Agile Planning Tools

This is about Trello, as opposed to JIRA, let me explain:

  • Trello is a simple planning tool that sneaks in Agile project management capability by the back door, in fact the starting point is to make Kanban boards easy to use.
  • JIRA is a formal issue tracking tool for software development which can also be used for Kanban boards etc.
Trello is a stunningly easy to use tool, you can type in simple lines of text and drag them around the board to organize and prioritize, and then develop the detail further later.
To be able explain how good Trello is, I’m first going to have to define what makes a game-changing agile tool and then see how Trello and a few others stack up.

 

What’s a game-changing Agile Tool?

If you are working for an established company, the chances are you are working with tools and systems that were designed over 10 years ago in an age where change was slower.
Twitter didn’t exist.  Processing unstructured data was something difficult or impossible to do [Twitter launched 2006, Hadoop project started 2006].
So these older generation systems, while configurable, require the manual capture of a large amount of structured data, somewhat sacrificing efficiency of the individual in favour of capturing management information.
The Agile Generation tools in contrast generally support:
  • Unstructured data input: for example creation of a task or ticket from an unstructured message from Twitter/Facebook/email/user chat etc and automated capture of the related context  (user, logon, machine, what page they were looking at etc)
  • Integration: out-of-the box connectivity to other systems including pre-built links to Social Media and other Agile-generation tools such as Slack, Evernote, Dropbox etc.
  • Mobile apps: specifically,
    • an application integrated with the OS notification system eliminates the need for reminder and update emails.  Typically this would be a mobile app which can appear in the Android/iOS alert system and get a badge showing number of  notifications outstanding, but also applies to OSX and Windows10.
    • the User Interface is really good, so much so that you can actually use it on a mobile
    • the application should have the same functionality and ease of use on iOS, Android, OSX and Windows.
  • Cloud:
    • offer a hosted solution and open api integration options which mean that you don’t need to know about or support the underlying technology.
    • Ideally, also offer a non-cloud self-hosted solution for those that are uncomfortable about the US and UK government authorities accessing data held by US companies (both illegally – European Court of Human rights finds against UK and  ongoing legal cases such as US vs Microsoft, access to data held in Ireland both updates from October 2016).
  • Value pricing: publish a pricing structure that significantly undercuts the established players, scales according to actual usage/value delivered, often also offering a free tier or free download for self-hosted solution.
Tools which can do this can change the way you do you job completely, compared to the standalone Windows-based applications of 10 years ago.

So how does Trello stack up?

  • Unstructured data: Yes, you can just type in some text or enable cards to be created from email or other integration.
  • Integration: Yes, Slack and email for free, one other per board also included in free edition.  There are also dozens if not hundreds of integrations available on Zapier (which charges by the level of usage and is actually free for the first 100 messages per month).
  • Artificial Intelligence:
  • Mobile: Yes, fully featured mobile, exception that “power-up” functionality and some Settings in initial board setup are not available on mobile version.  Also sadly lacking a desktop version:  the browser version is good, but an app integrated with OS-level notifications would be even better.
  • Cloud: hosted solution only
  • Value pricing: Free tier has:  Unlimited boards, lists, cards, members, checklists, attachments, etc, the main limits are 10MB max attachment and 1 built-in power-up per board.  Business edition is 9.99USD/user/month.
Dimensions and functions available even in the free version include:
  • Teams
  • Each Team may have Multiple Boards
  • Each Board contains multiple Lists/Decks.  (These aren’t limited in any way, so they don’t have to represent a status workflow, that’s just one natural use case.)
  • Each List contains multiple Cards
  • Each card may have:
    • links to other Cards
    • checklist items, which can later be split out into separate Cards
    • due date (which can be used in Calendar view which also provides a feed for use with Microsoft/Apple/Google calendar tools)
    • assigned team members
    • labels (coloured/named)
    • discussion (which itself can include cards
    • subscriptions
    • votes: team members can vote on cards
    • attachments which may documents from OneDrive/Dropbox etc and with the appropriate power-up/subscription level also Slack conversations, Github extracts, SalesForce, Evernote and many more
Cards can be archived (effectively moved to an offscreen archive list), and easily moved from one board/list to another including back from archive.
Entire boards can be copied so it’s easy to setup and use templates.
The best thing is the flexible use, to illustrate here is a good example that doesn’t correspond to a workflow tool:
chicago_restaurants___trello
So for example you can use a board for brainstorming ideas, you can jot down the task list for the idea on the brainstorming board itself, then when the idea is approved you can split out the task list to a planning board.

Lastly the picture in this article is Taco, the Siberian Husky spokes-mascot for Trello  – who doesn’t like Huskies?

 

Ok but what about Atlassian  JIRA?

True, you might not want to entirely replace JIRA with Trello, but you might do planning on Trello and detailed technical task tracking on JIRA integrated with eg GitHub, and of course there are also integrations between Trello and JIRA (or even Github).
  • Unstructured data: not really but you can set up Issue Collectors which are custom forms to simplify the data capture
  • Mobile: Yes there’s a mobile app though currently integrates only with the hosted service
  • Integration: open well-documented API and also many integrations available on Zapier etc
  • Cloud: hosted solution or downloadable for in-house installation.
  • Value pricing:   small team price – hosted solution 10USD/month for 10 users (7day free trial).  also may be free for open source projects, see:  https://developer.atlassian.com/opensource/
Atlassian itself has also has a lot of competition within the software development space for example:
  • Phabricator – fully free open source development management used by stripe, Pinterest, UBER, Dropbox, Facebook, wikimedia etc etc: this would actually replace the entire Atlassian toolset not just JIRA, but doesn’t compete in the mobile working space.
  • Assembla –  a non-open source alternative to Atlassian JIRA including Kanban boards, workflows and integration REST API   Entry level price 756USD/year for 10 users, 7 day free trial.

 

Right, I guess there’s lots of other tools like this out there?

ASANA is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice collaboration and project management tools.  Asana doesn’t specifically cover either Kanban boards or Gantt charts but both are provided via linked apps Kasban and Instagantt so it’s probably the nearest competitor.  The user interface is good and well-implemented: for example tasks can be converted to projects in which case associated subtasks become tasks in the new project.
Overall Asana seems like a well implemented new version of an old fashioned style of application and somewhat limited in functionality compared to Trello which has re-imagined from scratch what such an application should do.
  • Unstructured data: yes of course
  • Integration: too many to list: google applications, chats tools like Slack, Hipchat, development management tools like Github, Phabricator, JIRA, other organizers like Evernote etc, as well as Zapier links for other unlisted applications.
  • Mobile: iOS and Android apps provided but not desktop – though eg OSX appstore does have a 3rd party Asana app for around 2 dollars.
  • Cloud: cloud hosted solution only
  • Value pricingfree for teams up to 15, Unlimited tasks, projects, and conversations, Up to 15 team members, Basic dashboardsPremium 8.33USD/member/month,
TeuxDeux – claims a revolutionary approach to diary based to-do lists
Actually it seems very limited -simply add tasks to a date – they automatically roll-over if not completed –  but easy to use functionality with simple presentation.
  • Unstructured data: yes
  • Integration: limited, eg email-to-task
  • Mobile: free iOS and Android apps,  no desktop app but use Chrome
  • Cloud: cloud hosted solution only
  • Value pricing: 3USD/month
Todoist shareable To-Do lists with basic lists with item prioritization, sharing and productivity analysis, google integration etc.  Good at what it does but limited in scope – Todo-list and calendar.   Unlike Trello, no multi-level (boards, lists, tasklists on list items) or multidimensional (categories, linking items across boards/lists etc).
  • Unstructured data: yes, you can create a task as 1 line of text.  In fact that’s about all you can do on the free edition.
  • Mobile: mobile apps including even Apple watch and Android Wear as well as Desktop apps and browser.
  • IntegrationIntegrations including Slack, Google and Apple maps, Zapier and others.
  • Cloud: hosted solution only
  • Value pricing: free version limited to 5 people per project for max 80 active projects – but very basic, even adding a comment or attachment to a file is a “Premium” feature.
    Premium/Business 28.99USD/user/year

Wunderlist has a few more features than Todoist – eg sub-tasks – and a calendar feed for Apple/Google/Microsoft calendars.

  • Unstructured data: yes, you can create a task as 1 line of text and add more detail later as needed
  • Mobile: both mobile and desktop apps and browser extension
  • Integration: Slack and a limited range built-in but quite a few pre-built integrations available on Zapier.
  • Cloud: hosted solution only
  • Value pricing: free version seems to be fully functionally enabled.
    Pro/Business 4.99USD/user/month or 49.99 yearly enables unlimited assigned tasks, attached files etc.

 

So in summary, what you’re saying is I should try out this Trello thing then?

Yes that’s right, give it a go.

There’s one more hidden conclusion here: try using Slack if you don’t already, most of the new generation tools have Slack integrations (some HipChat too). Slack’s too well known and written about to be repeated here, but if you don’t use it yet, think of it as a Chat tool with intelligent agents that can feed in data from different places and take actions on it.

 

Ok bye, this article is too long already.

Ok, bye! Let me know how it goes or if you find something better.
In particular I have yet to see:

  • any comparable open source solution
  • any comparable non-US solution eg originating from Europe or China.

US venture capital seems to be leading the way here.

 

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