From Chaos to Order using OneNote – Part 1

~ managing a Microsoft Dynamics project using Agile and OneNote to capture and bring order to your brilliance ~

Microsoft’s OneNote has saved me from myself.  I am slightly ADD and have brilliant moments at inopportune times.  I manage my self-induced stress with order and structure, and this blog series will detail how I’ve done it using OneNote on my laptop.

Here’s a quick overview of the process; details to come later:

During requirements gathering …

customer input explodes into a fireworks burst of more questions, ideas, and things I need to remember to do.  Dear G_d, the chaos and the sleep loss.

After requirements gathering …

the chaos (er — details) are brought to order into a product backlog of stories and tasks I need to accomplish.  The priority of the items are managed on a regular basis both with and without my customer by simply dragging and dropping to re-order.

Along the way, if order can’t quite be achieved, items  (stories, tasks, random notes in no particular place) are tagged for follow up with other resources, as needed.  When a resource is in front of me — either by invitation or accident — I quickly locate all tagged items needing their input. How sweet it is.

When a story is Done …

it’s status is changed and it’s moved to the Demo area.   As Demo Day approaches, the stories in the Demo area are combined into a cohesive set of business scenarios grouped by User Role. Momentum rules. Distractions distract.

During the Demo …

another round of chaos begins (er — feedback) and everything is documented in a “scratchpad” area.  Once the Demo is done, each story’s status is changed to Done and it’s moved to the Done area.

After the Demo …

the recent round of chaos is processed back into order by transferring from the scratchpad area to the backlog and reordering priorities accordingly. Pick up next on the list and keep moving forward.  The cycle continues and sleep prevails!

Ah, the beauty of order and structure brought about by OneNote.

The back story:

This series is focused on how I use OneNote to bring order to a ridiculous yet exhilarating Microsoft Dynamics project managed using pieces of the Agile methodology.  I perform in the roles of business analyst, project manager, scrum master, and Dynamics configuration specialist (with no prior Dynamics knowledge or training).  That’s the ridiculous part.  The exhilarating part is seeing the final solution come to life and delight the customer.

Agile purists would argue this isn’t Agile done well; and it’s not. It fails on many of Agile’s principles, including establishing a sustainable pace.  Not many could sustain the pace I’m working at for any length of time, but I have tons of flexibility with when I can work both from my personal and work life perspectives.

It is what’s working for now to get feedback early and often given my unique circumstances; my time with the customer is limited; funding is limited; tolerance for change is limited; and technical understanding by the customer is limited.  My customer (and employer) is a US governmental agency, so I either I jumped in and took it on or it wasn’t going to get done — for a very long time.

Given these circumstances, one either figures out a way or comes to their senses and bails out when presented with such a challenge.  I chose the former, and am blessed to be supported by an incredibly awesome manager who stands back and steps in, as necessary.   As well as a husband who gets it when I’m in the zone and has become quite the “Call of Duty” warrior as a result.

Oh, and the Microsoft Dynamics Community.  Go there — early and often as they say in testing circles.  The resources are gracious with their time and swift in their responses.

Using the TFS Scrum Process Template

Like finding a needle in a haystack, below are links to the information most relevant during the implementation of the TFS Scrum Process template.

Microsoft How-To: Scrum for Everyone – Visual Studio Magazine


Application Lifecycle Management in Visual Studio

Sprint Burndown

  • horizontal axis shows days in a sprint
  • vertical axis measures the amount of work that remains to complete the tasks in a sprint
  • if you divide a task into subtasks, specify hours only for the subtasks.  These hours are rolled up as summary values for the parent task.

Sprint Burndown


  • raw data is from product backlog
  • horizontal axis represents sprints
  • vertical axis measures the backlog effort the team has reported as complete (shown in whatever u nit the team uses)
  • Requires:
    • Iteration and Area Paths are specified
    • Effort in PBI is accurate
    • State of each PBI is accurate


Test Cases

MSDN Article

  • Test Case Readiness Report
    • data is derived from the data warehouse.
  • Requires:
    • Iteration and Area Path values are specified
    • State of each Test case is accurate


Using the TFS Scrum Process Template – Introduction

Visual Studio 2010 ships with a Scrum Process Template, which is a customized set of work items and workflow designed to work with the ceremonies associated with an agile team using scrum. If you’re familiar with TFS, using this tool is a no-brainer. Your standard “work items” just have different names and are embedded in a unique workflow.

Details about this tool can be found on the Microsoft Developer Network website in the section titled Application Lifecycle Management with Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server.  They have done a fabulous job documenting how it works; I’m just adding to it.  I’ll frequently reference this site throughout this series.

In a multi-post series to follow, I will share the intricacies of how I put the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the unique needs of my project. My implementation has evolved through trial-and-error and is in no way the only way to skin the cat. The intent is that through sharing my implementation others will learn what can be done and come away with ideas on how to make it work on their teams.

Back story

I am a Certified ScrumMaster.  In the practical world, that doesn’t mean a whole lot.  I was certified back in 2008 by the king of agile, Ken Schwaber.  Look him up for insightful, no nonsense commentary on the topic.  Back then you didn’t have to demonstrate you could apply the knowledge you learned; you just had to survive eight hours of sitting in an uncomfortable convention room chair and a boxed lunch.  Fast forward to 2013 when I had my first opportunity to perform in the role of Scrummaster.  I was clueless and I still am for the most part.

I have 25 years experience as an analyst on development teams and have found the inherent skill sets of an analyst to be complimentary to the management of a product backlog.  Yes, the product backlog should be managed by the Product Owner, but in my experience, I haven’t had the luxury of  a knowledgable Product Owner, so I’ve had to be intimately involved in the backlog.

My experience with what I call “TFS”  has been while on contract for a state government agency, so we did not have the budget to make a specific purchase of a tool.   I kept hearing “TFS” in the context of the source control and commentary about workflow management, so I dug a little deeper.

TFS was used by the development team, but no one had spearheaded the effort to utilize the Scrum Process Template which ships with it. Here’s where I came in.  I take on crazy things like this because I like to figure things out.  What I figured out was there is a lot of information on the MSDN site, but it took me hours to dig through it.  I’ll try to provide some quick tips to help highlight how I have adopted the Scrum Process Template in the agency.   As a Certified Scrum Master, senior systems analyst, and stand-in Product Owner, the following blog series details my experience and implementation.

Get feelings out of the clouds

I had a brilliant idea for getting introverts on our scrum team to contribute valuable input during our end of sprint retrospective. It’s mixes a little bit of fun and creativity without going over the top and feeling too contrived, like some of the agile games I’ve researched.   It involves a tag cloud.

Here’s the instructions:

  1. Using Notepad or other simple editor, type a minimum of 20 words describing how you feel about the project’s current state.  You can repeat words to add emphasis.  You can also include phrases, but do not put spaces between the words in the phrase.
  2. Browse to
  3. Paste your words into the text area.
  4. Click the GO button.  Now, be patient.  JAVA needs to load.
  5. When the Authentication Required dialog appears, click the Cancel button to ignore it. Then the JAVA dialog appears asking if you “want to run this application?”
  6. Click the Run button.
    • Again, be patient.  For some reason it takes awhile to generate.
  7. Once your tag cloud appears, click the Randomize button.  This regenerates the tag cloud using different colors, text directions, and font faces.  Keep clicking the button until you see one you like.  It’s fun!!
  8. Print your tag cloud and bring it to the retrospective.

I’ve given my team these instructions for Friday’s retrospective.  I’ll post back with the results.

Retrospectives as an opportunity to work on yourself

Today was the end of our sprint and culminated with a retrospective.  The law of humanity states that having a sour apple in your bushel shouldn’t be a significant surprise; with mine being no exception.  Regardless of what technique I use, one team member will stonewall, then set the garbage can on fire and leave the room.   This individual relentlessly brings his issues to the sprint event and remains on the periphery, never fully investing in the team.   I have to wonder if this isn’t  more prevalent with public institutions?  My apologies for the judgment.

When your hands are tied, the best way to approach this challenge is to look at it as an opportunity to work on yourself.  I am in the midst of reading “Everything is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution” and the timing couldn’t be perfect.  The universe works that way.   I view the challenge as a blessing to exercise what I’m learning through this self-study.  Since retrospectives are great opportunities for conflict resolution, capitalize on it to work on yourself.