In this article we will review some relevant agile tools that could aide in your software development project and introduce a scorecard to help compare some of the more popular ones. To start, the Agile Manifesto emphasizes "…individuals and interactions over process and tools…," which begs the question, why are we writing a post about agile tools? Do development teams need to use a tool to produce good software? NO! But in order to be successful, organizations and teams DO need to deal with the issues that accompany growing teams and product complexity. The Agile Manifesto is not suggesting this has to be done in a vacuum where there is no documentation or ability to track progress. Here, we now enter the landscape of available agile tools and why they are important. They help track productivity, (both team and individual), allow quicker and consistent software creation, give the ability to respond to change, use remote/virtual resources and help drive customer collaboration. The use of agile tools gives a clear line of sight to the customer on exactly what the priorities are and what they can expect at the end of the sprint/iteration.

Just because your organization uses an agile tool does not suggest that you will be successful with agile. Numerous applications offer tons of features that teams may never use yet your team(s) may be lured by the "bells and whistles". Trying to leverage these features can consume valuable time causing confusion and distracting the team from the important work at hand. Agile is founded on simplicity and the tools used should reflect this. The dynamics of some teams today are different because of the need to incorporate remote resources. As an organization, the investment in moving to an agile environment can seem daunting. Combine this with selecting an appropriate tool and it only adds to the challenges. It is easy to see why the right tool may be the defining factor for a successful transition to agile.

So what is important in selecting the appropriate tool for you? Many tools offer a free trial period that allows your team to understand the functionality and how to integrate within the organization. Teams can take this opportunity to understand key features that are pertinent to what metrics and reporting may be critical to their organization's needs. It also allows teams to see a full view of what they can expect while running an agile project by creating reports and planning stories. When you and your organization are ready to use an agile tool consider the following features:

  • Centralized Story & Defect Management
  • Release and Sprint Planning
  • Online Storyboard, Taskboard
  • Project Tracking
  • Team Collaboration
  • Acceptance Test Management
  • Burndown, Velocity and Test Trends
  • Integrations (IDEs, CI, Source code, etc)
  • Multi-Project Support
  • Sprint Review and Retrospectives
  • Impediment Management
  • Customizable Workflow and Views
  • Basic Reporting
  • Epic Management
  • Program Management
  • Themes, Goals, and Requests
  • Team Room
  • Customizable System Setup
  • Configurable Security
  • Advanced Reporting & Dashboards
  • Agile Portfolio Management
  • Regression Test Management
  • Customer Idea Management
  • Product Roadmapping
  • Agile Visualization
  • Custom Reporting and Analytics
  • Planning Room
  • Customer Support and Training

Maybe you don't need everything and the kitchen sink but, rather, just the necessities. There are some key questions you need to ask that will allow you to make the right choice. Consider the following questions:

  • How large is your team, (how many users)?
  • Are there remote resources?
  • How scalable is the tool and pricing structure?
  • How do you implement and what level of technical support can be expected?
  • Is the solution hosted or will you maintain the infrastructure behind it?

The answers to these simple questions will not only drive your organization to the ideal tool but will also help determine the cost.

Let's look at a brief comparison:

Tool

Pros

Cons

Rally

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Complex User Interface
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

VersionOne

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Robust planning abilities; tracking Epics, Stories and Projects.
  • Complex User Interface
  • Not mobile ready
  • Higher learning curve needed to understand all features.

Jira

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Poor backlog, sprint management tools
  • Lacks burndown and resource reporting
  • Not mobile ready
  • Needs better technical support

Mingle

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Complex User Interface
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

AgileZen

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Complex User Interface
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

21Scrum

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Complex User Interface
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

PivotalTracker

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Does not track tasks with hours
  • Does not have hours-based sprint burndown
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

BrizHQ

  • Web-based tool
  • Multiple price points
  • Free trial for up to 10 users
  • Supports collaboration for cross-functional teams
  • Provides story and feature roll-up for enhanced program and portfolio management
  • Includes integrated defect management
  • Complex User Interface
  • Requires additional process for linking stories and features to higher-level portfolio items
  • Lacks configurable out-of-the-box reporting

Agile Tool and Price Comparison Scorecard:

For every company there is a tool for any agile project being worked on, but the key is to figure out which one is right for your organization. Hopefully this scorecard, based on some key attributes, will enable you to make the best choice. In summary, we have found that VersionOne and Rally provide the highest level of features for managing multiple agile projects and for established and mature teams. They offer the needed reporting mechanisms allowing business partners/clients to witness progress understand impediments and collaborate at a high level. Many teams today have remote resources and these tools are also equipped to allow offsite teamwork. For those organizations that are new to agile and using SharePoint, then 21Scrum may be a better choice. This tool is built on the SharePoint 2010 platform allowing everything from a free community version up to a 5 site collection service. These options allow any organization to start small and grow with the scope and demand. An alternative from a SharePoint based platform to a web based would be PivotalTracker. The advantage here is they offer several price points allowing starting small and allowing for growth. PivotalTracker provides teams with ease of use and sufficient reporting features to allow line of sight into the project progress. While CapTech does not recommend any specific tool without further analysis, we hope that this comparison will provide some insight to help your organization select the best agile tool for your needs.