targetprocess is an agile project management tool of the corresponding company. As the name already suggests, targetprocess is their main and only product. Quite interesting, as it is the first time that I evaluate a tool that does not rely on a broad product portfolio. This does not really matter, as targetprocess has something unique. Something which I haven’t seen before, neither in JIRA nor in Mingle.
What is it that makes targetprocess so special? I will tell you: its ease-of-use. Plain. Simple. Powerful. When you open targetprocess for the very first time you will be confronted with a “wizard”. As much as I do hate this word in terms of software, as good does this wizard work in targetprocess. What you get is a stepwise explanation of what you have to do and how you have to do it. Starting with the most obvious: a new project. Enter a name in the corresponding field and – surprise – the next feature emerges: contextual help for each field where it makes sense. As an example: the “new project” step is divided into two sub-steps “new project” again, followed by “select process”. Both sub-steps provide context help, guiding you which fields you have to fill with input and which input is requested. “Select process” asks you to make a choice between Kanban and Scrum (which will put a minor scratch on targetprocess’ ease-of-use, see the usability section below). The next step is to add some users. Again, you get the feeling that the company has put some thought into its product. Next to entering the obvious details like name, password & email, the administrator also can add advanced information like amount of weekly hours or some simple access restrictions. That makes the whole process of starting up much more pleasant. You feel guided; you start to enjoy setting up a project (which is a whole new experience for me. Normally I have to start a mouse-clicking marathon before I know what the heck is going on). After that, you select a project, which is again a well thought step if you think about it twice: as soon as you got multiple projects running, it might be handy to know to which team you will add your users ;-) Again, targetprocess provides you with some helping information, e.g. it does show you the rank of each project, the effort (in hours), the progress and the type (Kanban/Scrum). The next step will help you creating your team for the project you have chosen previously. For each team member, you can define his or her role, when he or she should start/stop with the project and the amount of his or her weekly hours that should be spent for the project. targetprocess provides the necessary inputs, without asking too much. The following step asks to add some stories and corresponding tasks. The process of adding tasks is AJAXed, you get the feeling you are working locally instead of remote. Next, you can create releases and sprints, where sprints can be automatically be generated each X weeks – handy. Finally you can add stories from the backlog to the corresponding sprints and assign users to tasks, if you want.
The first confusion occurs when you actually start with your project. Although I had chosen the Scrum process, a taskboard as well as a Kanban board are visible. Why is that? If I choose Scrum when creating a project, I want to do something Scrum related, not Kanban. The second confusion is that the Kanban board is filled quite nicely with stories and tasks, but when clicking on the taskboard, you will glance at a white, blank screen. This issue can be resolved by clicking on the (small) “for releases/sprints” link, where you can choose the releases/sprints you want to see on your taskboard. Default, nothing is selected, and that’s the reason for the blank taskboard – not very intuitive. Luckily, that’s it – confusion wise. Actually using the board is also a pleasant experience. Moving a task works without reloading the page, and it is fast – no visible lag. A minor detail: one can move a task from “To Do” (which is called “Open” in targetprocess terminology) directly to “Done” – something what should not be able. In fact, Mingle does not allow it, which is a good thing in my opinion. When using the default values, the taskboard offers you much information, maybe a little bit too much information: You get detailed information time-management wise, you get to know which QA employee is assigned to each story and for each story the project name is displayed, which is a bit waste of screen. Still, I get the feeling that targetprocess is on a good way. A minor aspect I like is the fact that each task that is currently unassigned immediately catches ones attention, as it prints “Unassigned” in red letters. As the interface heavily uses light colors, that is an eye catcher. Another special ability of targetprocess is to add impediments to stories, which can be done via the “Actions” dropdown menu. Again, also impediments get attention by using a special icon that is colored bright red. Tasks can be commented, something I like very much as I already stated in my previous reviews. A feature that is turned off by default is event-based notifications. Before being able to track certain actions, that feature has to be enabled in “Settings”. Although my focus is on taskboard functionality I have to mention that targetprocess comes with great reporting functionalities, ranging from progress summary over release burn down chart to cumulative flow charts. Besides predefined reports, one is also able to create own, customized versions. Also the so-called team boards have to be mentioned: they provide a good summary regarding all projects that are currently running. Besides praising targetprocess a lot (I can’t help it) the thing that might prevent Scrum teams from using it is its extensive focus on hour-based time management. Apparently, at targetprocess no one likes storypoints, because they have hidden that switch so deep within the project settings that no one is likely to ever find it without searching the help section. After switching to storypoints and logging out & in, stories will measure their effort in points, for tasks hours can be registered. Last but not least, I have to mention that targetprocess has an API and allows plugins – a Visual Studio and an Eclipse plugin exist, only to name a few.
What can I say what I did not already tell you? When it comes to usability, targetprocess does not have to fear any other tool, at least none of the ones I have seen until now. The user interface is simple, but it works. I felt the same when I first started to use the iPhone – everything just works without being exposed to a configuration orgy or anything similar. Of course, that comes at the cost of features (which is both true for targetprocess and for the iPhone), but it is a skill to strip unnecessary things and to focus on the important aspects. And I do have to say that targetprocess has mastered that skill. Still, as with Mingle I have to complain about missing keyboard shortcuts – without a mouse I cannot use targetprocess. As already previously mentioned, it is quite weird that when I create a project I am able to choose between Kanban and Scrum only to find out that I get both, no matter which choice I make. Some fellows will like that – in fact, I get one for free, but I don’t. If someone (or within this context, something) promises me to give me Scrum, then I want Scrum and only Scrum, nothing else. I mean, when I buy an iPhone, I don’t want to receive an iPhone and an Android phone as my intention is to use the iPhone. Back to topic, targetprocess is thus very self-explanatory due to the excellent context help and it is clearly arranged. It is the very first time that I can answer both questions with a “Yes!” (Note the exclamation mark).
targetprocess relies on a mix of standard full-page reloads and AJAX. Still, the tool feels lightweight; when I switch from “User Stories” to “Task Board”, new pages render pleasantly fast. That fact also explains why it does not really matter whether I use my smartphone as hotspot or whether I use my normal wifi at home. Next to that, I never experienced any issues with the cloud platform of targetprocess, an aspect that is of course not built on solid ground, as I used the platform only for a couple of days, but still it can give you an indication, especially as companies can use the cloud not only to evaluate the tool, but for everyday usage.
targetprocess is a browser-based tool, a local client is not available. When it comes to system requirements, targetprocess is similar to other tools; every moderately new browser should work (except Internet Explorer 6&7, which I would not consider as moderately new). When it comes to installing targetprocess on your own server, you have to join the dark side, ehm Microsoft :-). However, targetprocess explicitly states that you are welcome to run it inside a virtual machine, so a Linux / Mac OS server should not be an issue.
Interface-wise, targetprocess looks a bit like Mingle. Instead of using the same high contrast as Mingle (which I found very pleasant) targetprocess uses much more subtle colors. Still, I do like those colors as they match the lightweight feeling the tool gives me as a user. The components of targetprocess are stored inside tabs, which is quite common. The header could be smaller without loosing anything; instead, you would gain more of the much-desired vertical space on your screen. Although moving a task is thanks to AJAX a pleasant experience, grabbing one is not. As soon as you hover with your mouse cursor over the title bar of the task, it changes to a hand which means that you can drag something. However, instead of dragging the task, you start marking text. Only if you click on the text within the title bar of the task, you are able to drag the task (again, the mouse curser has a hand symbol, but a different one). That was a little bit frustrating, targetprocess should think of changing that. Another weird aspect is, that a fullscreen mode is only available for Kanban boards, not for Scrum. Still, the fullscreen mode is once again a bit useless, as the text of the tasks and stories does not scale. A bit disappointing for me was that the taskboard does not get refreshed automatically as soon as a task changes its state. To be fair, other tools are also not capable in doing that, but as the usability of targetprocess is superior, I had hoped for that feature.
As for the other tools evaluated up until now, targetprocess does feature a comment functionality, which allows to add comments to tasks. The feature of Mingle, adding a comment as soon as a task is changed in his state, is not available.
targetprocess allows you to run their tool on their own cloud service or on your local machine, which means that your server either runs on Windows or has a virtual machine with Windows. Up to 5 users, you are free to download the server installation at no cost. If one needs more than 5 users, each additional user costs 249$ – new updates can be bought for 49$ per year. If you want to run targetprocess on their very own cloud, you can choose between two options, a light option, that costs 9$ per user / month or a complete option, that costs 25$ per user / month. Compared to JIRA, that costs 10$ per month for ten users (plus an extra 10$ for Agile plugin GreenHopper), that’s quite a number. One has carefully to think whether the superior user experience is worth the price.
- Impediment / Team Board
- Empty taskboard
- Event notification / story points disabled by default
The curtain falls
This was the third article that evaluates the abilities of a tool to represent a taskboard. Next time I will have a look at Scrumwise.