Good. Easy. Hard. it’s all Three.
Pivotal Tracker is pretty easy to use, but like any powerful tool, it will only work as well as you use it. The hardest part of using Pivotal Tracker is learning how to rank stories. I’m going to describe how I use the point system, while it’s certainly not the only way, it works quite well for me.
First, some basics. My Pivotal Tracker workflow is straightforward: create a bunch of tasks, assign points, and begin working. Throughout the day I will change points and add tasks to reflect what is actually happening–giving me immediate insight into my project.
If you do things right, Tracker is designed to answer questions like these:
- How much time is stuff taking?
- How soon will this feature be finished?
- Are bugs affecting upcoming deadlines?
- Who’s working on what?
The big “but” is that Pivotal Tracker only works if your point ranking is consistent. So what the heck are points? How do you start?
Points are Time, Sort Of
Points are essentially equal to some unit of time, but don’t dwell on the time values, they are intentionally vague on purpose. The purpose of a point ranking system is to keep estimates and tracking at a high level. The ambiguity is a feature, and this can make it a little hard to know where to begin.
- Beginner’s Guide to Points
Here is a simple approach to start using points effectively. Remember, being consistent is the most important part.
- Start with 15 points allocated for the week.
- Each 8 hour day gets 3 points.
Also, keep pivotal tracker on the 1-3 point scale until you become more comfortable with ranking. Starting is easy: simply begin ranking your tasks from 1-3 points. Anything greater than 1 day should be broken into smaller subtasks; anything smaller than a couple hours shouldn’t be a task.
Task ranking becomes easy if you think like this:
- 1 point tasks are 2 hours or so.
- 2 point tasks are 4 hours or so.
- 3 point tasks are 8 hours or so.
When you start “tracking” a project, it doesn’t mean you need to know all the tasks and points in the beginning. It’s perfectly normal to continually add new tasks, change points on existing tasks, or delete tasks entirely. Many tasks will end up with different points than they started with. (Tasks can have zero points too.)
The goal is to have Tracker represent reality as best as possible. It should reflect only what you know about a project, and it’s OK (and normal) if you don’t know much.
The magic of using Pivotal Tracker happens after a few weeks into a project. You get a visual representation of what was accomplished in each iteration (or week), and as long as you are diligent about keeping new tasks entered and rated, you will have a fairly accurate outlook on future work.
The point system really shines when you can say: “Feature X took 5 points, so feature Y will probably take the same”. The vague quality of points keeps you from fiddling with hours and estimates. Having 3 points for the day keeps things flexible. For instance, if you finish a 2 point task in 4 or 5 hours and spend the rest of the day on a 1 point task, it ends up being OK.
Icing on the Cake
A few other super handy features are epics and task lists.
Epics allow you to group many stories into a unit. The Tracker interface gives a size graph for each epic, giving you instant size comparisons between all the features of a project.
Another feature is that each story can have a task list. It’s extremely helpful to be able to create lists and reorder items inside a story, I use this feature heavily on complicated tasks. The lists work as both an organizational tool and to track progress.
Pivotal Tracker is an amazing tool if used to it’s full potential. It has a lot of power, but remains one of the simplest bug trackers to use. Because of it’s simplicity it can be adapted for use on any kind of project, whether on a large team or even single person projects.