Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reality check for Agile projects- project management tool vs "no tool."

We all have an ideal view of the world surrounding us. That is OK as long as we are aware of the real world and know how to rationally deal with it. We as agile practitioners have our own view of an ideal world. I will talk about some of the "aspects" of this ideal agile world in a series of blogs. Last time I talked about "collocation vs. virtual collocation." This is second in the series. The topic is "project management (PM) tool vs. no tool." Interestingly enough, Mike Cohn recently blogged about an apparent conundrum of using a physical task board with a distributed team. Both of my blogs in this series are very relevant to what he talked about and the discussion followed it.

Since an agile team is expected to be collocated, general thought is why need a tool? Excel, physical cards, and boards are good enough. I hear people transitioning to Agile say-
"We are new to Agile, want to focus on the process, not the tool."
While I understand and appreciate the underlying intent, I find it difficult to understand why would using a project management tool get in the way of adopting Agile. It is to me same as saying-
"Well, we are new to Ruby on Rails, want to focus on learning the language, not an IDE tool."
I am sure teams that use a PM tool appreciate the importance of such a tool. For distributed teams, such a tool is essential, not optional. For collocated teams, here are a few reasons why you should consider using a project management tool,
  • A decent tool will allow you to focus on what you should be focusing on rather then wasting your time in managing artifacts (time, requirements, tracking velocity, bug, traceability- linking related items together etc. etc. ) manually.
  • Keep a trail of all conversations organized in the appropriate context even the conversations happen face to face. We all tend to forget the details we talk about. Later that comes back to bite us. A documented trail helps avoid conflicts (not to be used as finger pointing though).
  • You want to gain insights into your project so that you can do effective "inspect and adapt." Doing this manually will take away your time from your core responsibility.
  • You will get an audit trail of what happened for free. In some industries, it is a requirement.
  • If it is a client project, it can save you from legal hassle should such a situation arises. Yes, I know Agile spirit is about collaboration over contract negotiation. Remember, I said it is a reality check. In real life s**t happens even after all the good intentions from all parties.

I save the topic of what to look for in a decent Web-based project management tool for another day.

If you are not using a real project management tool (not Excel, Google docs, or even worse Microsoft project kind), please do yourself a favor and switch to a decent Web-based project management tool today. While you are at it, check out ScrumPad, the next generation project management tool. Please let me know what you pick for your team.

If you are still not convinced that a Web-based project management and collaboration tool is essential for the long term success of any development team, I would love to hear your side of the story.

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