Microsoft Visual Studio Team Services - A great DevOps Toolkit for Agile TeamsReally, I hear you ask? Why is that? Are there not more established players with better tools in the market? Well, let's give it a bit of context...
Traditionally we would run projects at work the old fashioned way, employing a traditional waterfall delivery model. Like everyone else however, we were wondering what all the hype of Agile, Lean, Scrum and goodness-knows-what was all about. You know, all this new age rage that promises to be so much more effective in delivering projects.
Not wanting to miss out, we grabbed the opportunity as soon as a software development centric project rolled along. We decided to challenge ourselves and deliver this one using Agile. But where do you start with all that? Luckily, some of us had some formal yet basic Agile training and with a bit of research and chatting to like minded folk we felt we had a good basis to get going.
We quickly decided that an Agile wall with sticky notes, cards and blutack was not for us, even though I am of the firm opinion that you can effectively manage projects in that fashion. We wanted a tool to help us, as we set out to manage our work items like Epics, Features, Stories and Tasks, needed a Git based repository for our code, and a visual way of reporting our progress.
Looking around for tools, we quickly zeroed in on the Atlassian kit as they are certainly setting the trend in a fragmented DevOps space and appear to have mature offerings that get good reviews. However, we remembered that Microsoft are playing in this space these days with their Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) product. In fact, Gartner recognises Microsoft as a Leader in their 2017 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Agile Planning Tools.
So we decided to have a closer look, and here is where it got interesting. VSTS has a freemium pricing model, where small DevOps teams of up to five people can join a VSTS subscription/workspace, and use this for work item management, Git repositories, load tests and other things for free. Continuous Integration and Delivery pipelines can be set up and appear to work well particularly when used in context of Microsoft's Azure cloud services.
But I digress. The purpose of this post was to outline the key reasons why I think it is worthwhile looking at VSTS if you are a small team wanting to get in on the Agile act and you are looking for a tool to help. So here we go, in no particular order...
Five Good Reasons that make VSTS a great DevOps toolkit
1. Ease of setup and onboarding - get going fastJust head over the visualstudio.com/team-services and sign up for free to create your workspace. Then simply create a New Project, give it a Name and Description, select your Version Control format as Git, and your Work Item Process methodology as Agile.
Voila, this will give you a new project shell, with a dashboard for visualisation, a git repository to manage your code, and a work item management area with initial iterations configure. There is a bit more setting up to do, but it is all very intuitive and within an hour or two you will have everything exactly as you need it to start managing your project
2. It's free for up to 5 peopleYes, free. Free private Git repos, work tracking, load testing (to a degree), CI and CD pipelines. And if you have a MSDN subscription by chance, you don't count against the limit of 5 free people but can access it in addition. Free stakeholder access also included
3. Seamless Git integration with Visual StudioIf you develop in Visual Studio, VSTS will seamlessly integrate. Push and pull / synch your code to the Git repo online. Never leave your IDE.
4. Collaborative work item managementEasily manage your backlog, plan your sprints and work collaboratively using mentions to easily keep team members up to date on progress
5. Visually track progressSprint burn down, cumulative flow and team velocity charts come out of the box and together with your backlog and task board views allow you to keep track of what is happening at any point during your project
VSTS really served us well and was simple and intuitive to use. We delivered the full scope of the project right on time and budget. Reporting and tracking was a breeze thanks to the built in charts that came right out of the box. And did I mention it did not cost us a cent to get the tool? \
I have to admit I am a bit of a fan - not often you get a useful solution like this for free. Give it a shot if you are out there wondering about Agile DevOps tooling to use in your next project, and let me know how you went.
Some further reading:
Visual Studio Team Services