visual Studio. Moreover, TFS offers a system to work with the test cases. In some cases, a developer can face unexpected difficulties. In this case, he has to set a new increased value in the Remaining Work field.

Team leaders and Project managers

Providing control is the main responsibility of both a Team leader and a Project manager. TFS contains a number of control tools that work well in real projects. One of them is shown in Picture 1. In this case, the testing engineer was overloaded; the whole case required an urgent attention and a prompt managerial decision. Monitoring the workload of every team member and of the whole team in general is an easy way to track the development status. The capacity lines are always available on the sprint page, with the red color highlighting the task areas that require attention.

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Picture 1: Analysis of a Team capacity at the beginning of the sprint

The graph in Picture 2 below shows real changes in the work scope and time available for the work performance (Capacity). The green line features hours reduction needed for the development, and the blue area summarizes Remaining Work for all tasks in the sprint. If the blue graph goes over the green line, the team is behind the deadline. When the blue graph is below the green line, the team is in “green” zone of the capacity & time correlation balance (Capacity). Moreover, this graph allows to observe the project’s tendencies. E.g., even if the team is always in the “green” zone and is not overloaded with tasks, the graph of the remaining works can get closer to the Capacity margin (the green line). This trend might attract manager’s attention as there can be some difficulties that block the teamwork. Thus, the team can soon be behind the schedule.

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Picture 2: Burndown chart. Time history of the changes in the remaining workload

It is hard to foresee all kinds of reports that may become necessary at different project stages. TFS has an excellent tool that can help you create reports, graphs, and data summaries according to different criteria. By using Query option, we can get any dataset from the tasks, User Stories or any other items that are in progress or already completed. Moreover, based on the same dataset we can create different summary graphs.

For example, Picture 3 shows three graphs generated with the same dataset. This set, resulting from a query, has a table view and can be modified in Results and Editor tabs. With its help, the manager can analyze all current activities in the project, including the workload and task distribution among the team, and much more by generating relevant graphs and data selections.
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Picture 3: User Query Graphs

Customer, supervisor, and another controlling party

Transparency of the processes and intermediary results, as well as anytime available information, are the key features of the business. It may be difficult to find data you need among all those reports, lists, and documents. Here’s where TFS can help – it has almost limitless Query options. Thus, people with access to the portal of a particular project can easily generate any excerpts and reports they need. With TFS, you can create a personalized Dashboard out of the most frequently accessed information and graphs.

In Picture 4, you can see a Dashboard sample with a number of graphs, which may be of use for future work and monitoring activities. This Dashboard contains main elements to indicate team’s workload and some statistical data. The Dashboard can be extended with additional graphs, charts, and tables depending on the project requirements, needs, and items that require regular monitoring. Thus, one project review window can display all up-to-date information that may be of interest for the customer. If the Dashboard is created due to the managerial decisions or project specifics, there is no need to constantly search for the data, as it is available on the main page of the project. We can also find here the indicators that mark necessity to carry out managerial decisions, optimize the processes, and extend or reduce the team.
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Picture 4: TFS Dashboard

Specialists comment on TFS

Manager: I use tasks formatting to see available items. TFS can optionally highlight any item based on my specific requirements, such as ‘last updated’ date, dependencies, blocking and more. Additionally, TFS and MS Excel integration is a huge benefit for me! With all that, I can focus on other tasks.

Manager: TFS is really easy to use! I like TFS Scrum Board, which is extremely useful for distributed teams. I can see all status updates immediately. All tasks are already there, and managing them is so effortless!

Technical Leader: TFS is my daily driver. I use it as a source control, task tracker, code review tool – the possibilities are limitless! TFS helps me to get things done in time and present my progress to the customer in a concise and transparent way.

Developer:  I can easily track all my activities in TFS and find all information I need. When I work with TFS, I can be sure I am developing according to the schedule.

For sure, three articles are not enough to unlock the whole potential of the Team Foundation Server. Nonetheless, they are enough to show that TFS is a very practical and efficient tool that  meets users’ expectations. TFS helps to manage the development process on all participants’ sides and to provide a comprehensive control of the project progress.

Don’t hesitate to ask more about TFS if you still have questions.

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