How to Pick the Right Scrum Tool

By Kate Eby | June 29, 2016

Scrum is a manifestation of Agile built on the concept of transparency, frequent iteration, and team collaboration. Almost every discussion of Agile begins with the Agile Manifesto, which describes four foundational values and 12 principles to help guide the Agile approach to Software Development.

Even when following the Scrum methodology, the logistics of a project can become unmanageable. Developers are working in two-week sprints with numerous user stories/epics to cover, not counting the backlog. In addition, sticky notes and a whiteboard are used to communicate project details, to-do’s, and milestones. This may not be enough for the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and team to get their arms around the whole project, not to mention the difficulty of communicating 3X5 cards and a whiteboard in email.  

While face-to-face communication may be the optimal method, it isn’t always practical. It’s also hard to maintain a reasonable, organized, and searchable history of activity by saving all those sticky notes and taking pictures of a whiteboard. It’s good to have some guiding principles, but the efficiency and value of a good tool can help the team visualize the amount of work required during an iteration.  A tool isn’t there to replace the Scrum methodology, but to facilitate it. This article provides an overview of scrum project management and guidelines that will help you choose the right solution.

What is Scrum Project Management?

The Scrum project management methodology embraces iterations, or sprints in the software development lifecycle allowing a development team to deliver software releases more often than traditional software development methodologies. Agile and Scrum are about individuals and interactions more than processes and tools, but it is unrealistic to think that individuals and interactions can reach a desired result without project management. Scrum project management facilitates the individuals and their interactions, helping them to access information and collaborate during an iteration.

The Value - Scrum’s value is derived from the ability to work in shorter, iterative sprints, allowing teams to deliver only the most important features and requirements in a timely manner that meets the project’s budget. 

The Team - A Scrum team consists of three main roles: The product owner, the Scrum Master, and the Development Team.

  • Product Owner – The product champion who is responsible for understanding the business purpose of the product. They are primarily responsible for backlog management, facilitating communication between the development team and all other participants, managing the budget and customer expectations.
  • Scrum Master – Owner of the Scrum process and the project workflow. The Scrum Master is  responsible for keeping the development team on track by eliminating external disruptions.
  • Scrum Development Team – This team works together to avoid holdups in order to deliver a valuable product on-time.

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Why Do You Need a Scrum Project Management Tool?

Sure, you can use sticky notes and a whiteboard. Low-tech is friendly and easy to use, and it encourages those valuable face-to-face conversations. Unfortunately, there are just some tasks low-tech doesn’t handle well. Some of the main reasons to use a tool are:

  • Collaboration between distributed teams
  • Scalability (if you’ve ever tried to manage a backlog of several dozen or even a hundred user stories with 3 X 5 cards or sticky notes, you’ll understand)
  • Retaining and reviewing artifacts
  • Developing metrics and statistics based on artifacts
  • Planning for future iterations

The weakness of the low-tech option becomes even more apparent when project planning requires data from multiple iterations in order to gain accuracy.  When you try to determine velocity (a method for measuring the rate at which Scrum teams deliver business value), you need a tool that captures historical data and converts it into velocity.  When you want to plan an iteration and calculate the rate at which future iterations will be completed, you need a velocity range calculator.  The Scrum Alliance provides a method for calculating velocity, but do you really want to start scribbling on paper when a digital tool can gather the data from multiple sprints and perform the calculations?

Choosing a Scrum Software Development Project Management Solution

Many teams begin managing Scrum projects with whiteboards and sticky notes, but this only works well for smaller teams that are not distributed across multiple locations. Once your team grows and evolves with remote team members, a more modern and accessible solution will be necessary for collaboration. 

Narrowing the list of options means finding the tool that best addresses your biggest problem areas. These may include:

Artifact Management
Managing Scrum project artifacts, including the product backlog, sprint backlog, and burndown charts is an essential to delivering valuable software to your customers. 

Finding a solution that manages these artifacts while retaining a history of changes and progress can be instrumental during post-mortems. In addition, the ability to filter the data in order to understand task complexity can prove useful.  

Scalability: Backlog Management
A prioritized backlog makes planning for the future and allocating resources easy to manage. The backlog should be visible to the team and allow each team member to work on these roadmap features and requirements. Some factors to look for when selecting a tool that effectively manages the backlog include:

  • Story storage and access—At a minimum, the tool should enable you to gather user stories into a logical framework and keep them in a central location.
  • Business value—Developers have to determine the complexity when performing their tasks, but business analysts who develop user stories should also identify a business value. A Scrum software development tool should be able to capture that value.  
  • Prioritization—Any tool must allow prioritization of tasks and also the ability to group priorities and change them as needed.
  • Epic management—Pulling stories into Epics offers development insights and allows for more comprehensive prioritization, as well as a determination of dependencies.

Scalability: Sprint Backlog Management
The entire Scrum team participates in sprint management, so accessibility and collaboration when dealing with the sprint backlog is crucial in selecting the right Scrum tool. It is essential that the solution you select allows for a prioritized list of activities during each sprint.  

Planning: Velocity
As stated earlier, calculating velocity requires a good tool, so be certain that the tool you choose has a means for gathering the data from multiple sprints to calculate velocity. The more sprints that are used, the greater the accuracy of the prediction.

Your tool should provide a convenient way for the development team to view the following Information:

  • Sprint Burndown Chart—The sprint burndown chart (also called a “Scrum board”) shows progress and changes on a daily basis and can provide insight into delays and dependencies that cause delays.
  • Product Burndown Chart—The product burndown chart shows monthly (or “per sprint”) progress. As such, it provides insight similar to the sprint burndown chart.
  • Hours/Tasks Breakdown by Team Member—With small teams who attend daily meetings, it’s easy to see how individual team members are progressing, but with larger teams it is harder to get a handle on individual progress. This reporting enables you to view current team member activity.
  • Bug Fixes—Managing bugs enables a team to get ahead of problem areas. By monitoring these trends, the team can eliminate problem areas and reduce future bugs.

4 Tips for Successful Scrum Software Tool Adoption 
Once you select the tool that best fits your organization’s needs, there are a few things you can do to ensure a smooth transition for your team. It’s important to make the transition from whiteboards and 3x5 cards as smooth as possible so you don’t lose momentum. Careful preparation can ensure you are using it to its optimal potential:

  1. Prepare Your Team for Scrum. Help your team gain a solid understanding of how Scrum works before a tool is introduced. Don’t expect the team to learn Scrum from the tool you select. The tool has to fit the team, not the other way around
  2. Use whiteboards and sticky notes first. Go through the process using the low-tech tools before you begin to use a Scrum software product. This gives the team a basis for deciding their level of comfort with the tool.
  3. Test the tool before purchasing. Requirements lists are a basic unit of decision-making, but even if all of the requirements match-up, the tool that looks the best may not be the best. Allow the team to test the tool first to confirm it is right for your projects.
  4. Ask the team for their opinion. After you’ve tested a few tools, let the team decide which one they prefer.  

We hope this article has provided an overview of key considerations when choosing a Scrum project management tool, but is by no means an all-inclusive list.  Ultimately, you must decide where your needs are greatest and which problems you intend to solve. If you find a solution that address all or most of the problems you encounter in your environment, then you’ve picked the right Scrum project management software for the job. 

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The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.



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