Enterprise Class vs Opinionated Software
Maybe the biggest differences between Mingle and Tracker are their core assumptions and target audience. While Mingle is targeted to the big enterprises in the world, Tracker appears to be there just to help agile teams.
Mingle wants to be able to adapt to every imagineable enterprise setup and already comes equipped with a set of project templates e.g. for XP or SCRUM based approaches. It is, at its core, a fully configureable card management database with all the bells and whistles you can imagine like its own query language for doing custom reports and graphs, or the possibility to define so called “card trees” – hierarchies of card types to e.g. manage story -> task relationships. Wow!
In contrast, about the only things you can configure in Tracker are the iteration length and the estimation scale (linear points, fibonacci points, etc). And this is not a shortcoming – quite the contrary. You can set up and understand Tracker in less than 5 minutes. All other things it simply does as the Pivotals think they should be done: Iteration planning – automated, Velocity tracking – automated, Status flow – predefined. Take it or leave it. But all the decisions they made magically fit quite well with what we want to do anyways. Ok, we had one additional status in our Mingle status flow called “ready for merge” for stories where coding is done, but could not yet be delivered. But we can happily live without that – it was a bit awkward anyways 😉
Where Mingle is more like an assistant, whom you can tell to put a card on the wall or give you this or that report, Tracker is more like an agile coach, making sure all the administrative tasks like iteration tracking are “simply there”.
In my eyes, one of the biggest shortcomings in Mingle is the missing support for a real backlog. Workarounds like priority meta data with “high, medium, low” values or position numbers simply don’t cut it. What I need is a plain list where I can re-order stories with drag-and-drop. The order of stories in that list is simply the order in which the stories will be done. No fancy priorities needed. You guessed it, Tracker offers exactly that: A backlog. Not a crutch.
When working in a list or chart view of stories in Mingle, you can click on a story to get a pop-up div showing you the first few words of the story description plus the meta data attributes like Iteration, Type, Status, etc. In Tracker, a mouse-over is enough to see the complete description, all comments, and all attachments as previews including download links.
This is a small but significant difference: As Tracker shows all the meta data already in the list, it can make use of the preview pop-up to show the real important stuff you need to know about a story (and this happens to be the description, comments and attachments for us). In Mingle, I have to open the whole story to get this. Which brings me to the next difference:
In Mingle, there is a detail screen for a story. That screen works like expected: It shows you everything about the story: description, comments, attachments, history, metadata, etc.
Tracker doesn’t have a detail screen at all. Now you might think: That’s a shortcoming! But, you’d be wrong. Tracker, by default, shows all meta data in the list as icons. And for editing a story you expand the list item in place. This enables you to not only see other stories while editing one, but even edit multiple stories in parallel. This really makes breaking down large stories into smaller ones a snap as you can have the original story open for copying and the target stories open for pasting parts of the original description. Again, a tiny, but significant difference.
Why Tracker Might Not be For You
For me, Tracker is definitely the tool of choice for all my current projects. But your mileage might vary as some of the prerequisites or baked in assumptions Pivotals make might not cut it for you.
- is solely available as a hosted tool. No local install at your company.
- supports Features, Bugs and Chores. If you need more story types then you’re out of luck.
- has neither project nor card hierarchies. If you need to manage your projects in a hierarchical way, you’re out of luck.
- No custom reports or charts. If your boss demands a certain type of chart, you’ll have to put it together manually.
If any of these points is a show stopper for you, go for Mingle. Otherwise, Tracker is the tool for managing your agile projects.