A survey published in 2010 by Forrester Research stated that approximately one third of the looked at companies would call their development method agile. 11% of this third stated that they use Scrum. 39% of those very same companies also stated that they would call their implementation mature. Reason enough for a vast rising majority of big players (eBay, Facebook & Google to name a few) to jump on that Scrum train. With those companies, the need for electronic Scrum tools is rising without running dry in the foreseeable future. Why is that? It is only about time to answer the questions regarding proper tooling support. As we know from our childhood that scissor beats paper, the following sections will underline why this holds also true within the Agile environment.
Within big companies (big means 1.000+ employees), Agile automation is an important topic and requires tools. While a simple whiteboard might be enough for small companies to track their project teams status, this does not work for large, multi-project companies due to:
- Sharing the project status quo through paper is time consuming. Imagine a 20th floor company building where employees spend most of their time visiting other teams to get more information about the status of their projects and you get it.
- Release-on-demand requires assembly-line based structures where tools need interfaces to bug tracking, build and testing systems.
- Recording information for retrospectives as team members tend to forget important aspects they want to discuss during such a retrospective (although one can argue whether Agile tools need to support such a thing as employees should be capable of taking notes).
Scaling comes together with automation as briefly touched in the previous section. Are there best practices for teams to scale? Yep, there are:
- Change-aware continuous integration. Ask a programmer what he frightens most and he will answer that question with integration (or testing, I will cover that later on). To make this process less painful, integration should be done in a continuous manner. Agile tools can support this process by recording important information, e.g. when is defect X fixed or how many stories did we finish in sprint Y.
- Just-in-time demand management. „The customer is always right.“ Within Agile we have acknowledged this fact. Highly effective teams increase their velocity in such a high-speed that continuous customer integration is not a desire but an obligation, as only they know what they want (…) and for what they are willing to pay.
Measuring software quality has been proven difficult since day one and in combination with testing, it results in what is widely known as a pain in the ass. Agile tools lift that burden by focussing on what is really useful and for whom it is useful:
- Progress information is recorded on task level as tasks are more tangible for the project team and are thus easier to discuss.
- Getting a true project status by reporting actual information on key artifacts like the code or its builds. By enforcing testing, the team immediately gets the proper information regarding the product that it is shaping.
- Real time information not just for the team, but also for the management & customer as they have remote access to the information.
Let‘s face it: A 100% theory conform Agile implementation is hardly ever possible in real life . Agile tools provide a solution by allowing what is called the hybrid approach:
- Customizable workflow that can be adapted beyond “todo – in progress – done”
- Integration with build systems, testing systems, etc.
- Customizable artifacts, e.g. teams can enhance the functionality of a burn-down chart by letting it display additional information that is viable for them.
- Support for deeper hierarchy levels that are more high-level than epics (e.g. product roadmap) or more low-level than tasks (e.g. sub-tasks)
Now that you know why you might need an Agile tool, Forrester helps you making a choice by having analyzed a bunch of Agile tools roughly two years ago with the help of the insignificant amount of 152 criteria. Those criteria are spread among the current offering (117 criteria), strategy (20 criteria) and market presence (15 criteria) of the Top 10 vendors of Agile tools.
The Top 10 is spanned by the triangle of (a) healthy grow or strong market presence, (b) experience serving large enterprises & (c) a focus on agile development and comprises of Atlassian, CollabNet, HP, IBM, Micro Focus, Microsoft, MKS, Rally Software Development, Serena Software and VersionOne.
The conclusions are based on a methodology including hands-on lab evaluations, vendor surveys and customer calls. To make a long story short, these are their conclusions:
- Atlassian adds to JIRA with comprehensive Agile project management capabilities
- CollabNet extends its platform with strong support for distributed Agile development
- HP builds on its heritage of testing with its Agile Accelerator configuration
- IBM, focusing on collaborative development, adds strong project management and analytics
- Micro Focus could build out an offering that appeals to client-server and legacy developers
- Microsoft provides the most comprehensive platform for .NET development
- MKS provides a robust development management solution
- Rally continues to extend its Agile heritage
- Serena enters the Agile market with a strong focus on Scrum team management
- VersionOne extends its Agile project management capabilities with improved integrations
Making a choice
As all vendors perform quite well according to Forrester, additional criteria can help to make a choice:
How many users does one need and which profiles do they match. Licensing costs vary vastly (starting at $6.100 (Atlassian), ending at $26.400 (MKS) for a small team including 10 daily and 30 casual users)
The pricing policy does not scale on a linear basis. Proper planning is mandatory regarding the team licenses to avoid the cost trap.
Application platform affinity. This should not be underestimated, e.g. if one has access to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), TeamFoundation Server can be quite appealing.
Last but not least
This article is a summary of the Forrester Wave research. Although the publication date of this research is 05.05.2010, the tools evaluated were released in 2007-2009. Therefore, this summary is an introduction to an upcoming series of articles that will provide an up-to-date analysis of current available Agile tools regarding their abilities to present the taskboard electronically.
West, D., Hammond, J.S., The Forrester Wave: Agile Development Management Tools, Q2 2010, Forrester Research Inc.
Jan Segers, Scrum Consultant