Trying Pivotal Tracker

Last week, Rich proposed that we try Pivotal Tracker for Connect.

Pivotal Tracker agile project planning

Our work on Connect can be loosely described as agile. We generally meet, either in person or on the phone, to hash out major feature releases, and then Rich and Anthony build and deploy. And I test. Every six months or so, we rinse and repeat.

I say loosely because we’re not very organized. We follow the agile principles, but we’re not that organized, which is weird for me because I’m usually over-organized, if anything. This lack of organization works well, if we are splitting time between projects, but whenever we have a block of time to devote to Connect, Rich starts asking for structure.

In the past, we used spreadsheets and tested a couple project management packages, Basecamp, activeCollab and Mingle, with varying amounts of success.

So, last week, Rich got fed up again with a flat list of features and bugs and started a project in Pivotal Tracker.

I have to say I’m impressed so far. I didn’t realize why I liked it so much until I found this post which provides 11 reasons to like Tracker:

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s hosted.
  3. It’s a joy to use. It’s the iPod of project management software. It’s all drag-and-drop and clickity-clack and it just works.
  4. It’s multi-user. Your co-founder in North Korea can make changes in Tracker and you will see them instantly. No page reloads.
  5. It’s for lean startups. The building block in Tracker is a story: an increment of customer value that you deliver with minimal waste.
  6. It’s about completing your next most important task—not maintaining mile-long to-do lists, Gantt charts, and lists of bugs.
  7. It’s transparent. Everybody on the team knows what everybody else is working on, their priorities, and their accomplishments.
  8. It’s in sync with reality. It doesn’t take time to keep your requirements and schedule in sync with reality, even if your business priorities change daily.
  9. It doesn’t do much. No, it doesn’t do dependencies and critical paths. It just keeps you focused on delivering value to customers.
  10. It’s powerful as hell. Tracker hides a lot of technology under a simple interface. It’s a serious Javascript-intensive web application that’s in the same league as Gmail and Google Maps.
  11. Bonus reason: Everything is on one page—there’s no need to navigate around (unlike other project management tools). More Gmail, less Hotmail.

It struck me that 11th one is gold for me. Having all the functionality on a singe page is a huge time saver for me.

When I get a bug report or encounter a bug in Connect, I’m generally in the middle of something else. So, I want to report it, prioritize it and get back to other work.  Accomplishing this by emailing Rich and Anthony is not ideal, but I did this frequently with the other tools to avoid the longer processes. None of those other tools was terribly time-consuming, but still, it’s a savings I can feel.

The other reasons are pretty solid too, especially 10. Having used “professional” project management apps in the not-so-distant past, I appreciate fewer bells and whistles, e.g. a friend of mine mentioned he had to take a day-long training in Microsoft Project, which pretty much sums up my experience with that monster.

Plus, much of the stuff you need to run a waterfall project isn’t needed in an agile one, especially when you only have two developers and one project/product manager.

Just after Rich got us started with Tracker, I found out Twitter uses it too, actually keeping a couple “Pivots” on site as consultants. Tracker is built and hosted by Pivotal Labs, and did I mention Tracker is a Rails app? But you probably figured that out by now.




  1. Two weeks ago I also moved my current company in-house projects to PivotalTracker and I am happy so far with it.

    This is the first Agile planning tool that I really like as all the other tools were introducing too much complexity to the process. Therefore I tried to stick to user story index cards or used Excel sheets if all team was not co-located. But now finally with PivotalTracker it is much easier to work with remote team members – now it is very easy and fast to create user stories / bugs / other tasks during online meetings or during my e-mail processing.

    BTW if you still do not use I also recommend New Relic RPM service for Rails production application monitoring. This was similar experience – I just installed it and instantly got very usable reports about how my application is performing and what are the usage statistics.

  2. Fast is definitely the key for stories, and I like what Tracker has done to address that. Paul may even start using it 🙂

    Thanks for the tip on New Relic. Remember, Connect is a JRuby app, which may cause problems. I'm Rich knows for sure.

  3. Pivotal tracker is great. but it can quickly become disorganized once you've added too many stories. I would suggest also trying out Intervals, which organizes stories into tasks in a more traditional bug/issue tracking environment.

  4. Thanks for the tip. So far, we're happy with it, but this is a small team (2 devs, 1 PM). If we get into a disorganized mess, we'll check out Intervals.

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