A few months ago, an interesting question appeared on the LinkedIn discussions for the Agile Alliance:

Not surprisingly, every vendor offering agile software development tools quickly jumped in to pitch their product, some more slyly than others (of course, JIRA and GreenHopper had already been mentioned a couple of times, but I felt obliged to outline our offerings anyway.. requisite disclaimers included).
After that, it was interesting to observe the fervent discussion that ensued. Since this commentary very much represents the pulse of the community, I planned to do an analysis of the “experts” recommended tools for agile and scrum, but Udayan Banerjee beat me to it.

What say the “experts”?

GreenHopper.pngAt the time of Udayan’s analysis, 127 comments had already suggested 53 different tools*. Here are the top recommendations:

  1. JIRA and it add-ins like GreenHopper, Confluence(Collaboration), Bamboo(Continuous Integration) and Crucible(Code Review) (24 recommendations)
  2. VersionOne (11 recommendations)
  3. Rally and its add-in like AccuBridge (10 recommendations)
  4. Mingle (10 recommendations)
  5. VSTS with Scrum Templates and its add-ins and templates like UrbanTurtle, Conchango etc. (9 recommendations)
  6. Excel and template from Jeff Sutherland (8 recommendations)
  7. PivotalTracker (8 recommendations)
  8. Scrumworks (4 recommendations)
  9. Hudson(Continuous Integration) (4 recommendations)
  10. Scrumpad (4 recommendations)
  11. TargetProcess (4 recommendations)
  12. Agilo (4 recommendations)

* Not all of them are specifically for agile or scrum.. 41 other tools were recommended three times or less.

Why is it always People v Tools?

With 12 recommendations for manual tools (index cards and whiteboards), the great debate of people v tools raged in the discussion with no shortage of strong opinions. One person even compared it to gun control (which may be a bit extreme):

“this argument always reminds me of gun control. One side believes that guns kill, and should be regulated or banned. The other side feels it isn’t the gun, but the person who pulls the trigger that is responsible. Seldom can the two sides find middle ground.”

I tend to believe it’s a matter of both people AND tools, not one versus the other. Obviously, people will always come first because no process will ever succeed unless the people using it believe it’s the best way for them to work effectively. Tools tend to get a bad rap when they are inflexible and force users to work in one particular way.

The best tools are flexible

It makes sense that 3×5 index cards and a blank whiteboard are considered great tools since they are the most flexible of all. You can choose to put any amount of information on the cards and organise them any way you want on the board. Their limitation is that they need to physically reside in the same room as your entire team which is not always ideal. Plus, they provide little in the way of statistics and analysis.
I think that’s why JIRA and GreenHopper are the most popular tools for agile project management. JIRA’s flexibility let’s you define issues the way you want and map workflows to your existing software development process. On top of that, GreenHopper provides virtual index cards and boards that adapt to the way you work, not the other way around.
This flexibility allows you to:

  • Capture and display the information you deem valuable.
  • Manage your backlog using any ranking field(s) you choose.
  • Define and plan your iterations (sprints) to the schedule that fits your team.
  • Report and analyse on your progress based on the metrics that matter to you.
  • Reflect and adapt to constantly improve your process and remain agile.

Why do use the tools you use?

I’m curious to know why you use the tools that you use.. please drop a comment below.

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