What is most valuable?
It allows me to do large team planning operations, where I can do "big room planning" and have all of my Agile teams in one session. We can get through all of our planning through the use of the software. With big room planning, we can get it all laid out, understand what the dependencies are, where the interlocks sit, and which sprints can be optimized. The portfolio tracker tool is phenomenal. It gives us the opportunity to look at our features holistically across the entire landscape of the solution, where they fall within a continuous delivery (CD) release when you're looking at a DevOps model. It allows us to apply those features to the DevOps model. I can take that and apply it across all of my teams, look at it when we can pinpoint exactly when that feature is going to be delivered holistically. This is a huge value to our client, who is Cisco.
We can have high predictability, which is what Agile tries to do. We can have low cost of ownership, dealing with “just-in-time” delivery for the monthly releases, because we release on a monthly cycle. We can look at this information and say when those features are going to become available. The portfolio tracker is huge, a phenomenal piece of the add-on functionality that's been wonderful.
I also like the use of apps, and the ability to use the customized HTML capability of the apps. We're working with the consultants to design a custom look and feel for specific types of reports that we need. It's very open architected, so we can take advantage and utilize the software as we choose to use it, and have a really good experience with it.
There's some room for growth. There's some more functionality we'd probably like to see in it, but at this point, it's been a stalwart product for us.
How has it helped my organization?
It's optimized how our organization runs. We can look across multiple teams, using Scaled Agile Framework Methodology (SAFE), so that we can look at various release trains, and how that then flows up to the overall program budget. Each train has its own unique budget line. I can look holistically across all the trains and have it flow up to the program office’s budget. I can track personnel within the software. We can do all of the quality functionality and spread that across multiple tracks. In this way, one track is not going to be heavily burdened by taking on the quality function.
The big value add is not only the ability to do Agile, but scaled Agile as well, utilizing the budget functionalities. It’s really top notch in that regard, with the ability to work with the personnel function of the software. It gives us another holistic view of the overall functionality and operations that we have providing a value add to our customer, Cisco.
What needs improvement?
The main area to improve is performance. If they can get that performance improved, they'd be golden. They really need more in the DevOps modeling, and the use of Kanban. Their Kanban area is fairly weak. That's probably the one area of the tool that, outside of performance, really needs improvement. If they could add more robust Kanban functionality, then they would have the best of both worlds. You would have a DevOps capability, Scrum capability, and Test Driven Development (TDD) within the tool.
That would also help from the quality perspective. When you're dealing with your DevOps team, especially when you're trying to do releases on a monthly basis, they need to be tied into deadlines and be able to track through a Kanban mode. They need to know about the workflows, the work in progress, and how it moves through the workflow. That would probably be one of the main areas I would tell them to put some energy into the Kanban side of the tool. If they did that, then they would have pretty much the complete solution. They are losing a lot of business to Trello.
There are performance issues that nag the product. I would like them to build out a more robust Kanban workflow methodology system. Then, I would open up the APIs more. I would allow for third-party solutions to be able to plug in easier. There's a little bit of work that they'd need to do.
There's a couple areas where that they can make significant improvements, and I'm sure they're working on it.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
Stability is very good. The solution rarely goes down. When it does go down, we make a couple of phone calls and we get a really clear estimate of when it'll be back up. We get e-mail alerts when things aren't going too well. The biggest issue that the product needs is to improve is performance.
Ever since the Agile Central package (formerly Rally) came out, performance has always been an issue. It lags behind, at times, especially when generating large reports. That's probably the number one area for improvement. They know that. I'm telling them nothing haven't heard before. If they can get performance at a much better level, I think the product would be really well received for other companies, who tend to shy away from it from a performance perspective.
One of its main competitors, AgileCraft, is a high performing product. It's got really good performance. They really need to be competitive with some of the other products on the market. I have used it extensively. It's a great product. Its premier focus is being a safe solution, where Rally tends to be a Swiss Army Knife. It's more for all encompassing type of Agile work. Whether you're doing SAFE, standard Scrum, Test Driven Development (TDD), Feature Driven Development (FDD), these are all areas for which Rally can be utilized. That's what makes it a very multiverse tool and allows you to work holistically across an organization, where AgileCraft has a very specific, narrow focus.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
Scalability is very good. No problem there. It will scale as you need it to. That's not a problem.
How is customer service and technical support?
I personally haven't used technical support. My interaction has been through our consultant. We have a dedicated team of consultants with whom we work. If we ever run into an issue, we usually just pick up the phone, call our consultant, and explain what's going on. We do have support through a Cisco support group. They're extremely responsive. When we run into a problem, they usually solve it within about an hour or so.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
Vendors who were on our shortlist were JIRA (Atlassian) and AgileCraft. At the end of the day, we chose Agile Central, mainly for its robust capabilities and the ability to talk to other database systems. For example, I can bring in all those JIRA defects or issues, into the CA central product, because of the open API architecture. Using the SOAP API codebase, I can then have one of their consultants write me a custom hook that allows me to bring in all the data from those other databases. The other two solutions didn't have that open-ended modular framework that allowed me to pull in information from older systems, whether it's coming out of Excel spreadsheets, or older systems, like JIRA. That's one of the big things that we look at.
What other advice do I have?
When making a decision to switch products, I consult others on tool choice based on the number of departments they have. I went in as the Agile coach to Cisco and recommended that they move to this solution. One team I was working with used JIRA. It's an option that Cisco allows some of their departments to use. I got them out of JIRA into Rally, mainly because JIRA is older technology, and it's too lightweight for a major corporation such as Cisco.
This tool allows you to talk to the rest of Cisco. If you've got one group running one solution and you've got another group running another solution, they can't speak to each other. They can't share data. They can't assign issues to each other. By moving one off one platform and moving them onto Rally, or to Agile Central, we can now holistically start to work across organizations, and see each other's problems.
The only other big issue is their workspaces need to talk to each other. That's another area for improvement that would be good. There are a few areas they had to work on, but cross-workspace communication is the main one. If they could solve that problem, that would be amazing. I would be so happy. Even in my own group for which I'm providing consulting services, we have multiple workspaces and we can't talk to each other. That can get a little crazy. We have to create this third solution that we all feed into. Obviously, nobody pays attention to it, because everybody is so focused on their own lane.
In terms of selecting a vendor, I look for the responsiveness to quality concerns. Whenever you've got an issue, the timeliness that they'll come back to you to resolve those technical issues is important. I also look at whether or not they have consulting services themselves for customization work The other part of it is just overall “solutioning”. I want to know if they have a complete suite of products, or if it is just a standalone, a one-off. If it is, then I have to go bring in three or four other additional products to augment the single product. Then you've got multiple bids and you're talking across multiple vendors, and that can be a headache. I just want to do one-stop shopping.
That's what CA provides holistically across the entire platform. They're going to give me everything that I need. Another factor is with one vendor, you work on better pricing structures and a better deal. Whether it's in service, or getting a discount on other products, you can weave all that in as an opportunity going to one vendor.
My advice to other is take a test drive. They have a sampling system that you can demo. They'll give you a space to put your product in and try to go through the whole workflow process. Make sure you go through the whole workflow process. Really see and understand exactly the functionality that the solution has to offer. A lot of people stop at the very top level, the one-inch level. Go underneath the wave and dig down into the solution. There's a lot of great opportunity there.
One of the neatest opportunities, because of its HTML capability with its apps, is the ability to embed a lot of my Smartsheets right into the solution. I can take team rosters and embed them. I can track monthly performance reports and a number of different functionalities that are available to me via the Smartsheet. I can update my Smartsheet, and it'll automatically be reflected in Rally. That is huge in the CA Central product. That's significant for me.
Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
Dec 19 2016