The XProgramming downloads page includes software intended to support planning and tracking of XP and Agile projects. Herewith, some thoughts on that.

As readers may know, I am a consultant in Agile methods, especially Extreme Programming, and a programmer. With my deep background in software development and Agile, one might think that I’d put together the perfect software package for tracking and planning, and offer it, either free or commercially. As readers may also know, I have not done that. Why?

I work frequently with Chet Hendrickson, one of my co-authors on ‘‘Installed’’, who lives near me, and we talk about these things a lot, mostly with an eye to clever money-making schemes for those days when people don’t call us to come and consult. (Feel free to get in touch if you could use some help, by the way.) 

With respect to planning and tracking tools, our problem is this: we feel that it would be wrong to create a tool that we ourselves would not recommend to teams setting out to “do XP” or “become Agile”. And there is no such tool.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t worked with all the tools on my site, and I’m not here to say whether they are well done or not. I have used some of them a bit, and they seem pretty neat, well-implemented, reliable, and so on. But …

There’s something very right about a team working together with whiteboard, cards, things posted on the wall. Everyone can be engaged, involved, equal. 

When you’re working with a tool, someone owns the keyboard, and everyone else is an observer. It’s easy to develop the habit of “check the database” instead of “talk with each other”. It’s easy for a manager to think that he’s managing the group when he’s really looking at his screen. 

Might a team need a tool like these? Well, yes, they might. But to a team just learning XP or Agile, I’m very concerned that the tool will get in a way.

How concerned am I? Well, a couple of years ago, I got fired from a gig before noon of the first day, because I told the company president that no, I would not recommend putting the stories into the bug tracker instead of on cards. It turned out that he had personally selected their $30,000 bug tracker, and he took exception to my statement. If I had it to do over again, I might change how I offered that advice, to give the guy a little more room to save face. But I’d still recommend that they do their planning and tracking on cards.

In sum: I haven’t tried all the software that’s up there, and it is offered as a service to people who are looking for such things. I know some of the people who offer these things, and they are great folks and strong contributors to the agile movement. I’ve tried some of the programs and they work well. 

And I wish you would try working without them before you try working with them.