Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Search for Scrum Tools

I've been spending time over the last couple of weeks looking at agile tools. Of course, you can't have a development philosophy take hold like agile has without varying level of tool support. I started looking at several tools and doing some research because I have several projects that I am product owner for.

A very good resource is Mangrove Weblog's On-line Scrum Tools Review. His list is VERY much worth looking at but is a little bit out of date..
I added to that list the following. You will notice that I included PangoScrum and ScrumEdge in the process as well, as they seemed very promising and felt it was worth double checking.
I'm going to focus quickly on the list I looked at. Kudos to Mangrove for the detail he gave; I'm not going to be quite as detailed. :)


I like the simplicity and feature set of PangoScrum a lot. While it did elicit this tweet:
It has themes that not only make life tolerable but are actually quite attractive.

PangoScrum supports sprint and project backlogs. It is weird in that they seem to be completely separate. I can't move an item from the product backlog into the sprint backlog. I always thought that process was sequential: anything not currently working in the sprint backlog goes into product backlog which eventually gets shifted into the sprint backlog.

The fact is that I like a lot pieces of PangoScrum, but the backlog/sprint management is just flat out weird. To this point, I cannot figure out how to take an item in my backlog and add it to a sprint. In my mind, that is a completely broken feature.

If I am wrong in this, I'd like to know, because I like PangoScrum otherwise. However, if I can't shift things from product to sprint backlogs, it won't work.

Target Process

Having "Process" in the name is revealing. I think if you had a significant process that you needed to follow, Target Process would be a good bet. I would expect significant training of your Scrum Masters and your conributors to get it running smoothly.

This sounds painful for a small company. On the plus side, it does support multiple projects well.


ScrumEdge received a notable hit in the previous review as being under-developed. I spent some time playing around with it and found that it is much more solid than the previous review indicted.

I like ScrumEdge. Simple, minimal functionality, fairly elegant, and, did I mention, simple! The setup is fairly straightforward. It seems to revolve around the notion of time tracking (almost to the level of Base Camp) rather than what I would consider agile task tracking.

Supporting multiple projects is also a critical feature for my needs and it does support them. If you need detailed time tracking, this isn't a bad way to go, but managing iterations as a product owner is painful. When I can more easily manage my backlog and sprints using ScrumEdit, it will be a serious contender.

Keep a sharp eye on this one if you are looking for agile tools in the future. Four to six months may be enough to put this at, or at least very near, the top..


AgileFant seems to be so much more than a small company needs. I would say it is to agile tools waht a company like @task for project management tools (when I need something more like Base Camp). If you have people sitting around waiting to do your scrum management, this could be a great tool. It is not for the small companies I am working with.


Agile42 provides a software solution to back up their training company. It is built on top of the open source issue management project Trac.

Two issues: First, personally, Trac is one of my least-favorite issue management systems out there. In the build versus buy decision, I think they made the wrong decision.

Second (and perhaps related to the first), you can only supply tasks to user stories. That makes validating how mch work someone is accomplishing over time more difficult (but not impossible).

Scrum Ninja

I really like Scrum Ninja. Maybe it just fits how I see managing managing scrum. Projects flow into sprints automatically by determining story points and prioritization. Very clean and fast.

Developers are given a simple "white board" that gives them the ability to update their status (estimate your time left or drag it to the &quote;Completed" list). Burndown reports and other reports are straight-forward. Multiple projects are supported, which is critical for me.

This is, by far, my favorite of the six that I looked at.

The Three Sentence Versions

Not everybody can afford large licensing fees and there is a wide range here. Rather than go into details of their licensing models, which can change on a whim, we'll do Free, Small Biz, Enterprise, and On Premise..


Agile42 has a free version that, while it takes some set up to get to to, is a reasonable tool. You can upgrade using a freemium model if you need more functionality. You trade off time tacking details so you can spend more time coding and less time on managment.. Seems likde the rght trade-off to me.

Small Biz

This is a tough category as there are so many potential options and needs. In the end, my preference is Scrum Ninja. $50/month for 5 users and $140/month for 20 users is a good deal for a tool that, for the most part, just gets out of the way.


Ralley and AgileFant both seem like good options here, but you are trading off developer efficiency for more detail in your data. If you don't need those details, I'd look elsewhere.

On Premise

If you need to keep data behind the corporate firewall, Scrum Ninja is still my favorite. Agile42 is a good choice (paid or free); it seems like a solid application and you control the install.

My Choice

Ending quickly, let me just say that I'm going to continue using Scrum Ninja. Trust me, you'll know if things go wrong!

Photograph by Andreas Borutta

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