As the latest research suggests, agile has become the default methodology in IT and software development. This was the area that first gave credit to this acclaimed methodology and recruited so many Scrum fans all over the world. e-Learning as a software vertical has jumped on the bandwagon as well, adopting many agile principles and extrapolating them in terms of instructional design.
Like any technology, e-Learning has had its standards and traditional approaches, such as the notorious ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation), a model that goes hand in hand with the classic waterfall in software development. The main challenge associated with ADDIE is that it is, by and large, a linear strategy, which implies long time-to-market, low flexibility and resistance to changes.
Unlike waterfall or ADDIE, the agile approach focuses on short-time iterations rather than elaborate project planning from conception to delivery. Scrum and other similar techniques emphasize the importance of user feedback at all stages of development. In the e-Learning environment, this accounts for learners’ opinions, struggles and suggestions that could be merged into the final product before it’s too late to make constructive alterations.
Stepping back, we as agile project managers would observe that it doesn’t make much sense to painstakingly script all storyboards for all e-Learning modules before the actual development process kicks off. On the contrary, it’s wiser to ship the modules faster and receive valuable feedback.
Why is it best to use agile in learning content development?
As in many walks of life, projects evolve over time and require changes to address new market requirements, audiences or learning standards. In the waterfall structure, it’s often too complex to make smooth changes since development has gone in a completely different direction. Agile allows for flexibility, easy modification and pursuit of clear business objectives (instead of development for the sake of development).
For the same reasons, it’s vital to get an early iteration reviewed by a sample learner group. If your concept fails, it fails fast. In that case, you can move on, having saved the budget that otherwise could have been squandered in vain.
This is a sneak peek into the following article where I elaborate on the use of various development approaches in e-Learning. Check it out for more details. In the current blog posting, I’m offering a brief overview of Scrum project management tools, throwing some light on basic features, pros and cons, and pricing.
1. Atlassian JIRA
First on my list comes Atlassian JIRA, a popular bug/issue tracking and project management tool for agile teams. JIRA developers boast that the product is now used by 25,000 clients in 120+ countries, including celebrated brands like Fedora Commons, JBoss, Skype, Spring Framework, Apache Software Foundation, Hibernate, etc. e-Learning project developers will surely find a host of opportunities in the software.
- Scrum and Kanban boards. Agile teams can make use of fully customizable Scrum boards to help with fast planning and iterative delivery. Embedded Kanban boards allow the users to see what’s next on the agenda and adjust to the changing requirements.
- Elaborate reporting. The user gains access to multiple predefined and custom reports to track sprint-by-sprint performance in real time or over a greater time period.
- Portfolio for JIRA. A nifty planning tool that helps you build viable roadmaps, manage available and required resources and assess project progress.
- Hundreds of plugins. You can browse the Atlassian Marketplace for a plethora of add-ons to scale up your JIRA edition for any particular use case.
- Customizable workflows. e-Learning software devs and instructional designers can generate custom workflows that correspond to their unique procedures.
- Mobile support. JIRA delivers mobile apps so team members can always stay connected and up to date on project developments.
- API integration. Users can sync up their tools with JIRA by employing a wealth of available APIs.
- Versatile deployment scenarios. Teams can deploy JIRA in the cloud or on enterprise servers.
- Sophisticated configuration. JIRA is complicated software that requires some serious tweaking to match your exact needs. The out-of-the-box configuration may not suit everyone. Be prepared to delve into the controls to change how it works. Beware: you’ll probably need an IT-savvy workforce on your team or invest quite some time yourself to finally meet the JIRA of your dreams.
- Questionable ease-of-use. JIRA is a powerful feature-packed tool that implies a steep learning curve, even after you’ve had everything set up. For a good deal of use cases, you’ll need relevant plug-ins that make the UI somewhat more bloated.
- Commodity features you have to pay for. An issue that comes close to what we discussed above, JIRA needs add-ons for specific scenarios that may turn out pretty costly. Advanced time tracking, email alerts, even column summaries – you’ll have to shell out extra for such features.
The starter pack comes free of charge, works in the cloud and covers up to 5 users. You pay $10 per month for up to 10 users and 75$ for a team of 15. Contact Atlassian for bigger plans and custom licenses.
Freedcamp is freemium project management software for an unrestricted number of projects and users. The company endeavors to deliver an agile experience free of charge to customers worldwide. It’s worth noting that Freedcamp provides all additional features at no cost to teachers and students, so it absolutely makes sense to check out this solution.
- Convenient dashboard. A single entry point to get insights into current projects and workflows.
- Kanban cards. Write your tasks on cards and remove the cards on completion.
- Comprehensive calendar. This is where the user can view assigned tasks, milestones, upcoming and past events.
- File manager. Upload and easily access new files or versions with change comments.
- Discussions board. A forum-like module that helps users exchange ideas with fellow project members.
- Milestones for streamlined operations. Users can add multiple tasks within a common milestone to easily meet project deadlines.
- Time tracking. Log work time and bill fulfilled tasks using the built-in invoice app.
- Mobile Support. Last time I checked, Freedcamp supported responsive design and was about to launch a native mobile app.
- There is no “view only” access option for select team members
- There is no solid API to sync up with existing services
- Looks like it’s impossible to assign a task to a user group.
Free licenses are restricted to 200MB storage and 10MB file size. Just $2.49 a month buys you 1GB of storage.
Paid apps include:
- CRM – $12.99/mo
- Data Backup – starts at $4.99/mo.
- Google Drive – $2.99/month
- Invoices+ – $6.99/mo
- Issue Tracker – $10.99/mo
- Wiki – $2.99/mo.
VersionOne is another great agile project tool that caters to all user groups and levels. It supports Scrum, XP, SAFe®, Kanban and hybrid development techniques.
- Portfolio management. VersionOne allows you to use Kanban boards and enables project performers to see the entire picture including ideas, stories, epics and specific tasks.
- Program management. The software includes the PlanningRooms™ module that ensures effective collaboration of steering committees, managers and all team members. In VersionOne, you can develop high-level roadmaps, assign projects to programs and keep yourself in the loop at all times.
- Agile project tools. Work with priorities, releases and sprints, manage retrospectives and perform all habitual Scrum activities within a single interface.
- Reporting capabilities. VersionOne offers multi-faceted reporting and analytics that help you keep up with the schedule and ever-changing requirements.
- Collaboration tools. The software encompasses an advanced communication framework that connects team members, internal and external stakeholders, customers, etc.
- Easy integration. VersionOne supports integration with a bunch of paid and open source solutions like Bugzilla, Eclipse, Git, Microsoft Visual Studio and others.
- Tricky configuration. It’s recommended to contact VersionOne’s customer care to make any significant changes. As with JIRA, there may be quite a lot of work involved.
- May be confusing. It takes time to get comfortable with VersionOne, hiring a mentor to guide you through all features might be a good investment.
- Search needs improvement. There is no easy way to search items using tags or labels.
VersionOne has a free edition with basic functionality, yet it pays off to try more feature-packed plans at $29 or $39 per user per month.
Taiga is an open-source project management environment for agile developers and project managers. Easy to use, catering to major agile methodologies – it’s a nice choice for content developers from various verticals.
- Free and open source. Licensed under GPL, you can find the solution source code on GitHub.
- Agile. Supports Scrum and Kanban methodologies. You can develop user stories in either model.
- Comprehensive toolset. An all-in-one solution that encompasses an issue tracker, videoconferencing, wikis, Kanban boards, backlogs, etc.
- Issue tracking. Issues can be filtered by type, priority, status, creators and many other parameters. If needed, Taiga easily integrates with GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket.
- Video conferencing tools. Connect to AppearIn or Talky to make video calls to fellow team members right from Taiga.
- Built-in wikis for each project. Taiga supports Markdown and WYSIWYG editing.
- A little too green. Taiga is new to the market and needs some tweaking and polishing here and there. Performance is still an issue, however the team is right on it.
- Overwhelming at the start. Taiga pours down loads of info and features on new users with little help available. It takes time to get familiar with the system.
- Default functionality exceeds small project needs. Taiga overdelivers when it comes to short-cycle projects and smaller teams, yet it’s always up to the user to eliminate the unneeded modules.
Taiga offers different plans based on the number of private projects and users. In most common cases, you’ll be able to use the service free of charge. If the volume of your private projects rises, you may have to pay from $19 to $99 per month.
5. Pivotal Tracker
Pivotal Tracker is an agile story-based project management tool that joins software and non-software development teams to work on a common project. The software has a great track record of commercial software releases. Pivotal Tracker makes it easy to share and exchange information, receive real-time updates and meet stringent development deadlines.
- Single view principle. Everyone shares the same viewpoint on current progress and events
- Nice dashboard and collaboration in real time. An all-round picture of your work, customizable layouts and alerts. Instant visibility into all changes and suggestions.
- Stories and epics management. Building blocks of an e-Learning or software project, stories are easy to generate and further develop in Pivotal Tracker. Feel free to share the content and exchange opinions with your peers and supervisors. Place stories into your backlog, push them up and down the iteration plan and receive quick feedback. Stories can be grouped into larger chunks – epics – for building more sophisticated roadmaps.
- Points assignment. The software allows you to assign weights and points to specific features and help accurate evaluation and timely product delivery.
- Reporting and analytics. High-level and low-level metrics of the project for comprehensive performance analysis, including Cycle Time, Cumulative Flow, Rejection reports and many other criteria
- Mobile Support. Pivotal Tracker is available on Apple mobile devices.
- The mobile app was a little slow and missed out on a number of important features. Also, last time I checked, Android users were left behind. Hopefully, this is going to change soon.
- Many users reported that real-time updates in the system were, in fact, not so fast. The Pivotal Tracker team may want to pay more attention to performance issues.
The software offers a 30-day free trial and reasonable paid plans. If you pay annually, you save two months’ worth of license fees. Generally, the pricing options vary based on available file storage and the number of private projects – from $15 to $300 per month.
Assembla is a toolset that supports agile development. The product line includes Assembla Workplaces and Assembla Portfolios. The former encompasses multiple features built around team members, communication and social activity (management, tickets, issue tracking, code repositories, collaboration). The latter provides centralized user management, project analytics and reporting, as well as a branded portal.
- Client workflow management
- Task prioritization for each day/week
- Matching available resources with the spec, change request management
- Easy operation with websites, designs and code
- Agile change review and acceptance tracking
- Smooth integration with Dropbox, Git, Subversion, P4, etc.
- Detailed collaborations so the team stays focused on relevant stuff.
- There is no Gantt chart feature available
- May turn out pricey if you add extra features.
All Assembla tools come with a 15-day free trial period. Assembla is shipped in four price packages, meeting various requirements and demands, including users, workspaces and storage volumes. $24 to $199 per month – feel free to choose the right plan that fits your needs.
According to the FogCreek team, the FogBugz solution is used by 20,000 software development companies. The functionality covers issue and bug tracking, project management, time tracking and communication.
- Bug and issue tracking. Keep an eye on issues, correspondence, tasks and many other items in a centralized location.
- Efficient search engine. FogBugz boasts a powerful search tool that easily pinpoints cases, wiki articles or whatever is worth searching for.
- Easy bug registration. FogBugz helps users to capture bugs through the web browser, BugzScout, email messages, or with the use of a proprietary screenshot feature, allowing for quick creation of cases.
- Mobile support. FogBugz works smoothly on Android, iOS, and Blackberry.
- Notifications. FogBugz enables team members to set up a comfortable frequency of email alerts on updated tasks and other system events.
- The user interface and usability still leave room for improvement. This applies to both the web and mobile interface. It’s somewhat difficult to edit cases, and it gets really confusing when you are away from your computer.
- It could do more as an issue tracking system. When you are running several releases of FogBugz, it’s quite a challenge to keep your finger on the pulse. The software requires solid administrator resources to handle large-scale projects.
FogBugz comes with a free 7-day trial and a 90-day money back guarantee.
The license costs are as follows:
- Up to 5 users – $18/mo
- Up to 10 users – $90/mo
- Up to 50 users – $360/mo.
8. Active Collab
Active Collab started as open-source project and evolved into successful commercial software. It’s a simple yet feature-packed project management tool combining task control, time tracking and billing in a single location. Active Collab operates in the cloud, however if you require a custom web address and unrestricted number of team members, feel free to ask for a self-hosted edition.
- Task management tool. Get insights into your projects including tasks, files, costs, etc.
- Personal dashboard. Everyone has a dedicated dashboard that clearly shows updates and things coming up on the agenda.
- Easy task filtering. Tasks can be grouped into lists so you can find them by labels, assignees and due dates. Alternatively, the user can run a report to get the whole list on a single page.
- Collaboration tools. Active Collab helps project members to stay connected. Users can create notes, leave comments and browse the history of changes.
- Comprehensive calendar. Users may keep track of upcoming deadlines, create custom events and see what needs urgent attention.
- @mentions for easy referencing. Active Collab allows the users to mention other people and get a quick response.
- Time logging. Track the time for your efforts and calculate billable hours if necessary. The software also comes with a timer app that helps you register relevant time stamps and send them to Active Collab.
- Branded Invoicing. Active Collab can generate and distribute branded invoices to customers.
- Some users have reported performance issues, so make sure everything works fine for your mission-critical workflows
- Sadly, Active Collab tends to substitute Gantt charts or Kanban boards with just timeline and column views of tasks.
There is a 30-day free trial. Annual fees come with a significant discount (2 months for free). As always, pricing plans vary by storage space volumes and number of team members, fluctuating between $25 and $299 per month.
Axosoft is another nice software solution for agile project planning, collaboration and incident tracking. It delivers the ability to easily plan releases, analyze progress and performance, manage backlogs, etc.
- Delivery planning. A set of tools to plan and perform releases efficiently.
- Agile workflows. Axosoft helps to visualize your processes through Scrum, Kanban or mixed methodologies.
- Collaboration tools. The whole team keeps up to date on the latest developments and task progress.
- Tech support. Axosoft offers a help desk and portal features to resolve any issues promptly.
- Detailed reporting. Insights into current progress and past activity for all stakeholders involved.
- Easy integrations. The software supports full interoperability with key apps and services employed in project management.
- Some users reported slow tech support, so make sure to post your queries in advance to meet your milestones.
- The dashboard lacks useful widgets, so you have to set up the right look and feel manually.
- The views lack drag-and-drop functionality for improved ease-of-use.
- Reporting uses hours only, so there is no way to build charts based on points or other units.
Axosoft offers paid plans from $10/mo to $320/mo per user. The spread builds on a variety of feature options, like active items tracking, customization, Scrum and Kanban support, brandable portal, installation in a proprietary environment, etc.
Targetprocess is another example of an agile project tool that complies with Scrum, Kanban and custom methodologies. The software provides full transparency of teams, projects, tasks and workflows. Targetprocess comes with a slick interface and professional customer support for difficult cases.
- Agile project management. The software is a great choice for Agile QA teams. TargetProcess supports Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe methodologies.
- Easily project visualization. Targetprocess delivers elaborate graphic reports, editable views, burndown charts, custom dashboards and other tools to ensure easy progress monitoring.
- Bug/issue tracker functionality. The software offers smooth test case management and traditional issue tracking.
- High-level/release/sprint planning. Convenient planning tools help to manage large and small workflow chunks and track performance across the portfolio.
- Insights into backlog data with backlog story map view.
- Mobile support. Targetprocess is available as a native app for iOS and Android users.
- Some users have reported low compatibility with Internet Explorer 11 and Microsoft Edge (while revealing outstanding performance on Chrome).
- There is a certain learning curve associated with the product. Be prepared to invest time when you get started. Also it’s somewhat slow on the primary session, which creates a bad first impression.
- Targetprocess is a tad slower than competing solutions when it comes to generating multiple tasks/stories.
- There is no reporting on historical data in the solution.
TargetProcess offers a free plan with a limitation of 1000 entitles and basic support. Paid packages from $20–25 per user/month will add private clouds, unlimited users and even onsite product trainings. Check out the license options on the Target Process website.
UPDATE! Turns out I missed out on a couple of popular tools that are definitely worth placing on the list. James Finder, thanks for the tip!
Asana is a nice Scrum-ready tool that enables teams to track their work. The software features tasks, projects, dashboards, conversations and everything you expect from this class of products. Asana is available in a web version and as a native app for both Android and iOS. Free for small teams, easy to use – make sure you check it out along with the more celebrated options!
- Task and project management elements allow the user to create and follow tasks, projects, sections, due dates and times, etc.
- Embedded communication tools to comment directly on project tasks, initiate conversations on dedicated team pages, etc.
- Multiple out-of-the-box views, such as My Tasks, Inbox, Search and Files View, to get quick insights into the development process
- Find the files you need and browse through project attachments.
- Team management functionality involves task assignees, followers and guests to ensure a streamlined collaboration process
- The extensive integration list incudes DropBox, Slack, Chrome, Okta, GitHub and Google Drive.
- Task duration and task dependency features are missing. Unless you create smaller chunks of every day activity, this might be an issue.
- The search function provides room for improvement. It’s somewhat inconvenient to apply multiple filters when searching for a specific task. Support for high level queries would be much appreciated.
- The notification feature may require some re-working since the ordering and logic of alerts may be confusing to novice users.
Asana is shipped free of charge to teams of up to 15 people, including unlimited tasks and projects. The paid plan adds unlimited dashboards, private projects, priority support and a bunch of other nice features – for $8.33 per person per month.
12. Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects by Zoho Corp. is another agile web-based project management app that enables teams to plan their activity and keep track of progress. It also allows project members to communicate closely on hot issues and stay up to date on project developments.
- Project Planning. Tasks and milestones help the user to split activities into manageable units. Zoho provides granular project control tools with subtasks, dependencies and recurring tasks.
- Gantt Charts. Detailed view of task progress against the planned scope.
- Timesheets. Work logs with billable and non-billable hours, direct integration with Zoho Invoice for automatic invoice generation.
- Reporting. Advanced BI and analytics on project performance, timetables, estimates, etc.
- Managing document flows. Easy sharing of texts, charts, slides, etc. among team members. There is a version control feature in place to make sure everyone stays focused on the relevant version.
- Integration with Google Apps. Single sign on and direct interoperability with Google Drive, Google Calendar and Gmail.
- Bug tracking. Zoho Projects provides an opportunity to track and log bugs in the system as well as follow code changes made in Bitbucket and GitHub.
- Native mobile apps for iOS and Android enable the user to get all relevant updates on the go, create and edit tasks, modify statuses and log work while being away from the desk.
- Project pages and chat are not included in the standard plans and entail an extra charge
- Lacks privacy between users and user groups
- Good fit for smaller projects, larger chunks of work could get the interface too cluttered
1 project and 10 MB storage are available to Zoho Project users at no cost. Should you require some decent storage space and a larger number of projects, be prepared to pay $25 to $80 per month based on your needs and scale.
Agile is on the rise, and there is nothing conservatives can do about it. In the volatile e-Learning segment, where fast changes become a mission-critical requirement, Scrum and similar techniques take root and oust the good old ADDIE, which doesn’t adapt to reality so easily. Are tools like JIRA becoming a must-have for instructional designers and developers? Not yet, since they are still too focused on software development. However, since many project management programs are open-source and imply endless scalability with third-party and proprietary plugins, throwing specific e-Learning functionality into the mix doesn’t seem like such a big deal. All in all, stay tuned for updates from the agile world and pick whichever tool fits your workflows best and comes at a reasonable price.