Our Favorite Project Management Tools for Software Development

Jira, Asana and Basecamp have become popular task managers because of their versatility. But when your business belongs to a specific industry with specific needs, a catch-all solution is rarely optimal.

Here are 4 vital questions that will help you find the best fit project management tool for your software development team – whether you are work with a start up or a large corporation.

Project Management Tools

What type of projects will you manage?

You may want to, for cost or simplicity reasons, have your whole business use just one project management platform. If this is the case, you need a product which is capable of managing software development, but one not so rigid that it can’t handle other, more general, projects.

Trello and Basecamp are – by design – suited for this purpose. They were built to cover a broad range of industries and projects and are equally at home helping you build an app or organize your next interior design project.

Other popular solutions like Jira and Liquid Planner were built with the technology sector in mind, but have diversified over time. They now offer some flexibility when used for a wider range of projects.

Finally, prescriptive tools, like Pivotal Tracker and Gitlab, have been designed specifically for software development teams. While this rigidity makes them a poor choice for other types of projects, it makes them ideal if you intend to just manage software builds.

Project Management Tools

Will you have an experienced Project Manager

The more powerful platforms are packed with features, and come with a steep learning curve. Without an experienced Project Manager to set up, manage and champion your project management platform, your team may not benefit from this extra functionality. Or worse, poor team member comprehension could result in adoption issues and incorrect use.

Jira was originally built as an issue tracker. Its complex, modular structure, stems from a more recent integration with a planning tool: Greenhopper. “You need a masters degree to properly configure Jira with your most appropriate methodology” says Tomas, a Lead Engineer at Scalable Path. “Not to mention training for correct use and finally championing the platform so people are motivated to keep using it correctly.” Pivotal Tracker and Gitlab are also end-to-end solutions for software teams that require deep industry knowledge to use optimally.

If you don’t have the resources or experience within your team, a more simple and self-explanatory UI like Trello’s or Basecamp’s lets you get up and running with fewer steps.

Many bootstrapped startups will use Trello to put together their MVP. They will then switch to one of the above, feature rich solutions when they need more robust features, namely:

  1. Sprint planning
  2. Velocity estimates
  3. Inter-dependencies between projects
  4. Version Control
  5. Time Tracking

Before opting for any project management platform, it makes sense to sit down with your team and decide on the core features you need. Often you will find they can be counted on one hand. Complexity is the enemy of productiveness. It’s vital to consider if the features offered by a vendor are ones you will need and use.

Project Management Tools

IS AGILE ALWAYS THE BEST METHODOLOGY?

A development methodology is simply a way of planning, executing, and monitoring the progress of your projects.

At Scalable Path we work exclusively with Agile. This is because we have the luxury of working on software products that can be modified quickly. While we favor solutions that have been designed with Agility in mind, not every business is the same. Sometimes the correct approach is the more rigid and linear Waterfall. Perhaps you are trying to land a rocket on a barge, where a ‘bug’ has critical implications.

My point is that both methodologies are usable, mature options. The aim of this article is not to discuss the merits of each, but to find which tool best fits your business culture and development practices. To read more, Scalable Path’s Erin Schneider wrote a great post on ‘Project Management Approaches’ you can read here.

Jira, which tries to be the jack of all trades, supports both Waterfall and Agile, but neither all that intuitively. You will need to work hard to figure out which parts of the puzzle you need. Liquid Planner also has baked-in Waterfall support.

Many newer platforms focus exclusively on Agile methodologies. Pivotal Tracker, for example, is designed specifically for developers. Offering a clean and easy to use interface, uncluttered by a need to be everything to everyone. Pivotal requires you to be Agile and follow its prescriptive process. Gitlab also has a very strong Agile bias.

Project Management Tools

WILL CLOUD HOSTING BE SUFFICIENT FOR YOUR NEEDS?

It’s easy to forget that the cloud solution is relatively new. Startups, looking to keep their overheads low, have helped cloud hosted solutions grow in popularity over the last 5 years. This approach makes sense for most businesses. After all, why tie up resources to setup and support software when it is unnecessary?

Yet, there are still some cases where self-hosting is the best approach: Namely, if you want to safeguard your data from potential theft or require deep customization and integration into legacy systems. This is why the self-hosted route is often favored by large enterprises with sensitive data requirements – where they cannot afford to have data flow through unsecured pipes.

Though known for its cloud offering, Jira has a robust enterprise package that enables you to deploy a fully customized version of the software behind your own firewall. They also offer 24/7 support. Gitlab also offers a self-hosted option.

The rest of the pack (including Trello, Basecamp and Pivotal Tracker) offer higher priced packages aimed at the ‘enterprise’ market. These come with stronger encryption – but are still cloud hosted and may not offer the level of customization required by large organization.

Project Management Tools

Wrap Up

People become highly invested (and equally opinionated!) on the project management tools they use. So much so, in our case, that we decided we needed to build our own to satisfy the specific needs of Scalable Path. It’s called Tempo and is freely available to all our clients.

Ultimately though, a tool is just that. It will only facilitate your process if:

  1. It matches your team’s culture
  2. It syncs with your project requirements
  3. It is implemented correctly

If your team shares the same physical space there is nothing wrong with managing your projects with sticky notes and a whiteboard! Good luck and I’d love to hear of any key questions you feel I missed.

Project Management Tools Links

Are you looking for help with your next software project?
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