Anderson Patricio is a highly sort-after IT solutions expert in an array of fields, including Azure, Exchange, Linux, and, well, you name it! He shares his expertise, advice — and good humor — with TechGenix readers with tutorials, news, and tips that can’t be found anywhere else. His coverage of Azure DevOps for TechGenix has been groundbreaking. This tutorial provides a great selection of Azure DevOps tips and tricks that will help IT pros boost their productivity and do their jobs better. It was a sure bet to be included in our 20 Best of 2020 series as soon as it was published in August.
I’ve been writing about Azure DevOps for a while here at TechGenix. So far we covered Wiki, customization of work items, using Azure DevOps as IaC (infrastructure-as-code), and so forth. In this journey, I've been collecting some tips and tricks to save time and take advantage of some critical built-in features to help the team be more productive and avoid repetitive tasks when using Azure DevOps, and that is the goal of this article.
The use of Azure DevOps boards is fantastic to organize and track tasks. However, depending on the design of the Work Items, the work may become tedious if you have to enter the same information for a bunch of Work Items throughout the day.
The use of templates, when used on the same Work Item type, saves a lot of time. Let’s use, for example, the scenario below, where my description, priority, and design fields are always the same for that type of task.
We can click on the … (ellipsis being shown in Item 1), then click on Templates and Capture.
The new window will have the Capture Template page. We can start by fields that we haven’t touched, and we can do that by clicking on Remove unmodified fields, then we just need to define which fields and value.
To use the feature, we can open a new blank task, then click on the ellipsis …, Templates, and click on the template that we created in the previous step. The result will be all the fields that we defined in the template being filled out with predefined values.
Azure DevOps tags are just the tip of the iceberg. We can configure tags by typing on the area highlighted in the image below. The person who manages and creates the reports and dashboards is the one who needs to organize the tags to make them compelling. Just the act of creating tags does not do a lot, but when you start using them on queries and making their values consistent, then you start seeing the benefit of tags on your projects.
We can use tags by adding that column in the backlog view, and that helps in the visualization.
Power of Azure DevOps queries
Azure DevOps allows the customization of Work Items, where we can add all sorts of information to control and track our projects. The queries are at the core of the dashboards, which is the topic of our next Azure DevOps tips and tricks section.
To start using queries, click on Boards, Queries (Item 1), and then define the fields and the values that you want to perform a query (Item 2). We can always add more clauses (Item 3), click on the Run query (Item 4), and the results will be listed at the bottom of that same page (Item 5).
After having a query that fits our requirements, we can always save it. We can save on the user context (personal) or in the Shared Queries folder, which can be shared among other team members. We are going to keep the query that lists all active tasks that have the tag assigned ProjectX.
Another cool tip: We can send an email from most of the items that we are working on with Azure DevOps. In the past, using a project file, we had to copy or screenshot what we want, open an email, and send the message that is all part of a distant past. Using Azure DevOps, just look for the email option, as depicted in the image below. It will have a slightly different name on other areas, but the mail icon is always the same.
A new page will be displayed. Type in the name of the resources that you want to address this message, add a note, and the results of the query (we are sending an email from the Query page) will be listed. When done, just hit Send, and that is it!
Creating a dashboard
At this stage, we learned how to tag items, create useful queries to provide us information about the project, but we are still missing a more managerial view of what is going on in a single pane of glass, right? You don’t have to wait any longer, welcome to Dashboards!
To start creating your dashboard, expand Overview, and click on Dashboards. On the right side, we can begin our first dashboard by either clicking on Edit or Add a widget.
The process to edit is similar to Azure Dashboards, where we pick and choose gadgets and define the dimensions. We are going to start by adding the Assigned to Me widget, which is shown on the left side of the dashboard. We are going to add a second widget called Query Title, and the new widget will be placed in the dashboard, click on Settings. This widget only provides the number of results of the selected query.
In the Configuration blade, we can define a title. The most important thing: an existing Query. This widget has a neat feature that allows us to change the color based on a condition. For demonstration purposes, we will have it green if we have fewer than five active tasks, blue if it is higher than five and red if it is higher than 10.
If you organize your project with proper tags and fields, you can have all the key indicators of your project as part of your dashboard.
The next widget that is worth mentioning is the Query Results. After adding it to our dashboard, click on Settings. In this one, we can select which columns we want to be displayed, and we can define which information we want to be displayed.
In the image below, we are listing all tasks defined as active and tagged as ProjectX. One point worth mentioning: Both widgets are based on the same query that we created at the beginning of this article.
After adding widgets to your initial dashboard, click on Done Editing, and the result is the image depicted below. We added a markdown widget as well to provide some information, and it is located on the right side.
Using keyboard shortcuts
The last of our Azure DevOps tips and tricks is the Keyboard shortcuts, and you can access the list of available shortcuts from the ellipsis of any work item and then click on Keyboard shortcuts to see the shortlist. To check the complete list, click on the link “Full list of keyboard shortcuts” in the bottom right corner.
Have we covered everything in Azure DevOps?
No way! There is a lot more to explore in this dynamic product that is constantly receiving upgrades and improvements. I will be adding some hints in the blogs here at TechGenix and cover other areas of Azure DevOps in the near future.
Featured image: Shutterstock / TechGenix photo-illustration
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