Oxymoron: Enterprise Agile Project Management Software

The ultimate agile project management tool?My favorite agile software development topic of them all — tools. More specifically, agile project management tools. If you’re old school, you bust out some index cards, some butcher paper, some writing utensils, and you get to work. If you’re trying to use one of the simplest of agile project management software tools (that most are introduced to as part of their Scrum training), then you open up an Excel template. If you’re looking for something a bit more comprehensive or even just a little more automated, then you do a search on Google for “agile project management software”. You click around, see quite a few options, look at some screenshots, screencasts, and likely research mailing lists and blogs to see what people think of these tools.

At some point you’re likely tempted by some vendors making amazing promises. These vendors aren’t simply selling software project management tools; they’re selling you the keys to enterprise enlightenment. They show screen after screen packed full of nondescript icons, drop down menus, and incredibly detailed forms that make you wonder how you got by in the past without tracking all that information.  They integrate with version control systems, integrated development environments, issue trackers, testing tools, portfolio management systems; some will even have integration with customer relation management systems. What more could you want? A lot more. Actually, a lot less. But, as the saying goes, “less is more.”

The inspiration for enterprise software applications?
The inspiration for enterprise software?

The problem I see with a number of the agile project management software offerings available today is that they have lost sight of what it is to be agile, at least when it comes to managing their own products. It seems like these solutions are trying to be all things to all people. Featuritis has hit these products in the worst way. I think the UI designers of these products were forced to get their daily dose of inspiration through slide shows of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software screen shots and other “enterprisey” offerings that cause many of their users to go home each night wondering why they can’t master the art of using the software to get their jobs done more efficiently.

Beyond the usability issues I see with this new breed of agile project management tools and the attempt to “be all things to all people”, I think these tools are missing the mark in an even bigger way. If you want to provide the ultimate agile project management software, then you might as well leap frog the old project management tools by looking at what the open source community is doing and using. The offerings by sites like java.net, Sourceforge, and many other open source project hosting sites are where these agile project management vendors likely need to turn their attention to. There is a reason tools like Trac, Redmine, and others are utilized by more and more open source projects to manage development of the software. These tools acknowledge the need to manage the software development process in a distributed environment where there can be many contributors and many users. Open Source logoThe focus of these tools does not start with a project manager view of the world, but rather with a project contributor and user focus. This means that an issue tracker becomes the central nervous system. Version control is a first class citizen, not something you leave for third party integrations. Mailing lists, forums, and RSS/ATOM feeds are often key features in these open source software project management tools.

I will admit to being biased in this post. I am not a fan (in general) of most software that is aimed at the “enterprise.” I believe that many of the best practices in open source software development should be adopted by agile tool vendors looking to address the problems faced by those involved with software development projects. I’ve held off writing a post about agile project management tools for over a year now, but after recently re-evaluating the options out there I felt it was time to give my thoughts on the topic. It’s a way more popular topic than it should be in my opinion. It’s much easier to talk about the merits of one tool over another than it is to address the more difficult (and more critical) challenges involving changes required in human behaviours.

  • I think what you’re saying is right, that such products are trying to be everything for everyone, but is that necessarily a bad thing? You can just ignore the extra features.

    I do believe, however, that those products are not yet mature. I love the sleek (ajax) interface that most of these products have.

  • Hi Joshua,

    I am a QA engineer for one of said tool vendors. I posted my viewpoint regarding your concerns in comments to a similar blog post last week. Instead of repeating myself here, I’d like to direct you to my comment on that blog post: http://www.michaelnygard.com/blog/2008/08/agile_tool_vendors.html#comment-139

    Regards, Stan

  • Borland! That company still exists? They are sooooo 1990’s.

  • The choice of whether or not to try these enterprise tools can be answered with one question: does your company use its own tool to manage its product?
    Nuf said.

  • Joshua Hoover

    Good comments one and all. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    Hunt, trying to be all things to all people is really, really bad imo. I don’t drink the 37Signals or Steve Jobs Kool-Aid but I do agree with them on their keeping things simple and focused. “You aren’t going to need it” (YAGNI) applies to product development, not just coding. Oh, and the ajax interfaces many of these products have are not that nice when compared to many of the “web 2.0” apps that are out there these days.

    Stan, thanks for linking to your comment and the original post. I agree with the need for tools across an “enterprise”, but I’m not impressed with what I’ve seen this far.

    Travis, I was going to ban you for your last comment on my most excellent post about the definition of done but then you do something like this and…COMPLETELY REDEEM YOURSELF!

    James, Good point. I would think these vendors do. Of course, I know certain companies (you may know of one) that use the same products (definitely enterprisey) they sell and integegrate for lots of their customers and guess what…those products still suck.

  • The choice of whether or not to try these enterprise tools can be answered with one question: does your company use its own tool to manage its product?

    We do indeed.

  • I should have linked this: Borland on Borland [PDF].

    It’s a white paper on our own agile transformation. Warning, it’s written in marketing-ese, but it gets the basic point across.

  • Gracie Christina

    Agile Project Management Software is the best software for project management. Project management allows the project manager to easily account for any risks/issues in the project and manage any conflict that arises during the project.

  • Olivia Jennifer

    Yeah its a
    good article. According to you what we project managers do is communicating.
    And a lot of this communication is done during project meetings. It can
    sometimes feel like you are running from one meeting to another and that your
    time is often wasted. Meetings don’t start on time, the issues aren’t dealt
    with, there is no agenda, there is no focus, nobody assigns any follow ups or
    tasks and of course then they also don’t end on time. An efficient project manager is required for the good management of a project. I think a project manager should
    PMP certified. Looking forwards to apply what I learned in PMP classes in
    my company.