Running an agile team requires hands-on tools that follows a particular agile approach, that aims to improve overall communication without burdening the team, all the while injecting a touch of urgency and accomplishment to keep everybody motivated and on track. Perhaps the least favourite of all for the team is being able to obtain performance metrics and observing the team’s overall progress. This is most certainly no easy feat and though there are plenty of tools out there, exposing the traditional MS Project or Omniplan to team members will neither motivate them nor encourage them to put in the hours that they have worked.
Few tools, such as Greenhopper, Trello and Asana are built with agile processes in mind. These are arguably the most elegant and useful agile tools I have ever had the pleasure of using. Though all three will provide the basic mechanism to run Kanban or Scrum, they are startling different.
To get started, I have used Greenhopper/Jira/Confluence to manage an offshore team with great results. I am using Trello to manage a smaller sized team in my current employment. Lastly, I use Asana at home with other members of the family to for carry out “tasks” such as holiday plans, events and so on. I know… its quite shocking, but it works really well! Before I start, I must express my great fondness to all three tools. There’s a place in my heart reserved for each of them.
This is by far the most flexible, most comprehensive, well integrated tool available. Greenhopper is a add-on for Jira, which is a bug tracking system from Atlassian. This tool basically has it all. A sprint / Kanban board of your liking, configurable fields, configurable performance metrics, and graphs that will make your manager weep tears of joy,
The flexibility allows you to formulate the Agile process custom to your needs. Adding a new field for business values, story points, and hourly estimation will easily yield you a burndown for each of the these respective custom fields. Figuring out how “real” or “accurate” the estimates are based on past performance is also something I stumbled upon with Greenhopper The built in cumulative flow diagram is also great for Kanban.
Users can like, upvote, or follow any of the tasks. Integration with Confluence implies that you can attach Balsamiq sketches, UML diagrams or any specifications to the tasks and still be able to keep these information all in one place, with history tracking.
With great power, comes great responsibility. In the case of Greenhopper, you will need to be able to model your Agile process directly into Jira. You will also need to be know well in advance how you are going to breakdown user stories to technical tasks, differentiate bugs from improvements, release versions, release candidates, epic stories etc. All of the aforementioned items are modelled in Jira and in order to best use Greenhopper, you will need to have ironed out majority of your own models and processes.
The entry level for Greenhopper is deceptive. As an Agile tool, its easy just like the rest. But one is required to be well versed both in Jira and Confluence, and perhaps with an admin account on Atlassian OnDemand to tame the Greenhopper beast.
The time vested in Jira / Confluence aside, this tool excels when the entire team embraces the tool and use Confluence and Jira for wiki and bugs respectively. When it is shunned and left to its own demise, it quickly becomes the big elephant in the room, bloated, heavy and a massive burden to the team members. Shame really.
I give this tool top marks for its enterprise approach, responsive and fast support from Atlassian (if you ever go the hosted or ondemand route), and most importantly, integration with the rest of Altassian ecosystem,
The free, easy-to-get-going virtual board for the masses. Trello keeps it simple, it most certainly keeps it real. It does not pretend to be anything else other than a virtual board. You put cards on it, you define the columns, users can follow and move the cards about.
It is simplicity at its best and it is fantastic for small teams, or with team members that are adamant about specific tools that they must use. This is a sure winner for smaller projects, small team size and comes at 0 costs.
Trello implicitly lets you define your process by the titles you put on your board and the columns that exists on each board. For example, a typical Scrum board in Trello can be defined as Todo -> Doing –> Ready for QA –> Done.
You can easily model your product backlog board as Ideas –> Business requirements –> Sprint backlog. In addition, we use it for retrospective and various other activities is not part of development, such as support or various other marketing activities.
The down side is that Trello does not support estimation of any kind, at least not out of the box. There are Chrome plugins and various other paid apps that will help plot and extract the burn down based on time or estimates. Unfortunately, these are still quite basic. You get an input box next to a task, place a number in there, then wait a few days, out comes a burndown.
There are currently no way to pick which field to use as performance metrics.
How does Trello inject a sense of achievement and urgency? It does not by default. However I can highly recommend that keeping your board tidy and fitted to each sprint or timeframe will most certainly address that. Nothing worse than having a bloated board, where all the team members have basically stopped caring about it and use it as a dumping ground for tasks they will never get to.
One nagging bit about Trello is the lack of search. Once a task is archived, it kind of disappears into the Trello void. If you do not archive them, it will very quickly make the “Done” bloated and basically unusable.
Trello gets top marks for its flexibility, the awesomeness of the sprint board. Simplicity at its best.
Asana is a bit of a mix bag. It smells like Greenhopper/Jira but without the heavy weight model. It smells a little like Trello for its beauty in simplicity, but manages to avoid the Trello void. Asana has ability to place items in a task list and prioritise them very quickly, while maintaining integration with say Dropbox. This is an interesting choice as Dropbox is fairly adopted as the go-to tool for sharing business documents.
Asana supports custom tagging of any tasks. By intelligently naming the headers, you can easy break down and categorise your product backlog, sprint backlog, and technical tasks. You can also very quickly differentiate epics user stories, make it into a priority heading, then flesh out the technical details.
Being able to hashtag any tasks in Asana is fantastic. It is made brilliant when Asana provides a great search function. Nothing is lost. Through using these hashtags, you can extract performance metrics based on the search results.
The downside to Asana is the task itself is not customisable. No burndowns or charts available either. Estimation comes in the form of “deadline”, which I guess is the traditional way of going through a task list. No Scrum or Kanban board here.
All three aforementioned tools are fantastic in their own right. There is no perfect answer or a perfect fit for your institution. I would suggest trying them out in a few projects, really commit to them and evaluate the results. The only common pitfall is that when members of your team stop using them, all the tools will very quickly become a burden and thus useless.
Lastly, if you are using agile project management tools at home, here is a cautionary tale – my partner hates it when I assign tasks. So like a good Scrum Master that you are, avoid assigning tasks even at home. Motivate and subtly inject urgency, let the team members pick tasks. Having said that, I am sure to be shunned at home for this blog now.