Software development remains a complex task which balances analysis, planning, budget constraints, coding, testing, deployment, issue fixing, and evaluation. Large projects often fail because no one can comprehend the full extent of requirements from the start. Those requirements then change with each revision of the product.
An agile development approach can mitigate the risks. There are many flavors of ‘agile’, but most rapidly evolve a product over time. Self-organising teams of stakeholders, designers, developers, and testers collaborate to produce a minimum viable product which is extended and revised during a series of iterations – or sprints.
Ideally, a fully-working product is available at the end of every sprint. Changing requirements can determine the priorities for the next sprint.
Communication distinguishes agile from more traditional waterfall workflows. Teams work together on a particular feature so developers and designers can quickly provide feedback when a requirement becomes impractical or more cost-effective options can be identified.
A variety of tools and software is available to help teams collaborate. There are two general options:
- Separate tools for specific tasks. For example, a feature may be described in a document which is transferred to a to-do list which becomes a pull request and inevitably has bugs reported.
- All-in-one tools which manage the whole process.
The following tools can all help manage your agile workflow.
monday.com has rapidly become the full agile management solution for 80,000 organizations within a few years.
- quick-start project templates (there are over 100 template that are completely customisable to fit your needs)
- attractive at-a-glance project state dashboards, so you can easily track progress and identify bottlenecks in a “big picture” view
- intuitive collaboration with team members and clients using @mentions
- easy file sharing, so you’ll always know where your most updated files are
- multiple views to track progress (reports, Kanban boards, Gantt charts, calendars, timelines etc.)
- task management, time and deadline tracking
- automations and integration with other applications to keep everything in one place, so you can focus on the important stuff.
Prices start from $25 per month for five users, but a 30 day free trial is available so you can assess the system.
ActiveCollab is a project planning solution featuring projects, tasks, dashboards, multiple views, calendars, and reports.
While not as pretty as some other options, it can provide invoicing, online payments, payment tracking, and Quickbooks/Xero integration for an extra fee. Prices start at $7 per user per month but a 14-day free trial is available.
PivotalTracker is one of the most popular agile workflow managers. Stakeholders start by defining a story for each task with estimates and priorities which designers and developers can choose to complete.
PivotalTracker is a full agile workflow solution with reports, integration with other applications, and an API to generate your own views. It’s possibly a little daunting to new users since it introduces considerable terminology and features.
PivotalTracker offers a three-month free trial with plans starting at $12.50 per month.
Jira has evolved from an issue-tracking system to a full agile workflow tool which offers Scrum boards, Kanban boards, roadmaps, reporting and more.
Jira exceeds the number of features and integrations offered by PivotalTracker so expect a steeper learning curve. Fortunately, both applications offer data migration options to the other. Prices start from $10 per month for up to ten users.
Axosoft provides agile Scrum and bug tracking to enforce workflows, plan tasks, estimate time, monitor progress, and predict delivery with a shipping estimator.
The application offers similar features to PivotalTracker and Jira but tends to be used by smaller teams. Prices start at $5 per month for five users but a 14-day free trial is available.
Few GMail users realise their Google account provides a set of free office applications which can be accessed from drive.google.com. The cloud-based apps include the Docs word processor, Sheets spreadsheet, Slides presentation package, and 15GB of space. Native apps are also available for most platforms should you require offline editing.
The applications are not as powerful as Microsoft Office, but the collaboration features can make up for that. Any file can be edited and reviewed by any number of people at the same time. Google Drive is not aimed at agile workflows, but it could be ideal for planning meetings, documenting requirements, cost estimates and more.
Consider upgrading to the professional G Suite which includes a custom domain, more space, shared calendars, conferencing facilities and more. Plans start at $6 per user per month, so you may want to consider the similarly priced Microsoft Office 365 – collaboration is not quite so cohesive, but improves with every release.
Trello implements a collaborative Kanban board – a set of lists containing cards which are dragged from left to right as tasks progress. A simple example could be “to-do” and “done” lists. Each card can have a title, description, attachments, members, labels, checklists, and due dates.
Trello is ideal for communicating tasks and displaying an overview of the project state, but is likely to form a small part of your full agile workflow.
The basic Trello plan is free with upgrades for more features and storage starting from $10 per user per month.
Todoist is a cloud-based to-do list app available online, on desktop, on mobile, as browser extensions, email plugins, and even smart watch devices!
To-do list apps may be plentiful, but Todoist offers projects, priorities, due dates, reminders, team collaboration, reports, and integration with dozens of other applications. It may not be suitable for strict agile workflows but could be a simpler option for smaller projects and teams.
The basic Todoist account is free but premium and business accounts permitting more projects and collaboration features start from $3 per month.
Git and Repository Tools
Developers are almost certain to be using Git or a similar version control system such as Mercurial or Subversion. These tools primarily help to manage source code but agile eco-systems such as GitHub and Bitbucket have evolved.
Agile workflow features include collaborative projects, Kanban boards, task management, pull request approvals, continuous integration, issue tracking, and more. Even if you choose not to use these directly, ensure your other applications can integrate with your repository platform of choice.
Basic plans are free, but costs are then applied according to the number of private code repositories, team size, and features required.
ZenHub integrates natively with GitHub’s interface to extend the project management and agile workflow features.
Features include sprint planning, progression reports, issue visualization, and workspaces to bundle multiple repositories into a single view. It may be a little too technical for some team members but could be ideal for developers already invested in GitHub.
Prices start at $5 per user per month but a 14-day free trial is available.
It’s Your Choice
Most of the applications featured above have free accounts or trials so you can evaluate and choose the best option – or options – for your team. Several separate applications may offer an easier way to start simpler agile workflows, but:
- There’s no guarantee team members will use tools in the same way. Someone could define a task in an office document, to-do list, Kanban board, on a post-it note, etc.
- Tasks or information may have to be replicated from one system to another. Unless that can be automated, manual synchronization will fail at some point.
- Smaller applications may become increasingly impractical as your team or project grows.
Fortunately, you can try other options and switch elsewhere as your agile workflow evolves. Experiment, have fun, and find the best workflow solution for your team.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.