We’re about to introduce improvements to Pivotal Tracker which will help your team communicate more effectively. In order to do this, we’ll be making your (currently optional) Tracker username a requirement.
This week started on the wrong foot with a 1 hour and 45 minute outage early Monday morning, that affected many of you. I’d like to apologize for this, and shed some light on what happened.
It began as a network outage at our hosting provider’s data center, which was resolved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, Tracker’s load balancers did not recover correctly, as they should have automatically, and to complete the perfect storm, the alerting mechanism that’s supposed to notify us and the hosting provider’s operations team did not work either due to misconfiguration.
The load balancer configuration issue has been corrected, and we’re confident that this problem will not occur again. Tracker’s production environment is designed to recover automatically from network and other types of outages, and our hosting provider monitors and responds to problems on a 24/7 basis.
We can’t wait to get all this into your hands quickly, and continuously improve Tracker based on your feedback. As we all know, though, making web applications work well in all of the web browsers out there can be extremely time consuming, even impossible in some cases. In order to focus our energy on product improvements, and take advantage of modern open source technologies, we will be limiting “official” support to recently released versions of the most commonly used web browsers, specifically:
- Google Chrome (version 22 and above)
- Mozilla Firefox (version 17 and above)
- Apple Safari (version 6)
- Internet Explorer (version 9 and 10)
The good news is that most of you are already using these modern browsers.
Tracker will likely work reasonably well in other types of browsers, or older versions of the above, but you will soon see an unsupported browser warning in Tracker, and may run into issues, including slower performance. Hopefully upgrading to one of the supported browsers above is not too much of an inconvenience.
If you’re limited to using an on older version of Internet Explorer, we recommend installing the Google Chrome Frame plugin, for much better compatibility with modern sites and web applications.
We will be gradually rolling out under-the-hood modernizations over the next few weeks, and getting started on the first batch of new features. Stay tuned!
January has gone by quickly! Hopefully the new year is already off to a great start for you and your entire team. I’d like to share what we’ve been up to recently, and give you a preview of what to expect in 2013.
The Big Picture
To put our plans in context, it’s important to understand our ultimate goal. We want Pivotal Tracker to be a fun, yet indispensable and transformative tool for software development teams everywhere; from the startup next door to the global enterprise, for small single backlog teams as well as larger, multi-team projects.
We believe we’re on the right path. In the last 8 years Tracker has grown organically to over 500K users around the globe, and is now an integral part of a thriving and growing software development ecosystem. But this goal is no small task for an app that began as an internal tool and an exercise in learning a promising new web development framework at the time – Ruby on Rails. So instead of simply charging ahead and piling on feature after feature we took a hard look at ourselves and acknowledged that we had accumulated a certain amount of “drag” and decided to make some long term, foundational investments.
This took some time, but the good news is, we’re almost done and have already started rolling it out to some of our projects here at Pivotal Labs. While you may notice some minor UI improvements and polish when it’s rolled out fully, it will be the same Tracker you already know, but on a better foundation, ready for the future. And shortly after, we’ll be opening up that brand new API, with more endpoints, support for epics, fine-grained access to all project activity, JSON, cross-origin resource sharing support, improved webhooks, much better documentation, even an interactive console!
New Design, New Features
While all this has been going on, we’ve been busy planning the main attraction, a redesigned “next generation” of Pivotal Tracker, to be rolled out gradually over the course of 2013, starting with some long-awaited features including story following, historical project analytics, and improved icebox management. In addition, we’re looking to improve how you collaborate and plan in Tracker with features like better search and filtering, in-app notifications, cross-project visibility, new integrations, and more.
While we’re not quite ready to share details yet, the next generation of Tracker will be a major step forward in terms of overall usability, and help your teams with the various challenges that arise as projects grow beyond a single backlog.
We’ve got a number of other things in the works for 2013, for example a shiny and more organized directory of 3rd party tools and extensions for Tracker, as well as special programs for consultancies and universities. Stay tuned for more news, including information about the new API and how to request early access to the Tracker next-generation beta. If you’re not already, please follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook!
For the 3rd time this week, we experienced more CDN issues this morning, causing images and CSS to not load properly for users in places like Toronto, New York, and others. We did everything we could to get our CDN provider to resolve the issue, but at the same began investigating other options.
Based on positive feedback, and it’s simplicity, we chose Amazon’s CloudFront. We got it configured, pointing at our static assets, and by around 11am Pacific had Tracker up and running on it. So far, everything seems smooth, and we’ve seen no complaints.
We’ll keep a close eye on things, but at this point we’re calling this issue resolved. If you were affected by it, please accept our apology, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or see any other issues.
We’re getting more reports this morning from customers who are unable to load Pivotal Tracker images/css. We were optimistic that this was resolved by CDNetworks yesterday afternoon, but clearly that seems to not be the case.
We’re escalating this issue to the highest possible level, while at the same time working to set up a different CDN, as well as testing the effects of disabling the CDN completely, at least as a temporary workaround. Please bear with us, this is a top priority for our engineering team.
Please follow @pivotaltracker for the latest updates.
We’ve moved all of the more administrative navigation links to a new dropdown in the top right corner. This is where you’ll find links to your Profile (where you can do things like change your password, update email preferences, etc) as well as to the new Accounts page, and Sign Out. If you’re using Tracker’s simple time tracking functionality, you’ll find the Time link here as well.
New Accounts Page
First, what exactly is an account, versus a user login? Let’s ask the Tracker FAQ:
Accounts in Tracker are separate things from personal user logins. A user’s login is always associated with an individual–their email address, an optional username and their private password. That login can own or be a member of one or more accounts, and accounts are, effectively, containers for projects.
Accounts allow you to group projects. For example, you might create, or be a member of, an account for your company projects, and have a separate one for your personal work. Every project belongs to an account. You can create as many accounts as you’d like….(read more).
The new accounts page, accessible via the Accounts link the new dropdown in the top right corner of the page, shows you all of the accounts that you are associated with, along with projects in the accounts that you have access to.
For each account, you can see what subscription plan it’s on, as well as how many private projects and collaborators there are in the account. Accounts on this page are grouped as follows:
Accounts that you own – these are accounts that you own, including the one automatically created for you when you signed up for Tracker.
Accounts that you administer – these are accounts that someone else owns, but added you as an administrator to (more on roles here).
Accounts you’re a member of – if you’re a member of projects in someone else’s account, or your company’s account, you’ll see that account listed here, and you can see who owns and administers it (hover over the admins link to see those). The owner or administrator of these accounts may have given you permission to create projects, in which case you’ll see a Create Project button.
Clicking on the Manage Account button for an account that you own or administer allows you to see and change the subscription plan (if you’re the owner), change settings, work with account members, etc.
All Projects Page
Previously, projects were grouped by account here, but that made finding the right project(s) hard sometimes. That account grouping is now on the Accounts page, when you need to think about how projects are organized administratively, and the Projects page becomes a simple list of all active projects that you are a member of.
By default, projects are shown in most recently accessed order, so the ones you work with the most should always appear near the top. You can change the sort order to show projects in alphabetical order, by account, or by created date (newest first).
Hover over the cogwheel for various actions including changing project settings, archiving, and deleting.
Clicking the “Show archived projects” checkbox at the top of the page will do, well, just that – show all archived projects.
Creating projects can be done on this page, via the big button, or anywhere else now via the new Create Project option in the Projects drop-down at the top.
Updated Profile Page
There aren’t any functional changes here, but your Profile page looks a bit better now, and allows you to make changes to individual sections without having to scroll up and down to get to the save button.
We hope these changes make it at least a little bit easier to do the more administrative things in Tracker and stay organized. We’d love your feedback on what else we can do, and if you need any help at all, just visit our help and support page.
Stay tuned for what else we’re up to, and what you can expect over the next few months!
At around 3pm Pacific today, we finally received word from our CDN provider that traffic had been rerouted around the “node” causing today’s problems for users in certain locations (manifesting as slow or failed loads of images and stylesheets). The change may have taken some time to propagate to everyone, but at this point the issue should be resolved.
If you’re still seeing any problems connecting to Tracker, or loading images/stylesheets, please let us know by email.
Unfortunately, this was the second CDN issue in less than a week, and we are less than happy with the length of time the problem took to get resolved. We have started to investigate other solutions/providers, and will likely be making changes to how Tracker static content is distributed within days.
Please accept our apologies, we’ll do our best to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
As some of you have (painfully) noticed, we’ve been having problems with our CDN (content distribution network), causing slow or failing loads of certain Tracker “assets” including images and style sheets. This is affecting users in certain locations only – over the weekend it was South America and certain US cities, while this morning it seems to be mostly the east coast and parts of Canada.
We’re terribly sorry about this, and know how disruptive not being able to get to your projects can be. Our hosting provider is on top of this, and has escalated this to the highest level with the CDN vendor. The issue appears to be related to network congestion in a particular CDN ‘node’, they are working to replace it and route traffic around it, temporarily.
Also, we’re actively looking at moving to a different CDN provider, and/or eliminating the need for CDN use by reducing the number of images/etc that need to be loaded in the app.
We’ll post updates as we get them via Twitter, please follow @pivotaltracker to get the latest.
Last week, we made a slight tweak to how velocity is calculated in Pivotal Tracker, to handle team strength overrides in a simpler, more explainable way. As a result, if your project has an adjusted team strength in a recent iteration, you may be seeing a slightly different velocity.
Details of how velocity is calculated, and how team strength affects it, are at the end of this post.
This seems like a good opportunity, though, to step back a bit, and revisit the velocity concept in Tracker and why it (still) matters. Read on, even if you’re an old hat to agile and Tracker!
What is Velocity?
First, let’s re-define what velocity is. Christian Niles, our iOS engineer, recently gave it an eloquent description (inspired by his recent relaxed strolls through the streets of Paris):
“Just like a speedometer that measures how fast you’re hurtling through space, Tracker’s velocity is a measurement of how fast your team completes stories. Instead of miles or kilometers per hour, Tracker expresses velocity as the number of points completed per iteration.
Because Tracker stories are assigned point values instead of due dates, Tracker calculates velocity by averaging the number of points you’ve completed over the past few iterations. In Tracker, past predicts future.”
It’s About the Conversation
Yes, velocity does give you a glimpse into the future, in the form of more realistic estimates of when milestones will be hit, at least compared to wishful due dates. It’s obviously just an approximation, though, and the velocity number itself is ultimately not very meaningful outside the context of a given project.
What’s really valuable are the conversations that story estimation encourages within development teams (and their product owners). Conversations that uncover all kinds of assumptions and hidden scope, and give the product owner the insight to make value decisions at every step (is that 5 point feature really worth it, is there a simpler alternative?), which all leads to leaner, better product, and a more direct path to the finish line.
Having a crisp, prioritized backlog of estimated stories, and a steady velocity, lets you have really constructive conversations with your stakeholders when facing that inevitable change to requirements. Dragging those new stories into the backlog gives you immediate feedback about how the scope increase will affect the future timeline and planned releases, and allows you to make tradeoff decisions (“ok, let’s move these other stories down so we can still make that milestone”).
These conversations are where all the important tactical decisions are made, and there will be many, as you keep learning as a team, and the world keeps changing on you. Each one takes you closer and closer to winning the battle (and shipping great software).
Consistency is Everything
Steady state allows you to predict, at least roughly, when your project will hit important milestones. This gives your business the ability to plan ahead and to make meaningful tradeoff decisions (usually scope vs time), as you discover more scope (and you always do). Predictability is rare in the software industry, and only comes when you get your project to that zen-like state of steady, consistent pace, measured by low volatility (of velocity).
Achieving low volatility takes an ongoing effort, but the practices that collectively yield it are worth the effort on their own merit. Break down large features into small stories (that fit into a single iteration), estimate as a team, maintain a constant ratio of features to bugs and chores every iteration, deliver stories continuously, and have your product owner highly involved, available, and accepting those stories daily.
Managing Team Fluctuations
Unless you’ve got a team of cyborgs, or perfected cloning technology, chances are there will be weeks when a big subset of the team is sick (yes, that achilles heel of pair programming), on vacation, at a conference, or it’s just the usual between the holidays lull with a skeleton crew.
The team strength feature allows you to plan for that (or account for it retroactively), in terms of velocity. For example, if half of your team leaves for a conference one iteration, you might set your the team strength of that iteration to 50%. Likewise, if your team works all weekend to prepare for launching your product, you would set the team strength to 140% (since they worked 7 days instead of a normal 5 day work week).
Check out a short video on team strength here.
You can also adjust the length of a single iteration, for situations such as the big end of year holidays. Or you can use it to effectively put your project on hold, by combining iteration length override with a team strength of 0%.
Just the Formula, Please
How velocity is calculated is fairly straightforward, it’s the sum of all ‘normalized’ points completed over a given set of iterations (based on project settings), divided by the combined length of all those iterations, in weeks. ‘Normalized’ points are the number of points the team would have completed in an iteration at 100% team strength.
velocity_per_week(iteration_1, ..., iteration_N) = SUM(iteration_i.points / iteration.team_strength) / SUM(iteration.length_in_weeks)
Iterations with a team strength of 0 are excluded from both sums.
The formula above always returns velocity per week. The project velocity Tracker displays is always multiplied by the default iteration length, and rounded down to the nearest integer. For example, if your iterations are 2-weeks long by default, Tracker will multiply the per-week velocity by 2.
We’ve got quite lot of detailed information about velocity and related topics in the Tracker FAQ, as well as the Getting Started guide. In particular, take a few minutes to watch the Introduction to the Concepts video.
If something still isn’t clear, give us a shout!
p.s. thanks to Richard Jones for the awesome Millenium Falcon pic. we want one!