Pivotal Tracker

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Project Management Software for Agile Developers

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Developing software can be a complicated process because it combines multiple activities and modules at the same time. The waterfall model, which splits the process into tasks (much like the manufacturing method of assembling a unit) was the preferred software development for many years.  That is, until the Agile methodology came along. Unlike the waterfall model, Agile is quick, dynamic, and iterative. It can also be chaotic. 

This week, we will look at a solution that makes this process less chaotic and more structured. We will review Pivotal Tracker – a agile project management software for Agile development projects. We will look at its interface, functionality, and see how it can be of use to you.

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Practicing what they preach at Pivotal Labs

Last night I went to a presentation on agile software development by Dan Podsedly of Pivotal Labs, a San Francisco based development shop and makers of the beautiful Pivotal Tracker agile project management application.

Dan gave a great overview of agile practice in general, including test driven development, rapid iteration, continuous integration, pair programming, and so on. But most interesting to me was the description of the thoughtful and inspiring workplace at Pivotal. And regardless of whether you’re a software developer or work in an A/E firm, I think you’ll find it interesting too.

Pivotal Labs reminds me a little of Basecamp developers 37signals (minus the arrogance). They have a solid and successful design and consulting practice, including clients like Salesforce, Twitter, and Groupon, with a popular product as kind of a by-product. Starting in 1989 they’ve grown to 150 employees around the world with absolutely no sales or marketing. And every aspect of the way they run their practice reflects back to a pragmatic application of their principles:

  • Every day at the office begins with breakfast together at 9 am. This starts the day together and helps to keep all the Pivots (as they call team members) in sync. Dan noted that eating breakfast together also makes people get hungry for lunch at the same time as well, when they may eat together again, instead of drifting off at different times.
  • Breakfast is followed by a team stand-up with up to 70 people participating in a big semi-circle. A whiteboard is kept for people to jot down issues to address at the standup.
  • Next each team does its own stand-up to catch up and coordinate the day’s work.
  • Development work at Pivotal is done in pairs on computers with two keyboards and two mice. Developers talk through problems as they work and make decisions. Unlike most design environments, you’ll hear the continuous hum of conversation. There’s more talking than coding. Pairs rotate frequently to spread knowledge and strengthen the team.
  • They don’t have telecommuter employees, having decided it just doesn’t work for their culture.
  • If there’s a question for the client, developers can just walk across the room. That’s because Pivotal insists the project owner from the client work in their office for at least the first six weeks of the project.
  • During pair sessions, it’s forbidden to check email, Twitter, Facebook, answer phone calls, etc.  The same goes for client meetings. Focus on the task at hand.
  • Wednesday tech talks pull people back together for education and networking. This is a field where your skills need constant upgrading.
  • The firm hosts full scale “retrospectives” throughout the year involving all Pivots. They continuously look at what’s going right and what’s going wrong and make adjustments, iterating the organization as if it were an agile project itself.
  • Oh, and one other thing: People go home at 6 pm. Pivotal places more value on continuous, steady, and predictable progress rather than heroics and burn-out. When you’re running a real going concern (as opposed to a startup), it’s a lot more effective in the long run.

Obviously this isn’t for everybody. But as Dan pointed out, the organization and atmosphere helps the right people to self-select. In fact, Pivotal doesn’t even really conduct “job interviews.” They bring recruits in and just spend time with them, including trying them out in pairing. The one trait they seek above all others? Empathy for other points of view.

What are the values and culture of your firm like? Does the workplace and organization really support it?

- Practice Lab

Agile Project Management

Pivotal Tracker is an agile project management and collaboration tool for agile teams with software development. It keeps everybody, even distributed teams around the world focused and on the same page, with an integrated, always up to date story board.

Pivotal tracker logo.png

Your team will stay on track to complete their agile software development project with Pivotal Tracker’s continuous, automatic prediction of milestone completion dates, based on historical performance. On top of that, you’ll get the right product to the market, sooner, based on Tracker’s simple, yet powerful workflow which encourages continuous customer feedback and prioritization.

Pivotal Labs, the Agile Force Behind Twitter and Groupon

Pivotal Labs is a name that comes up often in regards to web startups, but it’s sort of an enigma. The company’s San Francisco office is home to the hyped-up distributed social networking effort Diaspora; its work has been credited for shaping Twitter’s development culture; and its clients include Groupon, Gowalla and Best Buy’s “Remix” API project. But what exactly does Pivotal Labs do?

A few more reasons you may have heard of Pivotal: Pivotal Tracker, which the company developed to help clients plan and execute projects, is a agile project management tool for software development tool that has hundreds of thousands of users. And, the company’s New York office is going to be the home of the new TechStars edition there starting in January. 

All those mentions were enough to get me intrigued, so last week Chris Albrecht and I paid a visit to Pivotal’s San Francisco office to find out more. The office has all the trappings of a startup incubator: Ping-Pong games, ample snacks, big computer monitors, bike racks and clumps of scruffy young dudes. But Pivotal’s services are different from an incubator’s: It’s a consultancy that brings technical teams into its space to grow them, train them and help them build their products. Rather than Pivotal investing in companies, the startups and enterprise clients pay Pivotal for the service.

Pivotal has actually been around for 20 years, but in the last few years, it has created a sort of focused training program for technology startups and projects within larger companies. Say you have an idea for a company and raise funding for it. You then come to Pivotal, which takes on any developers already working on your project and hires new ones to round out the team. Your technical folks come into the Pivotal office every day at 9:00 a.m., sit down at a desk with a “Pivot” from the company’s team, and work in tandem as pair programmers for the full day until 6:00 p.m. At the end of period of about 2-7 months, you have a trained agile development team for building products with Ruby on Rails, as well as lot of progress on your product.

Pivotal charges by the hour for its programmers’ time, and throws in lots of perks: computers and monitors, breakfast, desks for founders and Ping-Pong. Companies pay Pivotal between $150,000 and $600,000 on average, according to VP Technology and Principal Ian McFarland.

Current Pivotal clients include Best Buy, EMI, Groupon, MavenLink, and goBalto. Recent clients include Twitter, Gowalla, Urban Dictionary, Indaba Music, CitySearch and the Associated Press. In the video, McFarland explains the arrangement with Diaspora, which currently operates out of the Pivotal San Francisco office. The Diaspora founders, who didn’t go back to NYU this fall, are using the Pivotal space for free because the company is interested in their project. McFarland also talks about former client Twitter, which has beeneffusive in attributing improvements in its development culture to its work with Pivotal. I ask McFarland if that’s really such a good thing given Twitter’s widely known technical problems.

Check out the video to get a better idea of who and what’s behind all this.

Pivotal Tracker on Wikipedia

Pivotal Tracker - Really Sweet Agile Planning

(Source: jongartman)

Check us out on CloudSurfing

CloudSurfing logo

Check out Pivotal Tracker on CloudSurfing.  They mention how PT is a story-based planning tool that allows teams to collaborate in real-time.  They continue to note that PT is great for agile development and project management. CludSurfing included some screenshots and older videos of the product. 

Have you checked it out?  What do you think?

Multi-story select and drag/drop, iPad usability improvements

Last week, we rolled out some changes to Pivotal Tracker, our agile project management tool, which we’re hoping will have a very noticeable impact on usability, especially for those of you who manage large projects. You can now select multiple stories with a few clicks, using shift-click, and drag them together to a new location. Also, iPad usability has been greatly improved - for example, story panels can now be scrolled with one finger, and you can move stories via drag and drop

Changing business priorities on large projects has always been a bit painful for us, having to drag stories one by one. Cloning panels helps with this, but really, what we’ve always wanted to do is just select a whole group of stories, and drop them in their new place in the backlog or the icebox with one action. You can now do this, and it’s even possible to drag stories that are in-progress to the backlog or icebox and it just does the right thing (un-starts them).

Click on the screenshot above to see a larger version.

To select multiple stories, use the small checkboxes to the right of story titles. If you’d like to select a range of stories, select the first story in the list, then shift-click on the last story. This will select all in the range, and allow you to drag them together, or use some of the other actions in the Stories drop-down, such as export to CSV or move to another project. Note: range select with shift-click only works in a single panel at a time, but you can select multiple ranges of stories across the whole project.

The Stories drop-down menu has been changed - it now shows the number of selected stories more prominently, and we’ve removed the old bulk story move actions (move to icebox, etc), since this is now possible (and easier) with drag and drop. Note - the Stories menu allows you to unselect all selected stories, which can be useful if you’re moving a lot of stories around in steps.

Note: We realize the that the checkboxes are a bit small, and hard to click on - we’ll be addressing that in an upcoming release. Also, in certain panels and/or browsers, shift-clicking on a checkbox highlights text on the page, we’ll be fixing that as well.

We’ve addressed most of the major usability issues on the iPad, and Tracker (the web application) now supports one-touch scrolling of panels, drag and drop, easier expanding and collapsing of stories, and displays properly in both orientations.

In horizontal orientation, you can see up to 3 panels at one time, and 2 panels in vertical orientation. But, you can open others, and the panel section will slide sideways to reveal newly opened ones. Dragging sideways will move the panels left and right.

To drag a story, touch it for a brief moment, until it turns yellow, then drag it.

One of the reasons that all these usability changes were possible, and fairly easy, is because we’ve changed the underlying drag and drop library that Tracker uses. We’ve tried to test thoroughly, and there are some minor issues, but there is fairly good chance that you’ll find some as well. Please let us know, by email totracker@pivotallabs.com, in the comments here, or over at Twitter.

We’d love your feedback on these changes. There are more new features lined up!