Agile development of data science projects

This document describes how developers can execute a data science project in a systematic, version controlled, and collaborative way within a project team by using the Team Data Science Process (TDSP). The TDSP is a framework developed by Microsoft that provides a structured sequence of activities to efficiently execute cloud-based, predictive analytics solutions. For an outline of the roles and tasks that are handled by a data science team standardizing on the TDSP, see Team Data Science Process roles and tasks.

This article includes instructions on how to:

  • Do sprint planning for work items involved in a project.
  • Add work items to sprints.
  • Create and use an agile-derived work item template that specifically aligns with TDSP lifecycle stages.

The following instructions outline the steps needed to set up a TDSP team environment using Azure Boards and Azure Repos in Azure DevOps. The instructions use Azure DevOps because that is how to implement TDSP at Microsoft. If your group uses a different code hosting platform, the team lead tasks generally don't change, but the way to complete the tasks is different. For example, linking a work item with a Git branch might not be the same with GitHub as it is with Azure Repos.

The following figure illustrates a typical sprint planning, coding, and source-control workflow for a data science project:

Team Data Science Process

Work item types

In the TDSP sprint planning framework, there are four frequently used work item types: Features, User Stories, Tasks, and Bugs. The backlog for all work items is at the project level, not the Git repository level.

Here are the definitions for the work item types:

  • Feature: A Feature corresponds to a project engagement. Different engagements with a client are different Features, and it's best to consider different phases of a project as different Features. If you choose a schema such as <ClientName>-<EngagementName> to name your Features, you can easily recognize the context of the project and engagement from the names themselves.

  • User Story: User Stories are work items needed to complete a Feature end-to-end. Examples of User Stories include:

    • Get data
    • Explore data
    • Generate features
    • Build models
    • Operationalize models
    • Retrain models
  • Task: Tasks are assignable work items that need to be done to complete a specific User Story. For example, Tasks in the User Story Get data could be:

    • Get SQL Server credentials
    • Upload data to Azure Synapse Analytics
  • Bug: Bugs are issues in existing code or documents that must be fixed to complete a Task. If Bugs are caused by missing work items, they can escalate to be User Stories or Tasks.

Data scientists may feel more comfortable using an agile template that replaces Features, User Stories, and Tasks with TDSP lifecycle stages and substages. To create an agile-derived template that specifically aligns with the TDSP lifecycle stages, see Use an agile TDSP work template.


TDSP borrows the concepts of Features, User Stories, Tasks, and Bugs from software code management (SCM). The TDSP concepts might differ slightly from their conventional SCM definitions.

Plan sprints

Many data scientists are engaged with multiple projects, which can take months to complete and proceed at different paces. Sprint planning is useful for project prioritization, and resource planning and allocation. In Azure Boards, you can easily create, manage, and track work items for your projects, and conduct sprint planning to ensure projects are moving forward as expected.

For more information about sprint planning, see Scrum sprints.

For more information about sprint planning in Azure Boards, see Assign backlog items to a sprint.

Add a Feature to the backlog

After your project and project code repository are created, you can add a Feature to the backlog to represent the work for your project.

  1. From your project page, select Boards > Backlogs in the left navigation.

  2. On the Backlog tab, if the work item type in the top bar is Stories, drop down and select Features. Then select New Work Item.

    Select New Work Item

  3. Enter a title for the Feature, usually your project name, and then select Add to top.

    Enter a title and select Add to top

  4. From the Backlog list, select and open the new Feature. Fill in the description, assign a team member, and set planning parameters.

    You can also link the Feature to the project's Azure Repos code repository by selecting Add link under the Development section.

    After you edit the Feature, select Save & Close.

    Edit Feature and select Save & Close

Add a User Story to the Feature

Under the Feature, you can add User Stories to describe major steps needed to complete the project.

To add a new User Story to a Feature:

  1. On the Backlog tab, select the + to the left of the Feature.

    Add a new User Story under the Feature

  2. Give the User Story a title, and edit details such as assignment, status, description, comments, planning, and priority.

    You can also link the User Story to a branch of the project's Azure Repos code repository by selecting Add link under the Development section. Select the repository and branch you want to link the work item to, and then select OK.

    Add link

  3. When you're finished editing the User Story, select Save & Close.

Add a Task to a User Story

Tasks are specific detailed steps that are needed to complete each User Story. After all Tasks of a User Story are completed, the User Story should be completed too.

To add a Task to a User Story, select the + next to the User Story item, and select Task. Fill in the title and other information in the Task.

Add a Task to a User Story

After you create Features, User Stories, and Tasks, you can view them in the Backlogs or Boards views to track their status.

Backlogs view

Boards view

Use an agile TDSP work template

Data scientists may feel more comfortable using an agile template that replaces Features, User Stories, and Tasks with TDSP lifecycle stages and substages. In Azure Boards, you can create an agile-derived template that uses TDSP lifecycle stages to create and track work items. The following steps walk through setting up a data science-specific agile process template and creating data science work items based on the template.

Set up an Agile Data Science Process template

  1. From your Azure DevOps organization main page, select Organization settings from the left navigation.

  2. In the Organization Settings left navigation, under Boards, select Process.

  3. In the All processes pane, select the ... next to Agile, and then select Create inherited process.

    Create inherited process from Agile

  4. In the Create inherited process from Agile dialog, enter the name AgileDataScienceProcess, and select Create process.

    Create AgileDataScienceProcess process

  5. In All processes, select the new AgileDataScienceProcess.

  6. On the Work item types tab, disable Epic, Feature, User Story, and Task by selecting the ... next to each item and then selecting Disable.

    Disable work item types

  7. In All processes, select the Backlog levels tab. Under Portfolios backlogs, select the ... next to Epic (disabled), and then select Edit/Rename.

  8. In the Edit backlog level dialog box:

    1. Under Name, replace Epic with TDSP Projects.
    2. Under Work item types on this backlog level, select New work item type, enter TDSP Project, and select Add.
    3. Under Default work item type, drop down and select TDSP Project.
    4. Select Save.

    Set Portfolio backlog level

  9. Follow the same steps to rename Features to TDSP Stages, and add the following new work item types:

    • Business Understanding
    • Data Acquisition
    • Modeling
    • Deployment
  10. Under Requirement backlog, rename Stories to TDSP Substages, add the new work item type TDSP Substage, and set the default work item type to TDSP Substage.

  11. Under Iteration backlog, add a new work item type TDSP Task, and set it to be the default work item type.

After you complete the steps, the backlog levels should look like this:

TDSP template backlog levels

Create Agile Data Science Process work items

You can use the data science process template to create TDSP projects and track work items that correspond to TDSP lifecycle stages.

  1. From your Azure DevOps organization main page, select New project.

  2. In the Create new project dialog, give your project a name, and then select Advanced.

  3. Under Work item process, drop down and select AgileDataScienceProcess, and then select Create.

    Create a TDSP project

  4. In the newly created project, select Boards > Backlogs in the left navigation.

  5. To make TDSP Projects visible, select the Configure team settings icon. In the Settings screen, select the TDSP Projects check box, and then select Save and close.

    Select TDSP Projects check box

  6. To create a data science-specific TDSP Project, select TDSP Projects in the top bar, and then select New work item.

  7. In the popup, give the TDSP Project work item a name, and select Add to top.

    Create data science project work item

  8. To add a work item under the TDSP Project, select the + next to the project, and then select the type of work item to create.

    Select data science work item type

  9. Fill in the details in the new work item, and select Save & Close.

  10. Continue to select the + symbols next to work items to add new TDSP Stages, Substages, and Tasks.

Here is an example of how the data science project work items should appear in Backlogs view:


Next steps

Collaborative coding with Git describes how to do collaborative code development for data science projects using Git as the shared code development framework, and how to link these coding activities to the work planned with the agile process.

Example walkthroughs lists walkthroughs of specific scenarios, with links and thumbnail descriptions. The linked scenarios illustrate how to combine cloud and on-premises tools and services into workflows or pipelines to create intelligent applications.

Additional resources on agile processes: