Startup Life

Pivotal Tracker

I just finished up my third week at SkillSlate. For anyone who missed my last post about it, it’s a directory of handymen, personal trainers, and other service providers. Right now it’s just in New York City, but that will change soon.

SkillSlate uses Pivotal Tracker for task management. At this point I have used just about every task management tool under the sun. Bugzilla, Eventum, Trac, various offerings from 37 Signals… I even rolled my own using WordPress once. So far I can’t say that any one of them is my favorite. They each have their advantages and drawbacks.

Pivotal is interesting because it uses a model for estimating deadlines and organizing workloads that I haven’t seen elsewhere. You assign points to each task corresponding to how long you think it will take. The points are relative to each other, not time. So if you decide that changing the colors in the header is a one point task, you might decide that adding some validation to a form is a two point task, and totally rewriting the login system is a five point task.

Then, rather than assign tasks to releases or milestones, you create releases and arrange your various tasks as needing to happen either before or after said release. As you work and close out tasks Pivotal calculates how fast you work. Based on how fast you’re working and how much needs to be done, Pivotal will estimate when you’ll be finished (and whether you’ll hit your deadline if you’ve set one).

It’s an imperfect system, sure. First and foremost, every member of the team needs to be on the same page with their point estimations. Second, the UI is completely non-intuitive. I had to actually watch the help videos to understand what was going on. Each team likely has multiple projects, but switching between projects is a clunky process. And the various reports and charts seem scattered and hard to find.

After getting over the UI though, I love Pivotal Tracker. As someone who has an “amazing and somewhat alarming thirst for points” (Chris’s words), seeing my workload broken down visually is very handy. If you turn on the “charts” view you’ll get a graph of how many work units you need to plow through to release on time versus your current rate of work. It helps turn a mountain of endless tickets into something more organized and paced.

I’ll be interested to see how well the time estimates work. In order to provide useful estimates it needs at least a month worth of history, so it will be a little while before we get a really accurate reading for our team.

2 thoughts on “Pivotal Tracker”

  1. I have to agree; I’m a fan of Pivotal Tracker as well. I used Bugzilla in my previous role, but find Pivotal to be a pretty elegant solution. I think the biggest feature I’d like to see added is layering on priority values to better organize/track by business importance (ie: Priority 1, Priority 2, etc). That’s about the only think I can think of that I miss from Bugzilla.

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