The Downtempo Blog

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Pivotal Tracker: A Brief Review

March 21st, 2009 by Andy Volk

Working with some of our engineering management colleagues here at Downtempo, we recently converted a client’s web product development process from their existing mix between waterfall and ad-hoc development over to Agile with Scrum.

Both the client and their existing engineering team were receptive to the change, and the product was pre-release with a goal of a public Alpha release. Agile process gave management the flexiblity they were looking for, while giving the engineers a more predictable development pipeline to plan their work against.

Our challenges in moving to Agile and Scrum were:

  1. The teams were distributed between Northern California, Texas, and India.
  2. Management was extremely date-focused (they had been using MS Project as their previous weekly product dashboard), and needed the ability to easily play “what-if” games with changing features and dates.
  3. Management needed a high degree of visibility into the current product pipeline, but needed to delegate change to a formal set of Product Owners.

Point #1 above meant that we would have to use an online tool to share user stories and plan our sprints, instead of the traditional set of note cards with user stories written on them.

We looked at several tools, including Scrum Ninja (from our friends at Internaut), VersionOne (I still can’t understand why they force registration to view their intro movie!), and Pivotal Tracker (from the good people at Pivotal Labs).

Pivotal Tracker clearly stood out as our favorite choice after a careful review of the tools. Their clear Pivotal Tracker introduction screencast was a handy way to introduce management to the what-if games, in addition to giving a quick overview into how to use the tool.

Within a week of deciding on the tool, we were up and running with our first sprint the following week, and thanks to the diligence of the whole team, the stories scheduled for the initial sprint were delivered. Our distributed team has quickly taken to the tool, and Microsoft Project documents are now a thing of the past.

The one caveat I have with Pivotal Tracker is that the bug tracking doesn’t appear to be as robust as some of the other solutions out there (such as FogBugz), especially since it doesn’t tie in bugs to specific code check-ins. But it’s nice to have at least bug references built into the system, so we can assign major bug fixes to specific sprints.

Pivotal Tracker gets an A- from us as a great software development project management tool.

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