To be honest: my last reviews were about Scrum tools that were good, but minor. This will change right away, as the subject of this week’s review is ScrumWorks Pro by CollabNet, one of the most mature companies creating Scrum software. According to Forrester Research, ScrumWorks Pro is made by one of the top 10 market leaders. So lets find out what the hassle is about.
Right from the start, lets make something clear that avoids a lot of confusion if one of my fellow readers is ever going to use ScrumWorks Pro: CollabNet has decided to support two types of applications – a desktop client and a web client. Interestingly, both versions differ massively from each other when it comes to functionality. Now that you know these two important facts you are able to save yourself an enormous amount of time. At least I have spent some time till I figured that out.
But, lets go back to the beginning. When you use ScrumWorks Pro for the very first time, you feel quite pleased. At least I did. It comes with a nice, greenish interface and good usage of AJAX. However, when I clicked through the tabs I was wondering why I was not able to find neither a backlog nor a task board. The reason for that was my own fault – I was working with their cloud management platform called codesion. Yet, I was able to find a link that pointed me to ScrumWorks Pro and finally I was able to start using it. At least that was what I thought. What I found was a simplistic but promising interface with no opportunity at all to add some stories or to create a backlog. I consulted the user guide and found out that one has to use the desktop client in order to create the initial backlog and to plan sprints & releases.
Normally I would stop reviewing at this point; I think that a Scrum tool should be browser-based, since we have external people that have to work with the software, offshore customers, etc. – you name it. However, the desktop version is – thanks to Java – platform independent and starts without any problems. So, after starting the desktop client, I found out that the interface is totally different to the one of the web client. The desktop client starts with a blank screen, but with some trial and error one gets used to it. In my point of view, the desktop client is meant as a sort of administration tool, whereas the web client is the tool the team should work with. To make a long story short: before you are able to work with the web client, you have (1) to create some backlog items, (2) to create a sprint, (3) to create a release and (4) you have to assign yourself to a team, that in turn is assigned to a sprint. After that, one is finally able to use the web client to perform the actual work.
After logging in, ScrumWorks Pro redirects one to a list of tasks that are assigned to the user. The list is actually a table that lists all assigned tasks and the stories they belong to, the status of the tasks and whether a task has a comment.
By clicking on “Sprints” we get to the task board, by clicking on “Planning” we are redirected to the product backlog. By clicking on “Kanban” we will get to the “Kanban” board, but that is far too obvious ;) First, lets go to the product backlog. I told you that the desktop client is a kind of administration tool and that the web client is a kind of viewer, right? Well, now it gets weird: within the web client, I am able to create new backlog items, thus new stories. So I am asking myself, why did I have to fire up the desktop client to create backlog items (and of course sprints & releases) if I can create them also in the web client? Lets go to the task board. It is plain, but shows the essential information. In fact, the task board is one of the better ones I have seen. It displays the assignee for each task and of course the tasks are related to their corresponding stories. What makes ScrumWorks Pro unique is that a miniature of the Burn-Down-Chart is embedded in the upper right. The team is thus not only able to update the status of tasks, but they are also able to see the sprint progress at a glance. Even better, the miniature is clickable and by doing so, a pop-up with a more detailed Burn-Down-Chart comes to the foreground. Another neat trick is the option to highlight the tasks for team members. By enabling this option, every task gets a colored border where each color belongs to one team member. It is thus easier to see who is working on what as soon as one remembers the colors.
When moving all the tasks in done, the story is still in progress. Is it a bug or is it a feature? At first I though it was a bug, but right now I am tending to treat is as a feature. Because in real life, a story is done when the product owner says it is done. With ScrumWorks Pro, the product owner is thus able to mark the story as done as soon as he or she has reviewed it. When a story is done, it gets a green check mark – a perfect indicator for the team. By clicking on the story ID, one gets a more detailed view and is able to add some more tasks or to attach a file. However, stories and tasks are estimated using time instead of estimating the size with the help of story points. I know that both options are used quite evenly distributed; as a result I would like to see that both versions are also implemented. This is of course valid for Scrum tools in general, not just ScrumWorks Pro in particular.
Another unique feature I haven’t seen before is the ability to add certain business weights like ROI or rBV – perfect for the ideal product owner who knows the business value of each story exactly.
The user experience of ScrumWorks Pro is good. Although keyboard shortcuts are only available within the desktop client and there is no context-based help, the task board interface is quite self-explanatory. Tasks can be moved by using drag & drop and they do indicate a good level of information, as described above. Also the ability to see the Burn-Down-Chart right next to the taskboard and assigning colors to tasks helps to transform the task board in a kind of information center that supports the team.
The thing that immediately attracts the attention is that the task board has four columns instead of three. Next to “To Do” (which is named “Not Started” – good for me), “In Progress” and “Done” we have also an “Impeded” column, which is useful for tasks that are linked to a certain impediment. Whether a team needs such a column or not depends of course on the team, but I think it is a good thing to have this column. Besides, one can remove this column by using the desktop client. Curiously, you can also add some new columns, but they have to be of the type “To Do”, “In Progress” or “Done” which makes this functionality a bit useless.
Although ScrumWorks Pro is quite easy to use, you can use the excellent web client user guide if anything is unclear to you. Within that user guide, every single step is explained – thumbs up.
Last but not least, ScrumWorks Pro is also perfectly suited for multi–team or multi-project usage. Above the task board, one can select a team or a project by using a drop down menu. Thus, if you want to check on the status of other projects and their teams – no problem at all. Even better, you are able to choose between sprints. As a result, it is easy to check back on previous sprints to find out what might have happened in the past.
As we have two different types of applications, we also got different requirements. For the web client, the browser requirements are comparable to the ones of other tools. Every major browser is supported and the version does not necessary has to be the newest on earth available. The user guide does not state any screen resolution requirements. However I have tested a few things and the screen should support XGA resolution (1024×768) at least, otherwise the task description will be chopped off.
For the desktop client at least Java 6 patch 19 and Java Web Start is required. To be honest: For me, it just works. I did not install anything at all, so my guess would be that most of the standard installations would fulfill these requirements, too.
Briefly touched in the performance section, I have already states that the interface is simple, but effective. The layout is nothing new – horizontally aligned tabs without wasting too much vertical space. The names of the tabs are quite clear, e.g. “Sprints” for the task board and “Planning” for the backlog. As stated above, the interface supports drag & drop for tasks and creating new tasks is as simple as clicking the corresponding button within the story element. New stories can be created when viewing the product backlog and files can be attached to stories.
Unfortunately, there is no full screen mode, thus the task board is not really suited for large screen usage. Next to the missing full screen mode, the font size is far too small to read from distance.
A small highlight was the fact that the task board gets refreshed every 30 seconds, like with tinyPM. Of course, team members can manually reload the task board by using the corresponding browser function or by clicking on the “update now” link in the upper right corner.
When it comes to motivating the team to work with the task board, ScrumWorks Pro needs a refresh. The only social aspect that is implemented are comments and this feature needs to be improved. Right now, the only way to see whether a task has a comment is by clicking on every task to check. Alternatively, I can see that a task has a comment if it is assigned to me and if I check my dashboard frequently. Stories are different: they have a dedicated field that indicates how many comments are available. This functionality should also be available for tasks. It is a good step in the right direction that ScrumWorks refreshes the page every 30 seconds when using the task board, but it would be even better if there was a visual trigger for the team, e.g. flashing the changed tasks with a bright color to catch everyone’s attention.
CollabNet offers ScrumWorks Pro for running it on a dedicated, local server but also provides a hosted option. The download variant is split into three different packages that do not differ in functionality, but in service availability. The prices for these packages vary from 276 $ per user (Silver) up to 300 $ per user (Platinum). The hosted option does not offer the Silver, Gold & Platinum levels, instead every user pays 28 $ per month.
When comparing the costs with the ones of other vendors, ScrumWorks Pro is expensive. No matter the size of your team (I calculated the costs for 50 persons up to 700 persons), CollabNet is ten times more expensive than for example Atlassian’s JIRA. However, depending on the package, the service level agreement is better than the one of Atlassian – customers are able to call CollabNet 24 hours a day if they choose at least the “Gold” option.
In fact, I had to contact CollabNet because my desktop client gave me an error when starting it and my issue was escalated and resolved in less than 24 hours. THAT is what I call a good service, thumbs up!
- Desktop-based administration tool
The curtain falls
CollabNet ScrumWorks Pro is a straight tool and good task board functionality. However, splitting the tool into a desktop tool that serves mainly administrative purposes and a web client that could be much more powerful feels like a choice that is outdated and needs revision. Last but not least, one has to decide whether the good service is worth the money.