Project management tools help provide answers to the fundamental questions that all software teams face, such as:
- What work is required?
- Where does it fall in the queue of all other priorities?
Or, if you’re the product owner:
- When do I get my feature?
- What will it take to build it?
To provide a level of service consistent with our core values, however, we need to ask tougher questions and gain deeper insight when managing our projects. We need a robust communication tool that allows us to plan releases with relative accuracy. We need to be able to switch between multiple projects often. And we need to do it all within an ultra-transparent ecosystem.
While there are many options out there, we have chosen to move all of our clients to Pivotal Tracker for the following reasons:
It fosters agile development
Put simply; Pivotal Labs designed Tracker for agile project management. Teams are encouraged to think in iterations and deliver frequently. Your team assigns point estimates to user stories, and Tracker calculates your team’s Velocity by averaging the number of story points completed in the past few iterations. Velocity, in turn, groups your unstarted stories into future iterations based on the amount of work that can be completed in each iteration.
Our clients especially appreciate this feature set because they can log in to Tracker at any time and see when their stories will most likely ship. Furthermore, we can assign dates to milestones, and Tracker’s velocity-driven iteration planning will give us a prominent visual indication if we can’t realistically meet a deadline.
It promotes work that generates business value
Tracker isn’t so algebraic, though. Years ago, I had the opportunity to work alongside some “Pivots” (employees at Pivotal Labs) while working at a startup. They helped me realize that the tool is designed to foster Pivotal’s philosophical approach to software development, which I think best manifests itself in its definition of a Feature:
Features are stories that provide verifiable business value to the team’s customer. Feature stories are estimated because they contribute to business value. Bugs and chores are considered part of normal software product overhead—they emerge over time, and are continual overhead, an ongoing cost of doing business.
That’s right, only features get story points and contribute to a team’s velocity. The goal here is to measure your team’s productivity based on accomplishing work that has business value (not such a bad idea). Of course, this doesn’t work for every client - nor every developer. Luckily, it’s easy to override the default project settings so that you can assign points to chores and bugs all day, every day.
Ultimately, we give our clients a choice of how they want to use Tracker, and we’re happy that it provides such flexibility.
It’s easy to see what’s next in the queue
We recently encountered a situation where a client (who was using Basecamp) was unable to articulate that a particular production bug was his highest priority. Tracker makes it obvious which task is next in the queue and who is responsible for that task. There’s a dedicated swim lane for the backlog, and the story owner is easily visible.
It eases the jet lag that comes from context switching
One of the challenges of operating a development shop such as our own is switching context between projects. Moving each of our clients to Tracker allows us to log into one interface and jump between projects effortlessly. We can then follow our story writing conventions that help us communicate with each other more efficiently. We even use Tracker for our internal business priorities.
Tracker has some really useful features
- An intuitive batch action UI that allows us to modify groups of stories with ease
- Epics, which enable us to track progress and reprioritize tasks within a group of related stories
- The ability to use Markdown language in the story description and comment sections
- The capability to indicate that one task blocks another
It’s “plug and play”
Beyond inviting users to your project, there’s virtually no setup involved. Create a Tracker Project, and you’re off to writing stories. Clients new to Tracker quickly understand most of its features and can start prioritizing stories within an hour of using the tool.
Starting at $15/month, Pivotal Tracker is lightweight and cheap.
At the end of the day, Developers need well-written user stories. And while that ultimately requires a decent product manager, Pivotal Tracker allows Mutations Limited to operate more efficiently and cohesively.