Gary Allison's Leadership Blog

June 2008

Agile Software and Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams23 Jun 2008 08:41 pm

Recently, we evaluated several Agile Project Management tools.  Having used XPlanner for years, it was time for a change.  XPlanner is great in some ways – fairly lightweight and easy to use for developers.  It really falls apart though when you start to consider multiple agile teams working together to deliver a release.  It is just really problematic to get a group view of where you are, what progress is being made by the team, and where the hot spots might be.  To accomplish this, you need to drill into the details of every scrum team and study the metrics / charts.  I even went so far as to change the source code to build a dashboard – that’s when we started to approach diminishing returns.

The other shortcoming of XPlanner is the management of the product backlog and release planning.  Yes, you can work around this, but intrinsically, the tool does not support building a backlog and then moving stories into a sprint.  Yes, this can be done, but it is arduous.  The interface also is stuck in Web 1.0 land, making data entry into a form submit after form submit affair.

So then what?  Surveying the market and talking to many of my longtime friends developing software with agile process, we quickly build the short list to replace XPlanner. We looked in detail at Rally, VersionOne, and FogBugz.  Though FogBugz had some very interesting capabilities around predicting the accuracy of estimates, it didn’t really seem to support agile planning methodologies and the scrum process.  Also, though the predictive capabilities are interesting, this really isn’t a huge benefit in my opinion if agile is really used and you know your people.

So, it was down to VersionOne vs Rally.   Both companies did extensive demos for our leadership team and key stakeholders.  Both tools intrinsically are built around the scrum agile process.  Both were priced around the same level with VersionOne being just a little less per seat, per month, but Rally matched and beat this price point in our negotiations.  The huge gaping hole in VersionOne for us was that it really didn’t assist with resource planning at all.  That is, they don’t enable you to enter the amount of available resources in terms of hours, days, etc, and then in the planning cycle show you where you are in using those hours as you take stories from the backlog and add them to the sprint.  Both tools track burndown during the sprint of course, but only Rally lets you know if you are planning too many stories in the sprint.  Even XPlanner supports this, so it is a big miss for VersionOne.  We can only assume they are working to add this capability.

Also, the rollup reporting for an entire release is more powerful and flexible in Rally.  This was a big plus for us.  To be sure, Rally isn’t super sophisticated in resource planning.  It doesn’t allow the individual team members enter their availability and then sum it up for the sprint.  (I would like this feature – I need to add this to the Rally Community.)  Rather, it just allows you to add the total number of hours available for a sprint at the beginning of the planning cycle.  How you figure this out is up to you.  After you add the total number of hours available, it shows you hours remaining as you add stories.

In coming blogs, we’ll talk more about the pros and cons of Rally as a Agile management tool.

Effective Software Projects and Tech News14 Jun 2008 05:15 am

This week Apple unveiled the iPhone 2.0 device and more importantly showed the results of their SDK released just 3 months ago for iPhone. As someone who has been leading teams in building mobile applications off and on over the last 6 years, the results are really impressive. The ease of which very sophisticated applications can be ported to iPhone is astonishing. During the keynote at the WWDC, some interesting games and just amazing medical imaging applications are on display.

More than simply an interesting use of mobile technology, in my view Apple has created the first viable platform to move laptop users to the truly mobile device. They have the device, now with 3G speed, they have the platform based on their desktop OSX, and they have the developer tools and APIs to quickly build the application.

Contrast this with google’s android. Cool concepts, plenty of big budget behind it, but no devices, and with so many vendors in play there is likely to be subtle differences in implementation / compatibility. These are problems that have plagued Windows Mobile and Java 2 Mobile Edition, both of which propose to be a unifying platform. Truth is that you have to build and test for each device you intend to support. This is expensive and inconvenient as you start putting conditionals in the code for devices, screen sizes, etc. And, is it just me, or are the top folks at google starting to look like IBMers?

This is where Apple has it right, in my view – great dev tools (as Microsoft ahs clearly shown is a key part of promoting a new platform), great platform (with innovative location and push notifications), and that gorgeous device. To top it off, they have a terrific market distribution channel with iTunes. Boy, do they have this right. I’m completely impressed.