Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Scrum Tools

A course attendee asked about Scrum Tools.

First, in the Agile Manifesto it says "Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools". Naturally, being geeks, the first the we want to talk about in or after the course is...[drumroll]...tools. We have to have a sense of humor about this.

First, I recommend that people learn Scrum (for the first 6 Sprints or so) using magnetic stick pins and cards on a magnetic whiteboard. Or similar. With maybe an Excel sheet to do some math. Very simple.

I have an Excel spreadsheet I give away. You can find a link to it at the bottom of this page. (BTW, there are MANY other resources on that page.) Pretty darn simple XLS. For example, it creates a graph for the burndown chart.

THEN...if you are distributed, then you likely need a tool.

The last thing to do is scale. And often one team is more productive than 100 people. But many of you will scale anyway. So you often need a tool if you scale (one meaning: multiple teams on the same effort).

Here are some tools:

The two best known are Rally and VersionOne.

Jeff Sutherland likes PivotalTracker for some applications.

I hear many good things about Jira with Greenhopper, an extension to Jira from the same source. (OK, a pun on 'open source', which this SW is.) Jira is a bug/issue tracker and Greenhopper is an Agile PM plug-in to Jira.

I know friends who use XPlanner. Even I have used it a bit.

Advice: All of these products (and many more) are changing all the time. NONE are perfect. Perfection to me would start to arrive if the tool could project "virtual" cards on a glass wall that one could touch and move on a visual scrum board just like 4x6 index cards.

Here is some more info from Boris Gloger...here. Boris is a great guy, a friend, and a very experienced agile coach.

Here is another "tools roundup" that Boris also links to. No doubt there are others.

Let me also suggest that tools are discussed frequently on the ScrumDev yahoo group. You might want to check there.

Last advice, usually worth twice the price: Don't get your knickers wrapped about the axle to find "the best" Scrum tool. The tool will not write code and will not make the team more creative. Spend more time doing Scrum (and your work) and less time "tooling up".

I seriously doubt if a Scrum Tool is your biggest impediment. In any case, don't let it be the impediment you work on for very long.


Adam Feldman - Bright Green Projects said...

As they say, people buy "holes not drills".....well they should anyway!

The thing about selecting a tool for any purpose is that you need to understand why you need it in the first place.

As you say in the article, the best approach to selecting a tool for scrum or any new methodology, is to actually do everything manually to begin with. This is especially important if things like burndown charts and kanban walls are new to the team.

Doing things manually helps everyone really understand what this "new approach" is all about.

After a while - teams grow, get dispersed geographically and reporting becomes a little more important. I also find that having everything on a wall becomes a problem after a few months with everyone in so many meetings, working from home, or just being too lazy to get up from their desks!!!

{NB/ If your team is too lazy to get up from their desk to update your task board - this is not a valid reason to buy a tool!!)

Once your team understands the new methodology you are using and the problems which might be hampering them - this is a good time to make your selection.



Joe Little said...


I should have said that!! Especially your implication: If you want a tool, write down and discuss WHY you want one. That hopefully will clarify what is really needed.

And of course, it must work for "all" involved. Not necessarily equally. But at least some cosideration to all the different types of users.

Thanks, Joe

Teck said...

If there is a use of a Scrum tool depends on the Team situation. I agree that in a colocated team a whiteboard is probably the best tool you can find :-)
In offshore teams you might use a tool like
Agilo for Scrum
which provides an online Whiteboard for distributed teams.
Other useful Scrum tools are the Planning Poker Cards invented bei Mike Cohn and the Business Value Game from agile42.
The best overview on Scrum tools and reviews you can find on
User Stories.com

Unknown said...

This Luddite anti-software meme is harmful. The question is not whether to use a tool, because the whiteboard itself is a tool. Whether it is the best tool is situational. For some teams, for some projects, it is the wrong tool. The best approach is to use Scrum -- get out of the way and let the team decide.

Joe Little said...


Let me suggest that "Luddite" and "meme" are not real arguments but hand waving and emotion. If you are upset, just say so.

Yes, I am somewhat anti-technology. I think too many in our field assume technology to be wonderful. Always. And that starts to give people the metaphor that people should be like the technology. ie, people are things. You might say it is not a fully prove-able theory, but it is a theory based on long experience.

With Scrum, I do find that most Scrum tools get more in the way than help. Yes, there are times to use them (eg, when distributed), but usually much later.

You are right (IMO) to point out that almost anything can be seen as a technology or a tool. But some are definitely more abstract and lead to more impersonal dealings with less-known people, while others help you have real arguments with real spitting people.

My bias, not always comfortable, is to get closer to real, better-known people.

Separately, I want to emphasize that it is easier to learn Scrum well with more sensory tools (ie, without what is commonly called a "Scrum tool" (software)).

Thanks, Joe

Jeremy @ GoldFigure said...

I am a software developer, largely working on my own but often have to work with 'external' people (other developers and project contributors).

I've tried a few tools for my own work but keep coming back to post-it notes and the wall of my office. That's no good for collaboration though. Most of the tools I've tried, most recently VersionOne are just too unwieldy and the admin overhead of the tool is not matched with an increase in productivity.

A couple of weeks ago I found MiniScrum (or rather @miniscrum found me on Twitter). MiniScrum is a free online tool. Few bells and no whistles but it perfectly complements my post-it wall and allows collaboration with others who can use their OpenID / Yahoo / Google credientials for authentication.

Just another tool in the mix...

Joe Little said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for your comments.

I certainly can understand that the "learning/admin" overhead must be commensurate with the value returned.

Your comment about Version One seems like it could be taken too harshly by others. For a larger firm, I could imagine that it is true that the % overhead/admin is much lower, especially in ratio to the value to a large distributed firm.

Still, I agree that, even for that kind of firm, people do not appreciate the value of "low tech" things like boards and post-it notes. Boards and post-it not are not either/or with tools; "yes, and" is often the correct position.


Sperits said...


Take a look to iceScrum, our tool offers everything that is in Scrum :

The role management: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, Team member and StakeHolder
The product backlog management with advanced features for prioritizing stories
Scrum lifecycle including a roadmap view
Release planning
Sprint backlog, as a task board facilitating the Scrum ceremonial
Management of impediments
Chart production such as burndown charts, velocity charts, cumulative flow diagram
And offers others agile practices like :

User stories
Acceptance tests associated to stories
User roles
Planning poker

And of course it's free and open source ;-)