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Introducing Simple Planner for lightweight Agile, Scrum, and Kanban

Posted by Andy Singleton on Tue, May 29, 2012

Today you will see a new tab called "Planner" on the left side of your Tickets tool.  Planner will make it easier for you to start new projects and to run agile projects.

Assembla Tickets is powerful and flexible, but it can be daunting to use if you are just starting out. There are many ways to configure milestones and ticket lists and custom fields and status values to fit a customized process.  Most users just want to get started quickly with a process that already works.

Simple Planner is the solution.  It's implemented on one page with popup details.

Sort Differently

Simple Planner is compatible with existing tickets and milestones.  You can view your existing tickets in the Planner or start in the Planner and switch to the cardwall or a customized list view.

There is a difference in how Planner organizes tickets.  If you are a current user of Assembla tickets, you probably sort tasks using milestones and priority.  You lay out your roadmap with sequential milestones.  Some customers use milestones as containers for other things such as clients or products.  Inside a milestone, you mark a ticket with Priority.  If you mark a ticket as "Highest" priority, it floats to the top in all of our default views and gets a bright color.  Setting a priority is a fast way to sort, which is why I created this implementation.

Planner replaces the two ideas of milestone and priority with one concept: sorting.  Tickets go into one backlog milestone, and you drag-and-drop to sort them.  They stay in place even if you change the priority.  This sorting process gives you more precise control over the list of tasks and it is easier to set up.


Is it simple?  Here on one page are the complete instructions for using Simple Planner, including for Scrum and Kanban.

To start using the Planner

You and your team members will enter tickets as “New”.  A product owner or tech lead will move New tickets to Backlog and sort them.  The owner can also drag tickets directly to Current.  Team members will work on the Current tickets.

The New ticket form only asks for a title and a description.  If you want to enter more fields in the ticket, you can use Settings to set default values, or you can click through to the “Advanced” form which has room for more fields and file attachments.

Click on a ticket card to see the description, attachments, and comments.  Many teams will add comments to discuss the task and read email alerts to see the discussion.

Connect a task with a user by selecting a team member in the assigned to field.  They will see the ticket in their list of followed tickets, and you will see their pictures on the tickets.  Click the star to follow a ticket (you will get emails about comments and status changes) or un-follow a ticket.  Use the status field to move tickets to a new status, eventually moving them to "Fixed" or Closed status. You can use the context menu (shown below) to make updates to a ticket quickly. 

context menu

Current and Backlog milestones

The Planner uses three milestones:

New - Not assigned to a milestone.  This container gives you an efficient way to collect requests, suggestions, and bug reports.  They go into the New container, and later, a product owner or tech lead sorts them by priority.

Backlog - This contains a list of all the things that you want to do, sorted in priority order.

Current - This contains the list of tasks that your team is working on now.  You an edit this list every day, or you can run an iterative process where you load the Current list, and then "burn down" until you finish all tasks.  Current tasks also appear on the Cardwall, burndown, and other views.

If you have an existing project, and you go to the Planner subtab, the Planner will ask you to select Current and Backlog milestones from your existing list of milestones, or create new milestones, which it will name "Current" and "Backlog".

set milestone

To sort your tasks

Make a plan by sorting the Backlog list of tasks into the order that you want to work on them.  Move urgent tasks to the top.  Move tickets from the top of Backlog to Current with the "Load" button, or by dragging them manually.

move arrowsThe simplest way to sort is to use the arrow icons for “Send to top” – send a ticket that you want to work on now to the top of the Backlog, and “Send to bottom” – send a ticket that you do not want to work on now to the bottom of the backlog.  You will see these icons in the New and Backlog columns.  You can also sort with drag and drop.

To manage a Kanban process

Enter a capacity on top of the Current column.  Capacity is the number of points that you want to see on your Kanban board.  Add estimates to tickets.  Select “Load” to move tickets into Current.  Do this frequently so that you always have approximately the right number of Current tickets.  You will see your current tickets on the Cardwall in a traditional Kanban board view.

With a Kanban or lean process, you want to control the number of tasks (WIP or Work In Progress) so that someone is working on each task, and no task is just waiting.  This simple tactic allows you to deliver each task as quickly as possible, which is efficient, and very satisfying.  You can ensure that each task is being worked on by controlling the number of tickets, not the size of the tickets. We often recommend an estimate setting of  "Do not estimate" (which will load ticket counts and not points), and a capacity that allows one, two, or three tickets per team member.

To manage a Scrum or iterative process

To start a sprint - Enter a capacity.  Select “Load” to move tickets into Current and start your iteration.  

To finish a sprint - "Show closed tickets"  in the Current column.  You will see all of the closed tickets in the Current milestone.  Select “Close Iteration”.  This will close and rename the Current milestone.  Give this old milestone a name that describes your sprint or release.  It will create a new Current milestone, and move any open tickets to that new Current milestone.

With a scrum or iterative process, you will want to estimate the total amount of work that you can do in an iteration.  Use Small/Medium/Large or integer points.

Estimate types

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A project owner can select several estimate types on the Settings page (shown above).  

  • "Do not estimate" will hide the estimates and set every ticket to 1 point.  So, the Capacity measures will equal ticket counts, which is useful for a Lean methodology.
  • "Small / Medium / Large" gives you a popup widget for estimating “Small” (1 point), “Medium” (3 points), or “Large” (7 points).
  • "Points" gives you an integer field for entering estimates.

We match these points with a “Capacity” – the approximate number of points that your team can work on at one time.  If you do not enter a capacity, and you do some work, then we will calculate capacity from historical velocity – the number of points in tickets that are closed in the last week.

Estimates do not need to be accurate.  Even simple estimates will help you work on approximately the right number of tickets.  It is more important to sort your tasks in priority order.  If your tickets are sorted correctly, you will always be working on the most important tasks.

Switch Views

Switch to the Cardwall view to see your Current tasks in a Scrum Board or Kanban Board format.

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What do you think of the new Simple Planner? Get it for free with Assembla Renzoku

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The new planner seems to be a better solution than the Outline view. 
One issue that we are missing in this view is the distinguish between stories and tasks.  
It would be great to have the tasks collapse under a story and a simple indication for story/task.

posted @ Monday, June 04, 2012 4:07 AM by David Raviv

Planner does seem better than Outline. It is a move closer to the behavior of Pivotal Tracker, but still far from it. Too bad we've already left Assembla for Tracker. When Planner matures in complexity, we might consider using Assembla again.

posted @ Tuesday, June 05, 2012 2:15 PM by Jeff

It helps for scrum usage. What is not well understood is : 
- the capacity : is it the number of points per days, per week ? 
- Task, user stories :  
how to manage user stories splitted in tasks and when task are done, the user story is automatically done ? Also, when task and user stories are in current sprint, the burndown sum all estimates (we have twice the time in total)

posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 11:02 AM by chemoul

yes, story/task management is still a challenge. clunky to create right now. what happens when one of 5 child tasks is left undone at end of iteration. plus questions chermoul raised above. 
please clarify how best to use stories in the context of the new Planner.

posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 1:23 PM by randy

don't find how to convert ticket to storie ?

posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 3:23 PM by chemoul

This release of the Planner is designed to be simple. Tasks are flat, without stories and subtasks. For most new user and many applications, simple is good. However, we are going to do more work to support use cases for more experienced Scrum teams. 
David, yes, we are planning to add Story/Task breakdown. Then, you will be able to plan your Backlog with stories, and expand them with tasks after you move the to Current. We have this (in a clunkier form) in Outline view, so we understand the data structure. However, I want to be careful about adding this to Planner, so that we do not add too much complexity to the UI. I will happily accept drawings with UI ideas, if you want to send us some. 
Steeve, Capacity is defined by you to match your iterations. It is the number of points that you want in an iteration, if you are using iterations, or the number of tickets that you want on the board at one time, if you are working with a continuous or Kanban process. You can click on it to match your iteration. In the next release, we will calculate and show a velocity, which by default is the points closed per week, as a trailing four week average, and we will set that as a default capacity for one week. 
Our system does not close a story if you close all subtasks. You have to do that manually, which I think is right. You want to know that the thing is really done and released. 
You should decide if you are going to estimate on stories or tasks. To get correct sums, one of them should be zero. Otherwise, the system will not know which to take (sum of task estimates, or story estimate). In the new Story/Task UI we will probably offer a checkbox so that you can easily make this choice for each story.

posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 1:34 PM by Andy Singleton

How do you change the Milestones in Planner?

posted @ Monday, June 11, 2012 3:32 AM by Lewis

You can change the milestones by going to the milestone tab, and marking a milestone as "Current" or "Backlog". Find the milestone that you want as the new Current or Backlog milestone. Select "edit". Change the "Planner" field to "Current" or "Backlog". This will be more obvious in the next upgrade of the Milestones layout.

posted @ Monday, June 11, 2012 7:23 AM by Andy Singleton

looks like a nice feature, I've been using assembla for 6 months. it's unfortunate that they've forget to put a simlpe text-align feature in their "TinyMCE" editor.  
editor remained poor and drives you crazy most of the time and nobody does anything about it.

posted @ Friday, June 15, 2012 9:42 AM by ali

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