CKI-010: Tracking and planning

How to track both planned and unplanned work, and create a reliable milestone planning
Michael Hofmann – cki-project/documentation!275

Abstract

This document describes an approach to handle planned and unplanned work based on GitLab issues.

Motivation

The CKI team has started to use weights on issues, but the precise approach for tracking planned and unplanned work has not been written down and discussed properly.

Approach

GitLab issues are used for tracking work items. Ideally, each issue should represent the smallest deliverable change.

Issue life cycle

Newly created issues are automatically tagged with the needs-triage label. During the daily stand-up meetings, these issues are shortly presented by whoever created the issue. This is done even if an issue is already closed.

It is easily possible to get a list of those issues. Possible implementations include

  • on the standup IRC bot command, print a link to the GitLab issue list filtered by the label needs-triage label
  • on the standup IRC bot command, print a list of the issues
  • implement a dedicated list-triage IRC bot command

The needs-triage label can be removed from all issues via the clear-triage IRC bot command after the stand-up meeting.

Closed issues are automatically tagged with a date-based sprint label such as sprint::2022-week-32. If no milestone was associated with an issue, an extra milestone-based unplanned label such as unplanned::Plumbers 2022 is added.

Planned work

Work across a calendar year is divided into three intervals ending at the following conferences:

To track planned work for these milestones, GitLab issues are tagged with the milestone, e.g. with the /milestone quick command or the m keyboard shortcut in the issue view.

For issues to be included in a milestone, they must have a weight assigned according to the following table:

Weight Time Complexity
2 1-2 days Simple: minimal amount of work, acceptance criteria clear and manageable.
5 3-5 days Complicated: task has some difficult aspects, but acceptance criteria are still feasible.
8 Unknown Too big: Task is too big, amount of work is not predictable, break into smaller tasks.

Only issues with a weight below or equal to 5 can be included in a milestone. Issues with a higher weight must be split up, e.g. by converting them into an epic and creating issues for the individual work items. Where needed, this split has to be completed before the milestone planning meeting.

The total weight of all issues in a new milestone is based on the weight of issues completed in previous milestones (velocity).

After planning for a milestone is finalized,

  • weights of associated issues must not be changed
  • no new issues may be added, unless issues with an equal weight are removed from the milestone

Unplanned work

Unplanned work is any work not included in the planning, e.g. urgent feature requests, bug fixes, security-related infrastructure work, maintenance and incidents.

To make it easy to create issues for unplanned work, the IRC bot can create issues via the new-issue, new-incident and issue-from-mr commands.

As opposed to planned work, no milestone should be assigned to the associated GitLab issues. For incidents, the issues should be tagged with the incident label, e.g. via the /label quick command or the l keyboard shortcut in the issues view.

When closed, unweighted issues will be automatically tagged with a weight of 2.

Benefits

For each work item, a GitLab issue should be created. This

  • creates visibility and enables reporting
  • allows to attach merge requests to it, which provides a way to later track down all the work required for a certain work item

The needs-triage label simplifies the review of newly created work items during the daily stand-up meetings. Daily review of these issues ensures that

  • everybody is aware of the work items
  • knowledge transfer is facilitated by allowing everybody to raise their hand to work on an item, and request help and mentorship directly if they feel they do not have enough experience to resolve the issues on their own

The sprint labels simplify the review of finished work during the backlog review meetings. They provide an indication when issues were closed and therefore whether they should be discussed in the backlog review meeting.

The unplanned labels simplify the review of finished unplanned work during the milestone review meetings. They provide an indication of the amount of unplanned work that occurred during a milestone. A label is used as opposed to a milestone to emphasize the unplanned aspect of the work, while still allowing easy alignment with the corresponding milestone.

Assigning weights for all issues included in the planning allows to determine the velocity of development, which

  • enables a more precise planning
  • creates flexibility as it allows to replace planned issues by new issues as long as total weight of the milestone is maintained

Drawbacks

The process for following up on weight 8 issues getting broken down is currently not specified. For large tasks, this breakdown can take a long time.

The approach as described above might create a bunch of busywork and stress, only serving to slow the team down and give just a semblance of control and predictability.

Last modified August 11, 2022: Create RFC for planning and tracking (e6b2d2c)