I've written before about the benefits of being an early adopter and generally willing to try new tools or methods, but I wanted to get tactical concerning a recent project management tool choice.
My team at Inovāt has been working on a really exciting project for a client in the education space. What we're building could make a huge difference for teachers by providing tools not currently available to them online. It's a sizable project with an aggressive deadline and plenty of unknowns—which is why we decided to use agile methodologies.
With this in mind, we went looking for the right tool for collaborating as a team. We wanted something that would help us:
- Prioritize and track specific feature development and design.
- Understand what was completed, what was currently being worked on and what was up next—and report that progress to our client in the least time-consuming way possible.
- Recognize and quickly resolve roadblocks.
- Make sure nothing got lost in the process of rapid iteration.
- Determine if the project was on schedule for an on-time launch.
I had experience using Pivotal Tracker, but I wasn't married to it (nor was my team), so we looked around for comparable options. Serendipitously, one of our designers stumbled upon Sprintly while browsing an inspiration site, and I was immediately intrigued.
Since Sprintly is the new kid on the block, I wanted to do some research on how it stood up to what Pivotal offered. I had a hard time finding much in the way of comparisons from project managers, so now that I've used both, I wanted to offer what insight I can.
Pros: What They Do Well
- It's really, really ridiculously good looking. Seriously, Sprintly is easy on the eyes, and when you have to look at a tool all day, that's a plus.
- Daily digests. Receiving one email at the end of the day summarizing what's happened provides a nice overview to stay in the loop.
- Involving non-agile masters. Sprintly paid attention to detail when it comes to bringing in agile n00bs. Stories are structured to help anyone adding them to account for the three critical parts (who, what, why), though that can become awkward to write and repetitive to browse. They also allow bug reporting via email.
- Assigning sub-tasks to individuals. Instead of ownership only at the card level, Sprintly lets you assign sub-tasks within a card to others.
- Easy to self-orient. Pivotal has one view and only one view, so there isn't any confusion about where you are and what you're viewing. The downfall of this, of course, is losing the ability to fully limit/customize what you're looking at.
- Epics. I thought we could live without epics, but I was wrong. Pivotal's epics allow us to upload a wireframe or comp that spans many stories in one place without any complicated linking.
- Organizing by searching. The panel method allows me to search for a term, then drag that item to the top of the backlog/icebox quickly and easily. Sprintly's searches occur within their silos, making drag and drop... well, a drag.
- Pricing. Pivotal has pricing tiers that charge by the month. For us, it was just $18/month for up to 7 users on 10 projects (more than enough for us).
- Cancel at any time. 'Nough said.
- Pinging others in comments. Being able to notify someone with a simple @ comment is really practical, and Tracker just added it as a feature. Now if only someone would create a log of my @ comments so I made sure to respond to all of them...
Cons: What Could Be Better
- Search should be AND instead of OR. This is a big shortcoming of the product and one that you might not immediately pick up on. When looking for something tagged "adjective 1" and "adjective 2," you will get back results that have one of those tags attached to them—not results that have both associated with them. This became a problem for us when we wanted to look into a set of features for a phase of work ("administrator"+"phase 1"). You can use boolean search to get around this, but it's an unreliable hack. Unfortunately, this is a pretty big undertaking and might be a while before it's up and running. In Pivotal, you can do an AND search by just writing the two words you're looking for, but it's missing the predictive tag names that Sprintly offers.
- Velocity and epics. Ironically enough, Sprintly doesn't advocate for the use of sprints and traditional agile (instead promoting a Kanban approach). For my needs, this became a problem pretty quickly. My team is blissfully self-motivated, so the notion of taking on next highest priority work once a sprint's work is complete (or stalled by a client) didn't need to be dictated. Sprints, however, help us communicate and plan with a client concerning expectations and made them more comfortable than a "we'll keep working as quickly as we can to get things done."
- Finding the right view. At first I was excited to escape the confinement of the single-view Pivotal prescribes, but as it turns out, there are simply too many views and it can be difficult to figure out where I should be and what I'm looking at. I eventually figured things out for the most part, but my team was exasperated by the navigation issues.
- Pricing. While projects are unlimited, Sprintly charges by the seat: $14/month. That was a $66 difference against Pivotal's price and just a little too rich for our small shop blood.
- Auto-saving. I have to click "save" on everything. While I do get a warning if I try to close my tab without saving, I don't get a warning when I navigate over to another card or panel. I desperately want auto-saving.
- Multi-tag searches. These three searches all return a different number of results: "foundation baseline," "foundation and baseline," "foundation, baseline." If searches leveraged existing labels (like Sprintly does), results might be more predictable.
- Epic checklists. I use epics to manage design work since this effort isn't at the story-level but rather a user path level. I can upload files to an epic, but I'd really like to have checklists at the epic level for managing design and manual, pre-release QA tasks.
- Aesthetic. Usability is (mostly) there, but I just wish Tracker was a little more sophisticated.
- User communities could be better. Sprintly is using UserVoice as their community and while they're actively responding there (and via Twitter), UserVoice isn't necessarily the best community on the market.Pivotal Tracker has a Get Satisfaction community, but sadly it's not super active and it's fairly hidden—instead of using the typical Get Sat "Feedback" tab that persists across a site/app, you have to click on "Help," then "Got a feature request or suggestion?" It's really too bad they're not leveraging the full power of Get Sat and their customer community.
- Need responsive design to leverage views. As a product owner, I want to fill a giant screen with my stories to organize cards. Sprintly currently has a maximum 1000 px width and it's just not enough. Pivotal leverages panels within a single dashboard view, but this tends to get a bit cumbersome.
- Curating client views. I'd love to loop in my clients directly to our workspace—but I want to have a good amount of control over what they can see and interact with. Sprintly allows observer seats, but these users can see everything a full user can, just not interact with it. I want to dictate what a client can see.
- Easy imports/exports. Sprintly's export was something I needed my dev to help out with and it wasn't simple to scrape everything we needed into a single file. Importing was only available by following a strict format via email (and you weren't notified if it wasn't right; the stories just didn't show up). In Pivotal, I can easily export and import, but they limit imports to 100 items, presumably for speed concerns (but a huge pain in the neck at the beginning of a project).
- Cross-checking card repetition. It would be ideal if as I'm creating a card, I could be prompted with "Hey, looks like that might already exist. Is this it?" In a tight-knit team, it's not essential, but it would definitely be nice to have.
Four weeks into using Sprintly, my team decided to switch to Pivotal Tracker. It's not sexy but it is simple, and we think epics in particular will help us balance design and development.