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  • Mark Boltri

SPAR: A Work Management Tool Flexible Enough for the Modern Team


Keeping up with an evolving work landscape

As digital transformation moves more and more into the spotlight for companies seeking to stay competitive, the effects are being felt beyond just the computer screen. The rate of change is accelerating, and small, and large teams are feeling the pressure to work effectively and efficiently. Gone are the days when a one-size-fits-all approach to project management could be applied to every team within an organization. Instead, for a modern team, success can often be found in the ability to adapt their methodologies to keep up with shifting requirements and technologies. Teams that can move quickly are more effective at solving problems and have higher rates of long-term success. However, there’s a catch: what if the team can achieve that level of adaptability, but the tools they are using can’t keep up?


This is a question each team must ask about all the tools they use, but first among them should be their project and work management software, which is essential for coordinating in-progress work and planning for the future. There is no shortage of tools built for this purpose; the challenge is achieving the right balance between ease of use and powerful features. Some software, such as Trello, is user-friendly and has a low barrier to entry, but it works better for more general usage and lacks the depth for many enterprise use cases. On the other end of the spectrum, there are tools such as JIRA, which includes a high degree of flexibility, in-depth reporting, and many customization options. Still, many users only take advantage of a small subset of these features and often require training to acclimate to the complex interface.


Finding a balance with SPAR

Given the amount of collective time spent at Macedon developing applications and ideas, having a good work management solution is a must for our teams. However, the more complex our needs became, the less satisfied we were with existing solutions. Moreover, we found that many clients were running into the same challenges as us, using tools that provide too little or too much complexity.


Our solution: Sprint Planning and Agile Resource (SPAR). SPAR is designed from the ground up to be approachable and easy to use while simultaneously containing powerful features that can adapt to various use cases. Our goal with SPAR was to build a tool that fits the needs of many different types of teams. We didn’t want to just build a “software development tool”; SPAR can do that, sure, but it’s made for any type of team, even those who may not work with computers all the time and perhaps haven’t even heard of Agile.


As an example of how SPAR can adapt to different types of users, take the ticket interface:

A ticket in SPAR is a unit of work; across different systems and methodologies, it might be referred to as a user story, task, or work item. At first glance, the most noticeable elements are the ticket title and description, so any user, even one who doesn’t have prior experience with SPAR (or any other work management software), can quickly find the critical information for the ticket.


However, for users with more complex needs, there is a bevy of features just a click away. The sidebar on the right contains several useful fields to help categorize the ticket; the values for many of these fields can be customized; more on that later. Underneath the description is a set of sections to allow for a variety of details to be added, such as a checklist, comments, documents, and links (associations) to other tickets.


These two ideas - approachability for new users and depth for power users - are at the core of SPAR’s design.


Deep customization

One of the other core ideas of SPAR is customization. SPAR was built so it wouldn’t force teams into a niche; a sprint-based Agile team shouldn’t be compelled into a kanban-style workflow (or vice versa) just because of the tool they are using.


To this end, SPAR was created with multiple views of tickets to account for the needs of different teams - software engineers, HR specialists, financial analysts, etc. Each team might have different data points that are important to them, so the tool they are using should be flexible in how those data points are captured and surfaced.

In the following screenshots, the same five tickets are all represented, but each view provides a different perspective and focus:

1. Grid view allows for sorting and bulk edits
2. Agile-style board view, tickets grouped by status
3. Calendar view, organized by the due date

This focus on customization also extends to the data points captured within tickets. While some teams may want to capture a high degree of detail and specificity for every ticket, others may focus on simplicity and minimalism instead.


SPAR accomplishes this through its program configuration feature. In SPAR, teams are organized into “programs”; users can see and collaborate on tickets within their program, and there’s no limit to the number of programs that can be created in a SPAR environment.


The best part of programs is the flexibility they provide to the team. As an example, take a look at one of the pages within the program configuration area:

This screen shows a subset of the options available for program customization, including setting a unique set of statuses, priorities, types, and other fields for tickets. Values for each field can be added, removed, and updated, allowing SPAR to conform to the team's methodology rather than the team modifying their methodology to fit the tool better.


Along the top of the program configuration screen are additional sections for changing other aspects of the program, including custom fields. Custom fields allow data to be captured on tickets even if that data isn’t part of a “standard ticket.” For example, suppose a company wanted to track the assigned business analyst, target release date, the state where work will be performed, and associated product name for each ticket. In that case, custom fields could be added to allow for that or any other combination of fully customizable data points.


Designed for Appian

One of the recurring challenges with many work management tools is that they are often walled gardens. Integrating them with other existing software can require a high level of technical expertise or necessitate the purchase of a whole suite of products that must be used in conjunction.


SPAR addresses this concern as an application built within Appian and designed for interaction with other systems. For user bases already heavily using Appian, SPAR can easily connect with other Appian applications to allow for things like creating a ticket when a user takes action in another area within Appian. However, SPAR can also be connected quickly with a larger ecosystem by virtue of the rapid integration capabilities offered by Appian.


Another advantage of this Appian-centric approach is that installation is a breeze. The time from purchase to ready-to-use is a fraction of what is typical for some other tools. SPAR doesn’t require purchasing any additional supporting software beyond what is already in place for the Appian environment. Because of Appian’s rapid-development focus, any modifications or additions to SPAR’s core feature set are also easily achievable.


SPAR: A tool that can keep up

Given SPAR’s advantages, it might seem obvious that it works well in theory. But how does that hold up in practice? SPAR has been deployed across various use cases - software development, marketing, program planning, technical COE, personal task management, and more. The teams using SPAR consist of different sizes and represent a variety of interests and workflows. For each team using SPAR, feedback has been collected to measure effectiveness.


The result has been an across-the-board success. Each team, despite their differences, has been able to utilize SPAR and easily make it work for them. New users can start using it with little to no training, and once they learn the system, they can take advantage of the powerful feature set. Data can be customized to suit each team's needs, ranging from developers to marketing associates to program planners and more. On top of that, integrations with other Appian applications make the whole system that much more streamlined.


SPAR’s design and track record make it an excellent choice for modern teams that don’t want to be constrained by their software. If SPAR sounds like something that could work for you, the Macedon team would be happy to give you a much deeper look at the tool and its features. Please take a look at the AppMarket listing and reach out to info@macedontechnologies.com with questions or to set up some time with one of our team members.


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