tinyPM is the 6th candidate of my Scrum tool series after having reviewed JIRA, Mingle, targetprocess, Scrumwise and AgileZen. Back in 2008, Boris gave it a shot – lets see what has changed within four years of time.
tinyPM is the first tool I am evaluating which does not offer a personalized web evaluation. Instead, everyone who wants to test it has to use a demo platform, that is available to anyone who dares to login. The first thing that has caught my attention – believe it or not – was the little country flag in the upper right corner. Well, it could also be true that the language happens to be set to Spanish and I did not understand a word :-) Luckily, I was able to switch it back to English (choosing between the small amount of 16(!) different languages!). This language choice is a great feature, especially if we are talking about distributed teams that are located in foreign countries.
Back to tinyPM. After choosing my favorite language, I was confronted with hundreds of different evaluation projects and a button to create a new project was nowhere to be found. After some searching, I found out that I have to click the projects link, again in the upper right corner, where I was finally able to create my own project. I know, when you think about it again, it makes sense – but when you are overwhelmed by lots and lots of projects, it would be quite helpful to see a “Create Project” link immediately after logging in, as I couldn’t care less about the other projects – in the end, I want to evaluate it by myself!
Well, ok. After that, tinyPM is quite helpful. No matter whether you choose the taskboard or the backlog, it tells you to create some backlog items before being able to move tasks on the taskboard – makes sense. So, once again I fired up my keyboard and added my set of test stories to the backlog, which was a quite pleasant experience. When creating a user story (which happens to be the only backlog item that is available, so no dedicated item for bugs) you are free to choose a card color which is perfect if your team is used to represent different item types by different colors, e.g. a bug could be a red card, whereas a story might be blue – just to name an example. Priorities are defined by using a textual representation ranging from “must have” to “won’t have” which I liked very much – in the end, why using numbers that don’t give us a clue about what they are representing? This is where you begin to notice that tinyPM was created by developers for developers, a fact I personally like very much. Maybe it is due to my developer roots. Maybe not. Second interesting feature is that one is able to add tags to a story, which one can use to group stories. Those tags are represented as a tag cloud in the backlog overview – nice. Last but not least, you can tick the “add default tasks” checkbox; when doing so, tinyPM automatically adds an “implement and test user story” task – I love it, your developers will love it. Another unique feature that I have not seen before is a button that allows you to split a story into smaller ones which is quite handy for the Product Owner as soon as the team tells him during the estimation meeting that this particular story is way too big.
The next step within tinyPM is to create an iteration, which is again indicated by a button and some context help. When doing so, tinyPM offers again some useful functions, like the defining a sprint goal. In my experience, a sprint goal makes a sprint much more tangible for your team, be creative and your team will laugh and gets motivated. Next, you can define the iteration duration in days and add a planned velocity, which should be done to benefit from tinyPM’s great dashboard, see below. After that, we can drag and drop a our stories from the backlog into the iteration and we are able to change the priority in the same way.
Right now, we have started our first iteration and I am finally to see the taskboard! I was disappointed at first, I have to admit: the tasks did not show their text. Instead, tinyPM presented an task ID which does not say anything at all in my experience. After being frustrated about the taskboard, I noticed a little slider in the right upper corner with no explanation at all. This slider offers three positions and it was able to put a smile on my face: by using this slider, one is able to choose the amount of detail the taskboard will show to the user and yes, it gave the tasks their names back, strike! Now that everything was back the way I liked it to be, tinyPM goes further by allowing to customize the taskboard: you can choose to display all stories or only stories that you are working on. tinyPM also allows to create new columns, however I was not able to do so – it seems that this demo version is somewhat limited to that extend, so if you want to do Kanban, that might be a showstopper. The same is true for event-based notifications; according to their blog, notifications are available, but I could not find them. Export functionality is like most of the tools, we have CSV import & export and Excel export. Access control is the most detailed I have seen till now, and there is a dedicated timesheet (!) for all those managers that rely on time registration. A JIRA connector is also available, next to an API – I would have been surprised if there wasn’t one, developers favorite – unfortunately, a big minus is the outdated online help, which does not provide help regarding newer features – tinyPM should spend some effort to update it.
Like most of the tools, tinyPM does not support keyboard shortcuts (or I was not able to find them), which was quite surprising, as developers love their keyboard. Although the online help is quite weak, tinyPM is self-explanatory – it guides the user where he needs guidance. The order of the menu items makes sense as it supports the usual workflow. Sometimes I get the feeling that there is too much information visible, e.g. when using the taskboard, on the right side there is also a panel with the burn-down-chart (good!), but also something that is called “Top Waiting Stories” and stories from other projects. Luckily, one is able to collapse this panel on the right, so that only the taskboard is visible. Speaking about the taskboard, a dedicated full-screen button is available, but like with all other tools I evaluated up until now, the font size does not scale at all, so readability is poor from a distance. Like Scrumwise, tinyPM auto refreshes the task board, so if a change occurs the other team members will spot it without the need of a reload. However, the refresh function was not the fastest and seems to work in a periodic manner, in contrast to Scrumwise, which uses a push-kind principle.
Unfortunately, the performance was a bit cumbersome, although I think the reason for that is because of the “one testing platform for all” strategy. Sometimes, tinyPM was quite fast, sometimes it wasn’t. A final conclusion cannot be given without testing it on a dedicated platform. However, I do not have the resources to do so. Another reason might be that the use of AJAX is much less in comparison with other tools – the only section that has some AJAX is the taskboard. On the other hand, the taskboard section is the section where AJAX really is needed.
tinyPM supports both types of hosting: there is a cloud-based variant and the one which you can install on your dedicated server. When doing the latter, tinyPM requires an Apache Tomcat Server and a MySQL database. As these are available on all major platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, OpenSolaris) so is tinyPM. Several plugins / connectors (I did not grasp the difference, feel free to blame me) are available, mostly for source-code versioning systems including for Bitbucket, Git(Hub), SVN, and Mercurial. I was not able to find any browser requirements, but due to the fact that the usage of AJAX is not overwhelming, I think that every major browser should be supported. In fact, I tested tinyPM with Firefox (13.0.1) and Safari (5.1.7) and did not spot any problems.
Interface-wise, there are no surprises. tinyPM uses, like many other Scrum tools, a horizontal bar at the top with different tabs. The logo could be smaller; right now it results in wasting vertical space – something I do not like, as usability gets quite low if one has to scroll when using the task board. As I stated above, a dedicated full-screen button exists for maximizing the task board, yet no scaled font sizes (if there is any tool vendor who supports it, let me know – I will immediately review that tool!). tinyPM also supports a high contrast mode for the task board – suitable for using it on a big screen. However, I did not find any option to test this feature. At least I could see it on screenshots :-) Drag & drop is supported where it makes sense (backlog & task board). While I am writing these lines, someone changed the interface language to Chinese (well, thanks for that!) – I strongly suggest that you contact the tinyPM support if you want to evaluate tinyPM on your own – the current demo platform is sufficient for reviews like I am doing, but for serious testing it makes no sense. The burn-down-charts are generated automatically and are resized to full-screen as soon as one clicks on them.
Like other tools, tinyPM support commenting tasks and stories. I did already stress in all of my reviews that I like this a lot, so I won’t do it again. What I liked even more was the amazing dashboard that is provided by tinyPM when a user logs in. It gives you a graphical presentation of the project state, the current iteration, on which story/task your teammates are working on and a preview for the upcoming iterations. Other tools do offer such a thing as well, but tinyPM representation is simply fantastic. If I were a developer in a team where tinyPM is used, this would definitely encourage me to keep up the good work.
tinyPM is very easy when it comes to costs, 12,5euro per user per month, no matter whether one runs the software on its dedicated server or in the cloud. There is a free version to download for a team with a maximum of five users and they promise to give free licenses for open source & academic projects. Although there are discounts if you pay 6 or 12 months in advance, tinyPM is quite expensive. However, I am starting to get the feeling that I am biased since JIRA is so much cheaper. Maybe a better statement would be that the costs are comparable to other tools, but that JIRA is just way cheaper.
- Task board
The curtain falls
I liked tinyPM. I am a hundred percent sure that I did not see all of its features, but what I have seen was implemented quite well. There are some nice features, which really shows that tinyPM is made by developers for developers. The online help however should be updated.
A review of CollabNet ScrumWorks Pro will follow. Hope to see you again!