I had an important life lesson drilled into me at a young age… Use the right tool for the job. Of course the devil is always in the details, so how do you know which tool is the right one? Let's quickly go over a few of the basic project management styles, and talk about the different project management tool sets that support each of these types. Then, hopefully you should know enough to pick your own set of tools to manage your projects effectively.
Scrum prescribes 4 standard time boxed ceremonies, plus I include what I call "the forgotten 5th ceremony" (Backlog Refinement).
- The Daily Standup: The team answers the three questions. No tools needed for this, except maybe a watch or a timer to keep it time boxed to 15 minutes maximum.
- Sprint Planning/Sprint Review/Backlog Grooming all revolve around the backlog: The backlog can be as simple as post its on a whiteboard, but most companies use a digital backlog tool in the cloud like Jira or Aha!
- The stories in the backlog should be numerically estimated to help plan the work being done each sprint. This is often accomplished with a tool that obfuscates the values until everyone is ready to reveal them at once like planning poker (planningpoker.com). This is so that no one estimate influences the values of other estimates. If your entire team is co-located, using actual poker cards are fun too!
- Retrospective: Team discusses what went well, what didn’t and how to improve. This information should result in several action items to be worked on for the next sprint. This should be recorded and tracked. This can be done simply with a template in a shared google doc, or using one of the many dedicated tools like Retrium.
Kanban is a lot less structured than Scrum, and is all about the priority ordering of a list. Kanban also requires a backlog, but one of a slightly different type who's primary focus is prioritization of the list. Jira also supports this style of backlog, but the most popular KanBan backlog tool is probably Trello. There are plenty of free alternatives to these two if you're on a budget, so look around for one that fits your needs if free is the way you want to go.
With a Waterfall process, a team tries to think out and plan all of the necessary requirements up front, and then organize them in the order that makes it easiest to deliver. Again, the main tool here is a backlog, and can be serviced by anything from post it notes on a whiteboard to an electronic backlog stored in the cloud.
Regardless of the project management style your business uses, the most important tool that you will need will be healthy a backlog to organize and track work. Whether you choose to use a notebook, a whiteboard, or Jira, depends largely on the size of the teams and the complexity of the project. Pick the right tool, and you're one step closer to a smooth development cycle.