Operations Management Articles

Project Management Software for Agile Developers- Review of Pivotal Tracker

by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 16 August 2011

Developing software can be a complicated process because it combines multiple activities and modules at the same time. The waterfall model, which splits the process into tasks (much like the manufacturing method of assembling a unit) was the preferred software development for many years. That is, until the Agile methodology came along. Unlike the waterfall model, Agile is quick, dynamic, and iterative. It can also be chaotic. This week, we will look at a solution that makes this process less chaotic and more structured. We will review Pivotal Tracker - an online project management softwarefor Agile development projects. We will look at its interface, functionality, and see how it can be of use to you.


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"Long story short, we needed an agile project management tool for software development, so we built it," says Dan Podsedly, vice president of software services at Pivotal Labs, the company which developed the solution. He may have a point about the lack of project management tools. For those who don't know much about it, the Agile development process is a continuous iteration of development, testing, and feedback occurring in short "sprints." Software requirements and features are replaced with stories. Each story is developed, revised or discarded based on customer feedback. Needless to add, managing stories, people, and development can be pretty messy and relatively few project management tools in the market support the rigors of Agile methodology.

So, Pivotal Labs built a solution that is a "lightweight agile project management and collaboration tool for client engagements." Initial development on the tracker began in 2006 and within two weeks, the tracker was being used on internal projects. According to Podsedly, the tracker made its outside debut at the Ruby on Rails conference in 2008. "It grew virally and via word of mouth," he says. "We reached 175,000 registered users by the end of 2010."

Pricing for the product, which has over 250,000 users now, was launched this year. Interestingly, Tracker can also be used for project management in the Waterfall model. Of course, any such project would have to be fully planned and specified early. "On such projects, a Pivotal Tracker project would simply begin with a long backlog of stories," says Podsedly.


With the summer heat raising temperatures here in America, I really liked the tool's name for their dashboard: Icebox. Think of the Icebox as your dashboard, one that you can use to inform, educate, and track your team's progress. The Icebox is used to track stories, chores, bugs, and releases.

" Pivotal Tracker tries to focus on two things, primarily: Giving everyone on the (software development) team a unified, bird's eye view of the entire project that updates in real time, and making it incredibly easy to adjust priorities and release schedule as real-world requirements and conditions change," says Podsedly.As I mentioned earlier, Pivotal Tracker works through stories or short use cases that describe actions to be performed for a user. This means that each user writes a story, estimates complexity, and pushes it into the Backlog. In many ways, Backlog is the epicenter of your development activity in Pivotal Tracker. You can assign stories, track development, and reassign stories according to priorities here. Stories can either be in the "Done" or "Current" status, once they are pushed out of Backlog. Interestingly, the tool automatically assigns stories to the "Done" story based on your project "velocity." Confusing, right? That might not be so confusing, once you realize that the specifics: Tracker divides projects into iterations (which consist of multiple stories). Your velocity is determined based on acceptances of your iterations. The more acceptances you have, the greater your velocity. I thought this dynamic allocation feature was pretty neat.

Another neat thing about the solution is its API integration with over 80 third-party extensions and tools. In addition, the solution also integrates with technology companies such as Twitter and Zendesk.

That said, I was slightly confused about the complexity estimation and its role in story development. For example, what role do the complexities (ranging from 1 (or least complex) to 3 (most complex) play in story allocation and movement? It might be an idea for the folks at Pivotal Labs to include this bit of information in their help files.

While project tracking and collaboration are it's strong points, managing defects or bugs is an area where the solution could do with some work. You can categorize stories in the backlog as bugs in the bugs. The "Icebox" feature, along with labels (tags), allows for storage and organization of stories that have yet to be prioritized, says Podsedly.

The good news is that development on tracker is ongoing. "The team releases new features every two weeks on average," says Podsedly. According to him, currently planned features include improved coarse-grained planning (in the form of "epics"), cross-project visibility to support people who are involved or manage multiple projects, and general usability improvements.


The main dashboard consists of three panels: one each for current, icebox, and backlog. The panels are dynamic. That is, clicking on an individual panel will display collapse the other two and display details about the third panel. You can navigate to other options within the solution using the drop-down menus within each heading. I loved the simple, clean, and intuitive interface. As I mentioned earlier, Agile development can be a messy process; Pivotal Tracker takes away much of the confusion and makes the process easy and convenient.


Support for the tool is a combination of community, online help and social media integration. This means they have a very active community that discusses issues and suggests features for the product. In addition, they have an online community and support help. They can also be reached via Twitter and Facebook. According to Podsedly, all users on any Pro plan are eligible for priority email support.


If you are an agile developer looking for a clean and intuitive project management tool that helps you track and manage projects, then this solution is for you. What's more, it has been developed by folks who have worked on Agile projects and are continuously improving the product to meet customer demands. On GetApp.com you can also read additional user reviews for Pivotal Tracker


Apps mentioned in this article