| By Chuck Schaeffer
Determining the preferred agile management tool most often depends upon the types of users and the scope of the end to end implementation process. Jira or Rally are generally preferred by non-technical users such as product owners, business analysts and subject matter experts (SMEs). These tools require less training, are easier to use and deliver a more rewarding user experience. However, these are not the tools developers spend most of their time in so they create a divide between the people that create the user stories and the people that develop and deploy user stories. Team Foundation Server (TFS) or Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) provide comparable functionality for agile event and artifact management (i.e. user story design, product backlogs, etc.) however, deliver a less favorable user experience. Their benefit is that agile artifacts created in TFS or VSTS can flow from the agile tracking tool to the source code repository and through continuous deployment in a single application. This accelerates sprint velocity, automates more comprehensive application lifecycle management (ALM) and allows agile teams to expand and include DevOps.
Best of breed tools such as JIRA and Rally manage agile frameworks particularly well, but in a Microsoft CRM implementation they do not provide a single solution that extends to the development team and environment. Microsoft TFS or VSTS are designed to be used with the Visual Studio development environment. TFS or VSTS manage a broader array of Microsoft CRM software implementation lifecycle tasks common in Dynamics 365 deployments, from agile backlogs to user story tracking, to version control, to test automation, continuous integration, continuous deployment, and more in a single integrated development environment (IDE).
Below are some agile tool advantages that I've experienced over several Dynamics 365 implementations.
Jira & Rally Advantages
Visual Studio Team Services Advantages
- These are best of breed agile tools that bring focus, simplicity and deep process support for agile frameworks such as SAFe, Scrum and Kanban. They are particular well suited to streamline agile events, artifacts and rules.
- These tools provide a superior user experience. Jira and Rally deliver a user interface that results in less training, better ease of use, more intuitive navigation and a more rewarding user experience.
- Organizations not implementing DevOps may not incur the separation between the implementation team and the DevOps team, and will therefore incur less downside when using a tool that does not accommodate a design to deploy end to end software delivery cycle. While failing to include DevOps as part of the agile CRM deployment process is not recommended, it is nonetheless the norm.
- Design to deploy automation and traceability is a big benefit. A single tool can track user story design to software deployment. Cycle time is decreased when a single tool tracks user story design, development, testing, remediation, integration and promotion.
- A single concept to completion tool facilitates broader collaboration. For example, Team Rooms display real-time User Story events and progress (i.e. User Story accepted/committed, checked-out, checked-in, etc.) to all Roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master and Dev team) in a shared forum.
- VSTS can perform agile user story content and code search in the same tool (including searches across multiple projects).
- When the agile tool and the IDE are integrated, defects detected during continuous integration or continuous delivery can be discovered, verified, linked to the user story and assigned for resolution in a common tool shared by the entire agile team.
- When developers and DevOps are using the same agile software tool, bugs and testing defects found during continuous integration can be recorded and routed for resolution in a shared tool. Even better, defects or errors can be created and forwarded automatically when programmed builds fail during the continuous integration process.
- VSTS pro forma capacity planning correlates the user story effort in the agile management tool with the developer capacity and skills in the IDE. Capacity planning calculates agile velocity based on total work effort (measured in user story points) and dev team resource availability and skills.
- Other capabilities to share content and promote collaboration between non-technical agile team members and developers include capabilities such as using PowerPoint Storyboards linked from VS and VSTS to User Stories so that all roles can share and collaborate during design and prototypes, and the VSTS Feedback tool to increase consensus during ideation and design, which may lead to fewer iterations.
In the above comparison, it's not that Jira and Rally don’t offer comparable capabilities as documented with VSTS, it's that the capabilities are often separated and siloed between non-technical and technical staff and require additional third party products. That separation fragments the complete implementation process, and more so, severely challenges a DevOps continuous delivery process.
VSTS can automate agile management, source control, continuous integration and continuous delivery. This removes a debarkation point between non-technical and technical resources and better facilitates agile team members such as QA staff and Scrum Masters who tend to straddle both sides of that dividing line.
Integration among best of breed agile tools and the Microsoft IDE is available, but generally undesirable. Using two tools with different user interfaces and navigation increases user learning curves and decreases the user experience. For most agile teams, using one end to end tool will deliver the greatest efficiency at the lowest cost.
This agile tool comparison is limited to Microsoft Dynamics 365 software deployments. Because Microsoft CRM software will be modified and extended using Visual Studio, further using TFS and VSTS provide significant productivity synergies. This agile tools comparison would be different for CRM systems not using Visual Studio for CRM software customization.