This is the fifth (high five!) article of our Scrum Tool Series in which we evaluate the status quo of Scrum Tools available right now. Previously, we examined JIRA, Mingle, targetprocess & Scrumwise. Today, we will enter the agile world of Buddha. Take a break, logoff from your digital life, print out this article and switch off any electronic devices. Today we will have a look at AgileZen, which is now part of Rally Software, who has a very famous Agile tool themselves which will be reviewed later in time.
Are you really reading these lines from plain, good old paper? I definitely hope so! At least, it would be a pleasant change, I assume. So how does the the zen way work in our Agile world?
A bit disappointing, AgileZen feels like the other tools we know, but more pure. We start by creating a new project and voilà, we are automatically added to this project. Then what? That was exactly the question which came to my mind when I was looking at AgileZen for the first time. If you are familiar with other tools, then AgileZen feels different. Of course, we have the well-known, tabbed layout, but one does not directly understand which functionality is hidden behind those tabs. As an example, when I click on “board” I get the taskboard. So far so good, but what would you expect to find behind a link called “work”? Well, some ideas came to my mind, but I did not expect to find the Product Backlog behind it. The “home” link does not present a dashboard where I am able to see project details at a glance, but merely provides to read or add (if you are an administrator) some details regarding the project.
So, is everything bad in Zenland? Certainly not. I believe in the saying if everything was easy, it would not be worth it. Maybe the founders of AgileZen share my mindset. AgileZen is the only tool from the same-named company. There is thus no such a thing like a product portfolio. Still, AgileZen comes with an API that enables interested developers to integrate AgileZen into their existing architecture. Nice surprises wait for you as soon as you fire up the settings panel of AgileZen: it offers the possibility to connect AgileZen to two of the most popular team chats: Atlassians Hipchat and Campfire. I think that I have made my point clear in the previous reviews that I do like social networking components very much – especially as this is the first tool that offers such functionality. Next to teamchats, there are even more integrations, e.g. GitHub. The second surprise are the overwhelming amount of event-based notification channels: I can configure in an easy, but very detailed way how I would like to receive notifications – not only by mail, but also via Instant Messaging! Also very easy and at the same time very detailed is the user access control functionality, like with Scrumwise I have different areas where I can drag & drop my users, so that their according role gets updated.
Back from settings to the main interface. I played around with some options and I have come to the conclusion that AgileZen is more a Kanban than a Scrum tool. One of the biggest issues is, that the taskboard is more what I would call a storyboard: I am able to attach tasks to stories, but I cannot move those tasks within the board but just the whole story! In other words: I can drag a story from the backlog into the ToDo pane, but I cannot extract the corresponding tasks to work on them. Instead, I can merely click on a checkbox within the story to indicate whether a task has been finished or not. I am still not sure whether I am doing something absolutely wrong (and if I do please let me know!) but with the current workflow, AgileZen is not suited for Scrum teams. On the other hand, I am freely able to add, edit or delete taskstoryboard columns; I am able to add a deadline to a certain story, which gives a nice visual mark if I cross that line. I am able to assign stories to people, but there are no special types that can be used for adding a bug. Time registration also works and the whole interface is AJAXed. Last but certainly not least, AgileZen supports the user by giving context-based help, like targetprocess.
Unfortunately, AgileZen does not support keyboard shortcuts, the user needs a mouse to work with AgileZen. Briefly mentioned in the previous section, contextual help is available and it does a pretty decent job. I would love to rename the tabs, because right now they are more confusing than helping me. Still, I do like the flow of AgileZen. One feels guided when moving from tab to tab; the workflow experience makes sense.
Performance-wise, AgileZen scores very high. AJAX is used were it makes sense, and pages render incredible fast. In fact, I have evaluated AgileZen by using my smartphone as hotspot once again – with the difference that I was not able to test it on a decent DSL line. However, I do not think that this is needed, as the performance was great by using my mobile internet.
As for most of the tools, all moderately aged browsers work with AgileZen (see question 5). AgileZen is not available as download, so companies have to trust AgileZen that their data is save (which is generally applicable to every company, that offers cloud-based services).
AgileZen takes the common approach to provide a tab-based layout, which makes sense to me, as it guides the user step by step, e.g. first you setup a project before you can use the taskboard, etc. The design is clean and the header does not waste much vertical space. Talking about the workflow, I find it weird that the taskstoryboard comes before the product backlog. When clicking for the first time on the taskboard it is thus empty of course, and there are no stories to drag from the backlog pane to the ToDo pane. (By the way: why is the product backlog labeled “backlog” in the taskboard view, but “work” in the product backlog view?! That is kind of confusing). However, one can simply click the add Button which offers the same functionality for adding a story like the very same button does in the product backlog view. The product backlog itself is certainly not the strongest point of AgileZen: the interface looks too simple. I can add a priority to each story, but the stories can’t get sorted by that priority. I cannot drag and drop the stories to rearrange my product backlog, and when I want to edit a story I have to click on the ID field, all other fields are not clickable. Behind “performance” the reporting chart is hidden. The only option this chart provides is cumulative flow – certainly an interesting chart type, but within Scrum we would like to see a Burn-Down-Chart using story points which is not available.
Furthermore, tasks can be deleted without asking for confirmation, and the amount of tasks is displayed incorrectly (e.g. showing that the story features two tasks although it has three or more tasks). When fully reloading the page, the amount of tasks is rendered correctly.
Motivation-wise, AgileZen is outstanding. Stories can be commented and very detailed notifications are available. User avatars are pulled automatically from gravatar (unless you don´t have a gravatar account – in that case I would recommend you to create one!). This is also the reason why you are able to see my avatar on the story screenshots.
AgileZen is not available for download – costs are thus paid on a monthly basis ranging from 0 to 99$. If this monthly fee is divided per user, the cheapest option costs 10$ per user per month, getting cheaper the more advanced the package. For example, the 99$ package allows unlimited users. If one has more than 10 employees, that option makes more sense than the 9$ option as it comes with more features. Compared to other tools we have seen so far, AgileZen is quite a cheap option.
- Integration with other tools
- Storyboard instead of taskboard
- No Burn-Down-Chart
- No real Scrum support
The curtain falls
This was our fifth article regarding the evaluation of Scrum tools. Next, an evaluation of tinyPM will follow