When the Agile Manifesto first appeared in 2001, it was a set of radical ideas set down by a small group of programmers who thought there was a better way to create code. They had a plan to work faster and more productively. All they needed was the freedom to constantly reorganize their workflow — and a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space for keeping everything straight.
Now, almost 20 years later, agile has grown into a full movement supported by tool suites that support the process. The poor handwriting, dried adhesives, and multi-colored confusion of paper has been replaced with the precision and infinite attention of database-backed web applications.
It’s also not just for programmers. Agile principles have grown so popular that others in the company are taking notice. It’s not uncommon to find agile tool suites marketed to everyone in the enterprise, especially those involved in project management. This may be annoying to programmers, who find some of the tools don’t focus directly on software development tasks such as commits and deployment, but this growth is recognition of the smart work the programming world has done.
Here, in alphabetical order, are 11 of the most intriguing options for keeping everyone involved in your projects working together and pulling in the same direction.
The sales literature for Asana does not focus on programmers, speaking in the general language of projects, workflow, and teams. Its bright, colorful charts aren’t just for development teams but the entire enterprise. This larger focus can be helpful in organizations where coders work closely in support of the rest of the business — in other words, companies that do more than just make software.
There are more than 50 templates for tabular data collection to support various groups, such as operations (“facilities requests,” “vendor management”) or HR (“candidate tracking,” “interview questions”). Many of Asana’s tools are meant to support the wide-open creativity of strategic planning sessions and design reviews. Bug reporting and software deployment are easily integrated but they almost take a back seat to the larger goal of smoothing the workflow by making it easier to document what needs to be done and ensure team members get the right approval.
A “free forever” version lets you and 14 colleagues collaborate with many of the best features. Many of these, such as tasks, projects, or messages, have no limit and some of Asana’s nicer features like a mobile app and integration with 100+ tools are included. The standard version begins at $11 per month per user and includes better searching, custom rules, and a wider array of charts and tracking views. Prices rise to $25 per month per user for a tier that includes better integration with high-end tools (Adobe, Salesforce, etc.), more collaborative tools (forms, portfolios), and mechanisms for interacting (design proofing and workload).
For a deeper look at Asana, see “Asana review: Intelligent, adaptive project management.”
Broadcom develops noted hardware products, such as modems, and the software products for mainframes that it picked up acquiring CA Technologies. How does it manage this work? It has its own tool for agile management called Rally and for portfolio management called Clarity. Broadcom aims these tools at people in what it calls “ValueOps,” those who must consider both the business and technical aspects of each project.
Agile Requirements Designer is a visual tool that collects requirements into a workflow. Tests are well-integrated with this so progress can be measured by performance on automated tests.
Broadcom offers a “free forever” starter version for up to 50 users. Pricing for larger groups is available from the sales team.
Digital.ai offers a broad range of products and services for creating, deploying, and maintaining software. Its Agility planning tool, formerly known as VersionOne, is just the first part of the process where planning is done.
The tool offers PlanningRooms where products and steps can be drafted. A curated area for customers to offer suggestions and needs can be useful for customer-facing projects. Tickets created during ideation are organized and tracked with charts and tables. Cost estimates are also on offer for those who need to ensure budgets stay balanced.
TeamRooms are more for tactical discussions, offering forums for discussion and options for tracking the progress through sprints and retrospectives.
Pricing and details about the Flex Point pricing plan are available through the sales team.
GitLab offers a single platform for handling the chores of turning code into a running application. It bundles tools for agile planning with the source code repository (git, of course) and the continuous integration pipeline.
Programmers will feel most at home with GitLab. While anyone can use the agile planning dashboards to track progress with multiple charts, the automated mechanisms for testing and deploying software (continuous integration and deployment CI/CD) are pretty much designed for developers only. If you’re planning on bringing the agile planning process to, say, manufacturing or running a hamburger stand, you’re going to be getting much more than you can use.
The pricing plan promises that individual users will be “free forever” to use 400 CI/CD pipeline minutes each month. Agile planning teams can start with the Premium plan at $19 per user per month or upgrade to the Ultimate plan at $99 per user per month with five times as many CI/CD minutes. A FOSS Community Edition is also available.
Jira helped create the online project management marketplace and remains popular with software teams due to sophisticated graphics and robust features. Jira has been rolling out Version 8.0 of late, bringing faster performance and new options such as a full-featured mobile application for Android or iOS clients.
The product offers sophisticated reporting tools that begin with a roadmap and then follow tickets from backlog to sprint board to done. Individual elements can be customized with images to make tickets easier to visualize as they move across the board. Templates are now more flexible and easier for everyone on the team to modify, enabling teams to evolve their own fields and formats separate from the others. Lately Jira has been adding features that focus on key values such as sprint burndown time and highlight these values with a special section called “insights.”
Rules can also be crafted to apply in response to events, adding structure by triggering automatic actions or limiting what people can do. One rule, for instance, might assign each new ticket to a manager who then assigns it to the right person. Customizations such as these save clicks. Search has also gotten more sophisticated; there’s even a visual “builder” for constructing more complex searches for past tickets.
Jira offers deeper connections to other Atlassian tools, such as Bitbucket or Confluence, its planning tool. Atlassian’s Pipelines also integrates continuous testing and deployment. These integrations save time and keep work synchronized. If you commit code to Bitbucket, Jira will notice and update tickets. In Atlassian’s Marketplace, third parties can offer tools designed to add more functionality to Jira (and other Atlasssian products). These extras can help with integration to source repositories such as Git, enhance time sheet tracking, or help with workflow for specialized applications such as fintech. There are hundreds of options.
For most organizations, Jira is hosted in Atlassian’s cloud. A free plan for up to 10 users is said to be free forever. The price for Standard, which includes features like project logs and advanced permissions, is $7 per month per user. A Premium plan adds sandboxing and more control over details such as access for $14 per month per user. If you want to host Jira in your own data center, pricing begins at $42,000.
The boards from Kanbanize take their name from the main Kanban interface for tracking tickets or cards as the team tackles them. The style of chart dominates the product and the philosophy for guiding work. The company recently released Version 8.7, which adds more features to the views, enhanced customization options, and improved opportunities to encode business logic in rules.
The process centers on the card that represents a particular task or job. Fields on the cards can be customized, with only essential fields displayed. The cards generate events as they’re created, assigned, or moved through the workflow; these events can be linked to rules for customizing the action. These can be developed in the tool’s graphical user interface making it possible for nonprogramming leadership to add automation to the process. The design and flexibility of the card interface has grown more sophisticated as Kanbanize has added better features for adding links or business rules.
More power, though, is hidden beneath the surface. Kanbanize offers meta-reporting views for analyzing how quickly work is accomplished, whether it’s being completed, and where the bottlenecks and roadblocks might be. These “blocking” views, like the blocker clustering chart, can help flag steps in the plan that stop everyone else. Scatter plots and heat maps are probably best for projects with tasks that lend themselves to statistical insights. You can also try a Monte Carlo simulation to predict just when all of the work will be done.
Prices start at $149 per month for the basic system for up to 15 users. Larger groups tend to cost about $8 to $10 per user per month. Adding security, turning on rules-based actions, or adding analytical views are all additional. There’s also an Enterprise version offering a dedicated cloud instance, more security control, and more training. The price is determined by the sales team
Monday is built to be beautiful and colorful, open to all project managers not just software development teams. The main interface comprises customizable tracking boards with columns and fields for tracking details such as how many tasks are completed or when approval was granted. Their newest feature is called a “workdoc,” which is a more sophisticated word processor built to simplify collaboration, brainstorming, and planning.
Customizable starter templates range from generic projects to more specialized workflows such as keeping a blog or magazine filled with new content. A calendar helps organize the upcoming week. An internal email box mixes communication in with the tracking. All this information can be tracked with a mobile app.
Monday’s broad appeal can also be seen in its pre-configured integrations with major tools for automation, ranging from Microsoft Teams to Salesforce. There’s a broad marketplace filled with extensions for enhancing reporting, doing a better job with time tracking, or simplifying the workflow for some businesses. If you want to go deeper, there’s a GraphQL-based API to connect with other tools.
The free plan lets up to two people enjoy some but not all the major features. Standard starts at $10 per month per user for three or more people, and it includes access to automation routines and integration with other apps. Pro and Enterprise add many of the more important features, such as sophisticated data presentation and the ability for unlimited automation and integration with other tools. These plans list at roughly $16 per user per month. Larger teams are encouraged to work directly with the sales team to negotiate a price.
Planview is built for managers who want to bring agile techniques to any enterprise. The suite of tools supports planning, funding, and delivering abstract projects and portfolio management of any type.
Planview is designed to work well with other agile planning tools such as Digital.ai or Jira in order to support the so-called “team of team” planning board. If one group wants to use Jira and another might want Digital.ai, the managers in charge of both can use Planview to create a unified tracking model.
The documentation encourages broad adoption suggesting the tools can be useful for teams that use traditional or hybrid management styles instead of pure agile.
Pricing for some parts of the platform is easy to understand. The LeanKit project planning tool with a Kanban board with flexible templates and progress management tools start at $20 per user per month when billed annually. Pricing for other tools such as ProjectPlace is available from the sales team. Free trials are also available.
ServiceNow literature doesn’t mention “agile” prominently but it can still be used for projects big and small, traditional or agile. The platform is designed to track workflows — of managers, employees, and customers. Each job is broken into tasks or tickets and ServiceNow tracks them all in its Now Platform until the work is finally done. (And then it keeps an archive, too.)
Now Platform can reach out to other platforms via the Integration Hub, which offers low-code options known as “spokes.” “Starter spokes” work with common messaging such as Slack, Zoom, or Teams. “Professional spokes” work with commonly used applications such as Microsoft’s Office apps. These are good for organizing workflows of nondevelopers. There are more specialized connectors to apps used by programmers, such as GitHub or Jenkins. If you need more, there are hundreds of third-party options available from the ServiceNow Store.
There are some interesting extensions. The search option is said to include artificial intelligence enhancements and is designed to be used by employees and customers who have their own role in the workflow. The entire platform is designed to cross lines between insiders and outsiders.
Custom pricing is available from the sales team.
Targetprocess offers a visual tool optimized for modern frameworks such as SAFe or LeSS. The goal is to deliver something big that can keep large teams of teams pulling together.
The tool organizes portfolios of teams giving each a roadmap, a Kanban board, and a dashboard for sketching out the plan for the next sprint and the next product delivery. There’s also a login-free portal for “ideas intake” that enables customers and others to offer suggestions and goals.
Targetprocess integrates are with software development tools such as Jenkins or Bitbucket. There’s also extensive integration with general tools such as Salesforce or Miro. The focus is on reaching out to everyone in the organization and beyond.
Pricing is available from the sales team.
Zoho is known for its suite of office tools, and its collection of agile tools will be familiar to anyone using Zoho Office. One such tool, Sprints, manages agile projects and looks just as clean and spare as the rest of Zoho’s toolset with lots of white space and a menu on the left.
The structure is also clean. Work is broken into tickets that fill up a backlog. These can be organized into “Epics” and then monitored from a Kanban board during each sprint. All of this is plotted in graphical glory on a wide collection of charts that measure everything from burnup to cumulative flow. The reporting tool breaks down time spent into tables of numbers and graphs for managers who are counting the beans.
What’s more uncommon is a section for tracking rituals such as daily standups or post-sprint retrospectives. They are automatically scheduled and tracked to keep everything moving.
Sprints integrated discussion group Feed makes it easier to link tickets with the debate that invariably ensues. Sprints can also be customized to add fields and values to the various forms and templates. If you don’t like the standard “high,” “medium,” and “low” priorities, for instance, you can add others like “boss’s pet” or “silly.” There’s also a full API and a feature for web hooking other applications in case you need more custom integration.
Pricing begins at $12 per month for a basic plan that’s limited to 12 users with a discount for paying annually. Prices drop substantially in bulk deals to well below $5 per user per month. You may be tempted by Zoho’s tight integration with other products such as Meeting and Show, two products that have been growing during the pandemic.