Agile is everyone’s favorite project management and delivery buzzword, but what agile tools can you use to help successfully run an agile project? In this agile tools comparison article, we’re going to explore some of our favorite agile development tools and options for agile project management. First though, let’s explore exactly what we mean by agile, to develop the criteria for what makes a great agile tool.
What does agile really mean?
Between agencies and clients, there tends to be a pretty fluid understanding of agile. Agile is largely lauded for ‘not being Waterfall’ and widely misunderstood to mean, doing more, with less, faster than ever before.
But the agile manifesto outlines four values – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools; Working software over comprehensive documentation; Customer collaboration over contract negotiation; Responding to change over following a plan – so being agile is more of a philosophy and set of values and principles to follow, rather than a process to apply to a project.
Agile tends to be used as an umbrella term for multiple project management methodologies, including:
- Scrum – A broad project management methodology where cross-functioning, self-organizing teams, work on iterative, prioritized goals in a backlog in sprints, with ongoing prioritization and optimization through retrospectives as sprints are completed.
- Extreme Programming (XP) – Defines technical practices for Scrum within software development –including Test Driven Development (TDD), Pair Programming, and Continuous Integration.
- Kanban – A lean framework using a visual workflow that is used to limit work in progress (WIP) within agile projects and measure and optimize the average time to complete items.
- Scrumban – A mixed scrum and Kanban approach to project management. It focuses on taking the flexibility of Kanban and adding the structure of scrum to create a new way to manage projects.
So in short, and to make things confusing, agile could mean lots of things.
Defining agile – what is an agile project?
What tends to be universally understood is that agile is an incremental, flexible and interactive design and build process. An agile projects sees a series of tasks are conceived, executed and adapted as the situation demands, rather than a pre-planned process.
Agile project management is a simplified and streamlined project management approach characterized by openness to consistent customer input, ongoing collaboration between agency and client, efficient resource integration and inherent structural and system flexibility in a team that’s self-organizing and managing.
Before we get to look at some agile tools, let’s tackle one more sticky agile topic.
The great agile (mis)understanding
Clients tend to love the idea of agile because of its apparent flexibility to pivot a project and provide them with more opportunities to provide feedback or change their mind, throughout the project.
They can misunderstand that it means that they’ll get more work done for less or that they don’t actually ever have to make a final decision on anything because they can change their mind on what they want, even up to the last minute.
That’s sort of true, but not really the whole story.
The catch, and the rest of the story is that that level of flexibility is expensive – yes you can pivot and change your mind but it eats up time, and time costs money. The other challenge is that in order to be successful, and truly agile, clients have to be empowered to make decisions (which is rare in committee orientated organizations), and provide ongoing feedback and prioritization on the fly to keep the project moving.
Truth is, agile better be better, but agile doesn’t come cheap or easy.
Agile tools for agile projects
Managing agile projects can be tough, so agile tools can be super helpful to help us manage the madness. While agile elevates the idea of self-organizing and self-managing teams in software development, within agencies, there’s arguably still a role for project managers in managing the project more holistically, and when budgets and deliverables are in play, managing the budget burn.
When running agile projects in agencies, internally the project management role is often a team lead role, or Scrum Master, facilitating the team, obtaining resources for it, and protecting it from problems. Externally, the project management role is managing the client’s (or product owner’s) interface with the project, ensuring everyone is on the same page with regards to requirements, prioritization, budgets, and timeline as well as reporting.
The best agile tools have some common for agile project management:
- Task management – Kanban or Scrum boards with projects, task lists and everything else that goes with it – from files and discussions to time records and expenses.
- Team collaboration – Communicate updates with local and distributed teams, and share task lists, feedback, and assignments
- Agile metrics, reporting & analytics – Time tracking and projection, easy-to-understand progress reports for stakeholders, quality assurance, and progress with tools to identify and remedy project obstacles, evaluate performance, and appraise financials
- Integrations – How well does this play with other tools you’re using – it needs plugins to extend the functionality or at least an open API.
Best Agile tools – what are they?
Everyone loves the idea of agile tools and agile development but what are they exactly? There are an incredible number of agile tools and options. Perhaps even too many. Everyone likes to manage their projects slightly differently so it’s important to try some tools to find what works for you.
Here’s our list of the best agile tools.
1. Easy Redmine – https://www.easyredmine.com
Redmine is one of the most popular agile tools around – considered by many to be an industry-standard, it’s an open source project management platform used by countless organizations around the world. Its features include task management and collaboration with issue tracking, Gantt charts, calendars, roadmaps, and file sharing. It’s a powerful, flexible tool but out the box, Redmine is a pretty ugly tool.
Easy Redmine is an improved version of Redmine that provides powerful project management features and a huge range of extensions for customer, finance, and resource management, on the cloud or locally hosted on your server.
The extensions available include functionality for resource management to help distribute and plan work and capacity, finance functionality to monitors revenue, costs, payroll costs and the final profit of the project.
For agile teams, the Advanced Plugins are most useful which include a document management system, work breakdown structure (WBS), agile boards for scrum and Kanban, project knowledge base, test cases, meeting calendar, timesheets, workflows, and project collaboration.
It’s a full functioning and powerful agile tool but with limited integrations available – they’re tried to create plugins and extensions for everything you could possibly need!
Easy Redmine costs from $33/month/25 users.
2. Jira – https://www.atlassian.com/software/jira
JIRA is a household name, and arguably the big daddy in the world of agile tools. What started out as a bug and issue tracking system is now complete with features to make JIRA a fully-fledged agile tool with fully featured task management, team collaboration and reporting.
With JIRA you can manage a variety of different projects (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, Traditional project management for non-development projects), and JIRA is flexible in how it can be configured allowing for unique workflows and processes so you’re able to use an out-of-the-box workflow, or create one to match the way your team works.
The power of JIRA is its flexibility and integrations. With the suite of other Atlassian tools, including Confluence and HipChat you can connect JIRA to Bitbucket or GitHub and provide your team with end-to-end traceability, from backlog to deployment. With more than 2,000 add-ons in the Atlassian Marketplace, you can find just about any customization and extension for JIRA to fit just about any use case.
Jira offers a 7-day free trial and costs from $5/user/month (based on 15 users).
3. Trello – https://trello.com/
Trello is a simple but powerful agile Kanban tool. If you’re looking for an easy entry into the world of agile tools, Trello is a great option as it’s one of the most easiest agile tools to learn and it’s free (or at least it’s freemium!) and has to be considered one of the best free agile tools because it’s so intuitive and simple to use.
Being simple also means that it’s also limited in features and functionality. Out the box, with the free version, Trello has task management, and team collaboration, but it’s pretty limited.
For richer functionality you have to start paying for it – The Business class version gives you app integrations or “Power-Ups” which enable you to bolt on additional functionality such as Github integration, SalesForce, Slack, Gantt charts, timesheets, reporting and analytics.
Trello is a free agile tool but paid versions cost $9.99/user/month.
4. Pivotal Tracker – http://www.pivotaltracker.com/
Pivotal Tracker is very simple agile development tool that works well if you’re doing development Kanban style. Pivotal Tracker nails task management and helps to track velocity and predict for the futures. It’s great for managing multiple projects with workspaces that enable you to clearly understand your priorities, view projects side-by-side and move stories across projects.
Pivotal Tracker has some great analytics and reporting that provide quick snapshots of the overall project health, with a bird’s-eye-view of how well your team’s performing with Burnup, Cumulative Flow, and Cycle Time reports and then drill down for a closer look at a project health by iterations, epics, releases, and more.
Pivotal Tracker takes integrations seriously and have more than 140 extensions including GitHub, Slack and Zendeck, to extend the functionality across productivity, project management, issue tracking, analytics, time tracking and more. They also have a well-documented API so you can integrate with pretty much whatever you want.
Pivotal Tracker is a free agile tool (for teams up to 3) but paid versions cost from $4/user/month (based on 15 users).
5. Phabricator – https://www.phacility.com/phabricator/
Phabricator is free agile tool – an open source project that was originally developed as an internal development tool at Facebook, but has now been released as a suite of agile tools for managing development projects.
It’s not strictly project management software, but a development management tool. The suite is a complete set of agile tools for developing software with apps to manage tasks and sprints, review code, host git, svn, or mercurial repositories, build with continuous integration, review designs, discuss in internal chat channels, and more.
If you’re looking for a tool to manage just development based projects, it’s a great agile tool. With task management, team collaboration, code review support, documentation wiki, chat channels, and business rules – it’s a great tool for managing development. What it lacks though is more of the project management functionality of metrics, reporting, analytics and analysis.
There are no out of the box integrations but they do have an API so you could try connecting it with other systems for a complete agile project management tool.
Phabricator is a free agile tool (for up to 5 users) but costs from $20/user/month for larger teams.
6. Nostromo – https://nostromo.io
Nostromo is the new kid on the block, an all-in-one project management tool for teams who work on digital projects. With features including task management, time administration, to-do’s, reporting and analytics, and design collaboration, it’s a well-rounded Kanban board tool – like Trello on steroids!
If you’re already using Trello and are ready for a more powerful task management Kanban tool with additional functionality around time tracking and reporting out the box, Nostromo could be a good choice. Helpfully, they include a tool to import existing Trello boards and data into their tool so the onboarding process is very easy.
As a lite and simple tool with task management, team collaboration and project metrics out the box, it’s a good choice for teams that have outgrown Trello. It’s weak on integrations, with Slack being the only integration currently on offer. It’s a new tool though, so keep an eye on Nostromo as they continue to add more features and functionality.
Nostromo is a free agile tool but will cost from $5/user/month.
7. Taiga – https://taiga.io/
Taiga is an award-winning, open source, agile project management tool built to be streamlined, simple, easy to use and powerful. Functionality is focussed on Scrum and Kanban with the ability to create product backlogs with sprints, epics, and user stories.
The product is evolving rapidly and includes bug tracking, tasks, a documentation wiki, gamification and social management – allowing teams to help one another. While Taiga includes task management, and team collaboration components, the reporting aspect is weak as are the integrations.
Taiga has a few slightly half-baked integrations including Gogs, Gitlab, GitHub, Bitbucket, Slack, Toggl, and HipChat. They’ve also got an API so you can play around and try integrating it with your other tools.
Taiga is a free agile tool (for up to 4 users) but costs from $19/month for up to 25 users.
8. Blossom – https://www.blossom.co/
Blossom is an agile project management Kanban tool that’s been built as a project tracking tool for distributed teams. It features a customizable Kanban workflow to visually represent the status of work being done.
Task management is achieved through flexible cards which enable the addition of files, comments, to-do’s and more. Their emphasis is on simplicity and clarity with an uncluttered interface that makes it easy to see who is working on what, and why. Blossom visualizes the flow of your features from inception until delivery and helps to identify roadblocks & bottlenecks along the way.
While time tracking isn’t part of the feature set, there are performance analytics and insights within Blossom to help you to understand how long a feature took from inception until delivery and other useful insights for team retrospectives.
Blossom has tight integrations with GitHub, HipChat, Flowdock and Slack as well as an API to integrate with your other tools.
Blossom offer a 14-day free trial and costs from $19/5 users/month.
9. Kanbanchi – http://www.kanbanchi.com/
Kanbanchi is a free agile tool built on top of Google Apps. As the name suggests, it’s a Kanban tool similar to Trello (and with a Trello boards import function) that has boards and cards for agile project management.
While task management is covered, to become really useful, you need to upgrade to their paid plan which gives you some useful features including Gantt charts, time tracking, adding cards from email, exporting to Google Sheets as well as some different views – sorting cards by priority and a list or scrum view.
If you’re already using Google Apps, it’s a good choice with some useful integrations with Google Apps including email notifications about dashboard updates, push start/due dates to Google Calendar and attaching files from Google Drive. Apart from Google Apps though, it’s light on integration options.
But if that’s not enough for you, you can get unique dashboard templates, custom features and integrations for your domain, or a private instance of Kanbanchi to fit your organisation’s process and requirements.
Kanbanchi is a free agile project management tool but costs from $22.50/user/month for all paid features.
10. Kanbanize – https://kanbanize.com/
Kanbanize sits happily in a niche somewhere between the simplicity of Trello and the power of Jira. It’s a powerful fully-featured agile tool. Kanbanize nails the basics of task management with powerful Kanban boards with roles, WIP limits, flexible views and filters, and card templates.
If you’re working on development, with complex, inter-dependent projects, Kanbanize can create linkages between Kanban boards and build dependencies and connections between them to provide good visibility across projects.
Kanbanize is a great agile tool to deliver projects more efficiently. With runtime policies (IFTT style workflow automations), email integration, time tracking and analytics built into the core product, you can easily optimize your process and deliver projects more efficiently.
As an agile tool, Kanbanize’s weakness is really in its connectivity to other tools. It assumes that Kanbanize is all you’ll need! It only has a handful of integrations, including GitHub, but you’ll need to use their API if you want to do anything fancy to play with your other tools.
Kanbanize offer a free 30-day trial and costs from $9/user/month.
Other agile tools worth considering:
None of the above work for you? Check out our list of 16 agile tools worth having a gander at:
- Wrike –https://www.wrike.com/
- Yanado – http://yanado.com
- WorkFront – https://www.workfront.com/
- VersionOne – https://www.versionone.com/
- Crocagile – https://www.crocagile.com/
- Ciro – https://ciroapp.com/
- Targetprocess – https://www.targetprocess.com
- Team Clerk – https://teamclerk.com/
- Producteev – https://www.producteev.com/
- Mingle – https://www.thoughtworks.com/mingle/
- Jixee – https://jixee.me/
- Pipefy – http://www.pipefy.com/
- Bolste – https://bolste.com/
- LeanKit – https://leankit.com
- Taskworld – https://taskworld.com/
- Sandglaz – https://www.sandglaz.com/