VSTS Work Item States – Keeping Them Up To Date

Tips on how to keep VSTS work item states up to date.

Written in 2016-2017:
This is part of a series of articles that I originally wrote in 2016-2017 and were only published on private internal company wikis. I am publishing them publicly for the first time in 2019, here on my blog.

Written for Microsoft’s VSTS:
Some content is written for Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), as it existed in 2016-2017. VSTS was renamed to Azure DevOps in 2018 (
WikiPedia).

Why do we have to update Work Item States ?

  • VSTS does not automatically roll States up the Backlog Hierarchy.
  • Meaning when you update the State on a child work item, VSTS does not automatically update the State of the parent work item. IE. Story State changes do not automatically update the Feature State. Task State changes do not update Story State. Etc.
  • Accurate States are essential for views and reports to accurately show work status of all levels of the Backlog hierarchy.

Who is responsible for keeping States up to date ?

Product Owners for Features and above.

  • Update States at least once per week.
  • After Sprint ends, update States for the Sprint. Takes just a few minutes.
  • Use a query to make it fast & easy, detailed below.

Team members for Stories and below.

  • Update at least once per day.
  • Takes just seconds per day.
  • Use the regular Sprint Board views, detailed below.

How to quickly update States via a Query:

Quickly & easily find a parent work item that needs the State updated.

  • Quickly scroll through the Sprint Backlog to find parent work items with the wrong State.
  • Here’s an Epic that needs it’s State updated.

Use this logic to determine parent State:

  1. IF all child work items = New, THEN parent = New.
  2. IF any child work item = Active or Closed, THEN parent = Active.
  3. IF all child work items = Closed, THEN parent = Closed.

Make it easier & faster to edit, using the Work Item Pane feature of Queries.

How to quickly update States via a Sprint Board view:

Easily edit States inline, using the Backlogs > Sprint > Board views.

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