But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Follow up to yesterdays events on ‘enabling agile development with cool tools’

Thanks to everyone who attended yesterdays Black Marble event ‘Enabling agile development with cool tools’, both Gary Short’s and my sessions seemed well received. I was asked if my slides would be available anywhere, well the answer is no. The reason for this is that my session was mostly demo driven, so the slides just set the scene. After a bit of thought, a quick blog post seems a better option;  so this post covers the same basic points as the session. If you are interested in any of the products I would urge you to download them and give them a go. Many are free and all have at least a free fully functional evaluation edition.

So the essence of my session was on the project management/administrative side of agile projects. The key here is communication both inside and outside of the immediate project team. How to we capture and distribute information so it assists the project not hampers it?

Traditionally the physical taskboard, with moving moving some form of postcards around has been the answer. This is a great solution as long as the team is co-located and that there is no need for a detailed on going record of the historic state of the tasks (maybe a requirement for legal reasons, but then maybe a daily digital photo would do?). Anyway many teams find they need to capture this information in some electronic form. In my session I looked at some of the options with TFS2010

What is built into TFS2010?

As TFS has a single work item store you can edit work items with a wide variety of clients. In the box you have tools to edit work items via Visual Studio, SharePoint, Team Web Access as well as the ability to manage work items in Excel and Project.

What if I live in Outlook?

If you want to do all you work item management in Outlook then have a look at Ekobit’s TeamCompanion. This in effect allows you to treat work items in a similar manner to email, and cross between the two. So you can create a work item from an email and vice versa; it also allows the managing work items in batches. This product strikes me was very well suited to an email based support desk or project manager that is meeting or email orientated, maybe dealing with people who do not themselves have access to TFS, just email.

How can I replicate my physical taskboard?

For many teams the capture of the physical taskboard information is the key. I have always found a good way to make sure TFS work items are up to date is to have all the work items associated with the tasks on the taskboard returned via a TFS query and then in Excel, as the daily stand up is done, make sure each task is up to date.

However, some people like to work more visually than that, so in the session I looked at a couple of desktop applications that allow work item management both in a form editing manner and via taskboard like drag and drop operations. These were Telerik’s Work Item Manager and EMC’s TFS Work Bench.

However for many companies adding another desktop application to a controlled IT PC can be a problem so I also had a look at Urban Turtle an add-in to Team Web Access that allows a more visual taskboard approach with in a browser by adding a couple of tabs to those  in the standard Team Web Access product.

But what about outside the team?

All the products I showed in the first half of the session were in essence work item editors, a team could choose to use any or all of them. This does not however really help with getting information out to interested parties beyond the team; for this we need publically accessible Information Radiators. The information on these needs to change over time and be easy to understand.

The output of the team focused tools may be just what you need here, maybe a chart printed out and stuck to a notice board will do, but there are some other options.

The first is that there are a rich set of reports in TFS, available both as Reporting Services reports and Excel charts. Reporting Services is particularity interesting as it can deliver reports to interested parties on a scheduled e.g. the CTO get the project burn down emailed as a PDF every Monday morning. There is also the option to deliver reports to central information sites such as Intranet SharePoint servers for everyone to see.

But what do you do if you want something a bit more striking, something that does not require a person to look on a web site or open their email? Maybe a big screen showing what is going on in the project? I showed two products to do this one was Telerik’s Project Dashboard and the other a version our Black Marble internal BuildWallboard, written using the TFS API.

So in summary, in my opinion the key differentiator for TFS over ALM solutions built for a set of different vendors products is that there is a single store for all work items so a wide range of editing an reporting tools can be bought to bear without having to worry over whether the information you are working with is the going to be passed correctly between the various components of the system.

So again I would urge you that if you use TFS have a look at these product, and the many others that are out there, given them a go and see which ones may assist your process. Remember agile is all about continuous improved isn’t it, so give it a try

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