Using Backpack for agile collaboration

Our development team is getting great mileage from 37Signals’ Backpack application to share to-do lists and knowledge about our project. Randy and I are currently working on an internal web application for the Physical Facilities department of the Church, an app so big that we have seven developers, four QA engineers, two DBA’s, and a few managers to keep tabs on it all (about twice the size Flickr’s team).

We use a mixture of Extreme Programming and Agile / Getting Real methodologies, with pair programming (and pair designing – more on that later) and two-week iterations. We are having a lot of success with this approach, most of which coming from prototyping and user testing the app before it hits development, and using the prototype as our spec. We have very little documentation – the prototype is it.

But recently I started using my Backpack account to manage my to-do’s (an upgrade from paper scraps). I then added a few short lists to keep focused on the major features of the next few iterations. Then it hit me – I shared the page with Randy, and we started adding things to each others’ lists, pushing things onto a “future enhancements” list if it fell below priority.

Then we shared the page with our business analyst Pablo, who signed up for an account and started keeping his own list of to-do’s, a list on which Randy and I could easily jot down business questions for Pablo to answer.

And just last week I shared the page with Lohan, our lead QA. He signed up for an account, and created his own lists of questions for Randy, Pablo and me, and we just edit the to-do’s with answers and questions of our own.

The lists are ever changing and easily added and deleted. No history is kept; none is needed. A list usually lasts about one iteration, and after those two weeks I wipe it and start fresh.

The best part is the app has little barrier to usage – Basecamp, for example, takes more of a commitment to project management. Backpack is the opposite; kindof an anti- project manager. It is a perfect light-weight collaboration tool for us. Agile in its own design, and helping our team be agile by letting us quickly jot and share thoughts and priorities.

posted by Jason Lynes on Wednesday, Oct 04, 2006
tagged with 37signals, backpack, agile, softwareengineering