The Scrum Tool Debate

Over the last week or so there has been a long lived thread on the Yahoo Scrum Discussion Group titled “Is it People over Process or Tool Time?”.   I have to admit that I’ve only paid very cursory attention to this thread, but it has motivated me to blog about our own internal Scrum tool debate.

There are a variety of options for tooling when you start to Scrum, including:

  • “Hard” tools only – notecards, whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc.
  • Spreadsheet – an Excel spreadsheet with a template, chart, and a few formulas.  You get an sample spreadsheet when you go to ScrumMaster training.
  • Roll your own – build some software that meets your unique needs.
  • Commercial software – buy some commercial software and possibly customize it as needed for your situation.

Since my experience is limited to the middle two, I will focus on these.

In the Dynamics Tools team in Fargo, we have used the spreadsheet approach to help manage our Scrum sprints.  We use Windows Sharepoint Services as the document repository for this and other project documentation.

The spreadsheets in use are pretty similar across teams, but different ScrumMasters have tweaked it to optimize it for their group.  For example, one ScrumMaster tracks actual hours worked in addition to estimated remaining (that’s Scrum blasphemy, of course, but it made sense for this team).  That same ScrumMaster prints out the Tasks sheet each day, routes the hard copy to the team, and then enters the updates himself.  Most of the other Scrum teams have team members check out the document from Sharepoint and make the changes directly.

Our sprint spreadsheet contains the following worksheets:

  • Goals – A list of the goals for the sprint as well as formulas to sum the remaining hours for the tasks related to the goals.
  • Planning – A list of the resources available for the sprint and how many days / hours per day that we can count on.  Our standard is that a team member is available for 5 hours per day for project work.
  • Tasks – A list of all of the granular tasks to complete the identified goals.  This is where most of the updating happens.  Each task (a row on the spreadsheet) has an assigned resource, a status, and an estimated remaining number for each workday in the sprint.  The estimated remaining is summed for each day that has passed in the sprint.  Each column has an AutoFilter so it is easy to see all tasks for one individual, a specific goal, etc.
  • Graph – The sprint Burndown.
  • Impediments – A list of impediments, impacted goals, reported date, resolved date, and responsible.
  • Retrospective – What to Keep Doing, Start Doing, and Stop Doing for the next sprint.

Roll Your Own
Another Microsoft team has created a web application for sprint management.  The user interface is very slick for team members and sharing a document is no longer an issue.  On the other hand, it doesn’t have all of the features that our spreadsheets have and the application can be a challenge to customize.   My peer teams in Dynamics Tools in both Redmond and Copenhagen have set up a server and are using this application with some success.

We also have made a couple of attempts to build an application on top of our own framework.  This would be a really cool dog fooding opportunity, but we’ve never committed the time get the application to ‘production’ quality.  Maybe someday we will still do that.

A Key Missing Feature
What both of these approaches lack is an interface with our enterprise project management system (MS Project).  We use MS Project to manage the big picture – dependencies, metrics for release management and senior management, etc.  To keep MS Project up to date, team members have to update it weekly.  So they have to enter information into a Scrum tool daily AND MS Project weekly.  To make matters worse, it’s mostly the same information (although rolled up information in the case of MS Project).  What we would really like to have is an integration point between our Scrum tool and our enterprise project management tool.  We know this can be done, all it takes is some time...

In general, my approach is to use the simplest tool that will do the job.  While not perfect, our Excel spreadsheets have served us pretty well.  Any other experiences out there???