Some people believe Scrum Tools are necessary. Companies that provide Scrum Tools are regarded as the best resource for Scrum Training and Scrum coaching by a lot of companies. Scrum Tools are good and Scrum Tools are evil. Scrum Tools help people to organize their work and Scrum Tools help people to hide what they really do. Scrum Tools enable collaboration across countries and Scrum Tools prevent that teams work together.
Teams and Companies shall use what works for them. So before you buy a tool try it out.
To give some help I start to write Scrum Tool reviews during the next weeks. I want to give you some insights in the Scrum Tools. We start with the one that I used in when I needed a Scrum Tool 4 years ago.
XPlanner is an open source project planning tool for XP Teams, but it can be adapted to be used by Scrum Teams. XPlanner implements core functionalities for agile project management. You can organize the basic structure of your project, you can track the estimates from the team and and you can compare these to the real work. You can also organize your stories and tasks into iterations, but it is still a work in progress project and has some ground to cover. Here we are going to show the main features of XPlanner.
XPlanner is a web based application and for this review we used the standalone version, which comes with a Tomcat server and an HSQLDB to hold persistent data.
To use this version you just have to extract the files from the XPlanner standalone zip file. XPlanner requires you to have installed JDK1.4 or above on your machine. After extracting the files all you have to do is to run the startup_xplanner.bat file located on the root folder of XPlanner, then just browse to http://<machinename>:<servlet container port>.
For the first login use the sysadmin login and admin password.
A good way to start using the XPlanner is to register the People profiles of the team members who will be working on the projects. That’s a really simple operation with not much information to enter and one is able to define what access level each person needs to have on each project.
After creating the People profiles your second step will be to create a Project, almost everything on XPlanner works in a project context. So after creating a Project the next thing to do is to create an Iteration record and immediately after that you are allowed to create your first story, which is something I did not particularly like. Because you cannot create a story that is not inside an iteration, so you are unable to create a pool of stories and just pick the chosen ones after planning to start the iteration.
Speaking in scrum terms, you cannot organize your product backlog, just the selected product backlog for every sprint upfront. Even if you are not using Scrum you need to keep a record for every possible story in the project, not just the ones you going to work on in the next iteration. The solution was to create a pseudo-iteration to keep all the stories and move them to a real iteration when their time came. For every story you can create your tasks and assign the task to a member of the team.
XPlanner organizes this information in a very rigid structure. You need to create a Project, then the iterations of the Project, then the stories and finally the tasks. This kind of organization shouldn’t be a great problem, but the lack of a more powerful dashboard makes the navigation through these items really annoying.
If you are on the project lists screen and you need to edit a specific task, it is necessary to navigate through 4 screens until you find the task you need to edit. If you are working on a large project it can be painful.
To move a story or task from one place to another is a simple thing to do, just find the chosen item, than click on the Move link and choose the destination. The problem with this is that when you need to move a great amount of items at once, XPlanner allows only one operation at a time.
XPlanner also doesn’t have Release Planning support. It’s not possible to mark a desired release point on your backlog nor which iterations will be needed to reach that mark.
The team members can report worked hours for their assigned tasks and if there’s pair programming involved it can be reported as well. If a task takes more time than the initial estimate, it will show the differences between estimated hours and actual hours. There is an estimate accuracy report to show how far from the truth the project estimates might be.
XPlanner also has charts with the iteration progress and iteration burndown. If you do not work with hourly estimates for your tasks these charts will lose their utility. A way to work around this problem is to estimate every task with 1 hour, so you can you use the chart as if it were showing an Amount of Task X Days relation.
XPlanner is a very simple tool, easy to use and easy to understand, but some functionality problems could be better resolved. More user friendly interfaces and a lot of important features relating to real project management are missing, like the Product Backlog, Release Planning and something that could imitate a taskboard. If you have some experience in Scrum you definitely will miss these features and start to look for a more complete tool.
This review represent my opinion based on my experience and my own judgement. It is strongly independed and not influenced by someone. If I explain something wrongly it is based on my faulty knowledge.