Agile Scrum Tools – A Tool that Helps Teams Grow?

Andrea Keeble of VersionOne recently asked me a couple of pretty good questions about Agile maturity for teams.

  1. When is it time to move beyond spreadsheets, whiteboards and sticky notes?
  2. Pros & cons of free agile tools (versus high-end ones)?
  3. Is there a need for something in between, which extends visibility beyond the dev team and can easily scale as you grow?

When doing training or client work, I’m also often asked these same types of questions. Most often it revolves around:

“When can we move to a tool? What’s the best tool? Etc etc…”

Let’s discuss a couple of these, shall we?

When to go to an Agile Scrum tool?

I still believe with all my heart that wallboards are king for Agile. Plain and simple. But… as teams scale and departments need better tracking and transparency, tools have their place.

Simply put, the best time to move to a tool is when the following happens:

  1. Communication/reporting is needed to teams and management beyond local teams (geographically disperse)
  2. Dependencies/constraints are part of the environment (dev ops tools are good here too)
  3. When pretty reports mean a ton to management and stakeholders (seriously, sometimes this is a critical piece. If you have beautiful looking reports generated by a system… it totally beats making your own crappy powerpoint deck)
  4. When a team is mature enough to streamline it’s processes and using a tool is more expedient (and valuable) than a physical wallboard
  5. When a team is mature enough that a team is more efficient utilizing a high-performance enterprise tool (but does NOT replace collaboration)

Pros/Cons of Free Agile Tools?

You get what you pay for. This old adage is still true for tools. Sometimes it’s just worth paying $ for a great tool that work… especially if it has exactly what you need.

The problem though, is what I consider a typical enterprise tool conundrum… also known as a “Microsoft Problem.” — I mean, really… how often do you use all the features of Word? Excel? Powerpoint? = BLOAT

Most tools come with too many features that:

  1. Confuse teams
  2. Are unusable
  3. Are not configurable
  4. Beyond the team maturity
  5. Beyond the companies maturity

Ever read the Tyranny of Choice by Scientific American? Please read it:

Yes. Here is the problem. TOO MANY OPTIONS CAUSE US to be ineffective.

As Agile Teams Mature… Your Toolset Matures

What we need is a tool that has JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT of features that a team can use. No bloatware. No extra junk. What we need is a tool to help us as a team grow… we can always upgrade to an enterprise edition later…

What would I like to see?

  1. A tool that… if used correctly can help a new/beginning Agile team become MORE effective (after they’ve mastered the foundational elements of Agile)
  2. A tool that… can make work more streamlined… without being a bother
  3. A tool that… has just the right amount of features for a team
  4. A tool that… is NOT free… but priced just right
  5. A tool that… is supported by a solid company and will continue to iterate and grow

“A fool with a tool… is still a fool.”

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t be a fool with a tool. Agile ALM companies would take heed about being valuable to companies. Being smart about the features teams really use… and how to help teams grow.

As I’ve reviewed more Agile/Scrum tools than anyone else on the planet… I’m looking for a tool that helps teams grow… and grows as a tool as the team matures. Is that even possible???

Or… how about a tool that enables teams to use just the core functionality of what an Agile team needs… and then can upgrade (features/modules) as they grow and mature as a team???

We’ll see.

What are your thoughts?


16 Replies to “Agile Scrum Tools – A Tool that Helps Teams Grow?”

  1. The timing of this is interesting; Assembla just released a simple planner for agile **REMOVED LINK**. Haven’t tried it yet but it looks like they had a similar thought process: simpler is more effective.

    1. Peter, thanks for the comment. Although I understand where you’re coming from, dishonesty doesn’t work here at AgileScout.

      You say you haven’t used Assembla, but a simple search clearly shows your an intern at Assembla. This type of link-baiting is against our policies. k-thx-bye.

  2. Hi Peter!
    First, thx for all the work you do reviewing and summarizing tools and processes for us. You provide so much value to the community and that is admirable!
    Second, I love the idea of an agile tool that’s agile enough to grow with the needs of the team! I would love to see something like that too, maybe it’s just a model where you can add/buy features a la carte once you start needing them!

  3. I’d like some clarification.

    The article seems to say “more mature means the team needs more features in a tool.” Is that what you are saying?

    1. Not necessarily features per se… but the ability to have the tool mature as the team matures… this might mean less features… or more features… de-scale… or scale up. That’s quite a conundrum

  4. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the great post! The questions you list are indeed something that many keep asking.

    > A tool that… is NOT free… but priced just right

    Being the product owner of a free backlog tool, I’m curious.Could you elaborate a bit on the basis of this opinion?

    For those interested in more criteria (perhaps a bit more tangible, although you do provide good principles!) for tool selection (can’t say they are free of bias, but at least they are based on going through a lot of literature)

    a) check out my Ph.D.
    (-> section 2.2.13, page 36- )
    b) a book we wrote a couple of years
    (-> chapter 13)

    You can download both (for free 🙂 and represent my 2cents from a decade of research on the matter.

    Best regards,

    Product owner

    P.S. Please don’t kill this reply or remove the links just because I’m from Agilefant. Just want to chip in the conversation, I truly believe some may find the info useful!

        1. Pricing shows that:
          – the tool will be updated and improved
          – the tool has dedicated focus from a business
          – the tool has a cost,… that in many ways shows that it is valued to a point where it SHOULD be paid for to use.

          Not to say that free tools aren’t great. There are a lot of free tools out there that we use everyday that are awesome!
          Most… of them have tiered strucutres… where the base is free… but if you want to leverage more features… it is paid!

  5. This post is candy for those of us who are developing agile tools! I also took at look at your HUGE list of best/all agile scrum tools. I can only imagine how those shopping for a tool can get easily depressed with all the choices… (Tyranny of Choice, great read!)

    Picking up from your example of Word, Powerpoint and Excel… yes these are software with a lot of features, but do people not use them because they don’t need them, or because they don’t know how to? For me personally, I learn something new about Excel every month!

    From the perspective of being in a team that makes one of these agile tool, I can say that with every feature that is released, one of the bigger challenge is how to integrate it so that users a) find out about it, and b) can use it intuitively. At Planbox, we just try to make the learning curve of the tool as short as possible so that it’s less intimidating for new users. Just like anything, bite-sized learning is easiest. So, we let our users pick features they need, and they can activate additional features as they grow.

    In all, thank you for this interesting post.

    Community Manager at Planbox

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