Are there any good alternatives to Pivotal Tracker out there today?

I believe the answer to basically be “no” but I really want to believe something else, if I can.

What constitutes a “good alternative” is going to vary a lot, to the point that I don’t think an article or a listicle is going to have any chance of covering it. I want to see a conversation! I want to see experiences!

David Frank wrote a post about what made Tracker special to him: Why Do We Miss Pivotal Tracker? | DWF’s Journal

I don’t think there’s anything that is special in the same ways, right now.

But maybe people have found other, more compelling things to love about something else? Or ways to set up another tool so that it can be what a team needs?

So, yeah. Has anyone made anything work? What was good? What was painful? What have you tried, what are you considering?

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Prior to Pivotal, I hadn’t heard of Tracker, and I tried a number of things as a PM for a small dev team – I eventually landed on using Trello with that team and it worked reasonably well.

We didn’t do estimates or track velocity, (or pair), but it worked well for it’s primary function as a “shared todo list”.

The thing I wanted as a PM at the time was to have a reasonable view of the current work in progress. Regardless of the tool, the hardest part of that has always been getting everyone to play along and keep things updated to accurately reflect the current state of the world. Trello made it relatively easy to do that (creating new cards was pretty low effort, and dragging a card to the right column was also pretty easy).

I had to use Jira a number of times and it was especially unpleasant to use for that purpose, though wielding it in Kanban mode did address some of the pain.

Tracker helped a lot because it made it very easy to see when things were in the wrong state, and to correct it. The current state of the story stood out with colors and the buttons to start, finish, and deliver a story were easy to use.

But something else that struck me as unique at Pivotal was that there was always a critical mass of people on every team who cared about having things reflect the current state, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get people to keep things up to date. It was also lightweight enough that it served almost equally well as an individual’s (or pair’s) personal todo list within the shared todo list. Individuals often wanted to put stuff in there just to keep track of it for themselves. As an individual on a team, other issue trackers I’ve used often make me prefer to just jot something down on paper instead of putting it into the system.

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Something I’ve heard someone else describe in trying to use Linear was that it didn’t assign a story to the user who clicked “start” - there was a separate assignment drop down step necessary. (Never mind being able to have more than one person on a thing, as you need if you’re pairing!)

When you were using things like Trello, did you bother with individual association? How? A separate WIP column for each implementer?

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They have a built in feature to assign individual cards to people that we used, which showed their avatar clearly on the board view. It wasn’t tied to “start”, but we did use that. There was only one WIP column for the whole team.

The decoupling from “start” is an interesting detail.

In Tracker, as a developer on a team, it was nice to just be able to click “start” and then… well… get started, and have my name automatically be assigned.

But there was still some rough edges we all got used to (having to then manually add our pair as the other owner). And as a PM or some other individual on the team who cared more than the rest to update things to reflect current state, there was some extra steps involved to get it into the right state with the right owners.

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People in the HN thread mentioned Shortcut (née Clubhouse), has anyone tried that?

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I have not, but dropping a link to it here for easy reference:

One of the things I really hope we can accumulate are some detailed experience reports.

It’s actually kind of a lot of work and a substantial time investment to try one of these things. But, especially because of how many experienced consultants I think are in the tracker-lover community, I expect that “we” - people who have an appreciation for what I might call tracker’s “functional aesthetics” have tried a fair number of the other things, collectively.

But maybe not! I’ve used stickies on my own wall, index cards, occasionally Trello, bullet journaling, and Basecamp. I know at least one person who has used Notion. I’ve seen people using Miro.

I have a hypothesis that things that have elements that suggests “Tracker” to me while clearly not being tracker-actually, in the ways that matter, are repulsive enough to me that I am willing to use very different things to avoid them. If that is true and general enough, experience reports will tend heavily to “I was forced to use this one time,” which has a bias all its own.

I’m not convinced Shortcut and Linear won’t end up in a similar situation at any time. I’ve been using Tracker for a decade and would prefer it’s at least that long before I have to switch systems yet again. Has anyone here tried https://plane.so? It’s open source and can be self-hosted or subscribed to as a SaaS. It looks similar in workflow to Shortcut, Trello, Linear, etc. but I’ve not tried to use it myself yet.

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I’ve looked a little bit at Plane and need to look at it more - and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s done more than “look at it a little.”

In addition to having heard that Shortcut and Linear “ain’t it” from people who have tried using them - along with having heard good things, to be clear! - I share the concern that these things are inherently part of a VC-funded corporovore ecosystem that kind of constrains their durability.

Now, maybe that’s okay! Nothing lasts forever, you can’t go home again, etc. So if those tools currently have “it” or develop into “it” I’m probably going to use them for things. But it definitely raises concerns.

Any given software solution is going to be coupled to a business/liveness model and none of those are fully safe. I think in addition to building, configuring, supporting, documenting, etc, the software solutions themselves, getting clear on what Tracker did and why it was good makes it more possible to meet the kinds of needs XP practitioners and teams end up with.

I personally want to make a Tracker successor. I don’t know how far down that road I will get, or how far down it I have to be before people feel like they will get at least a decade of non-switching time out of it. But I suspect that investment in portability and transferable concepts reduces the need to get a low-risk decade as table stakes.

More concretely, being able to move “stories in an order in backlogs” around between systems means being able to try systems more safely, and I think things like an ecosystem of CLI tools that speak the import and output languages of various systems and have a more universal/portable representation of the domain data object might be really important.

Do you think that a standard for moving around “stories in order in backlogs” between tools would make you more likely to try Shortcut and Linear, and/or more focused tracker successors that might emerge over the coming year?

I’ve done okay with Notion, set up as basically just a Kanban.

The weird thing with that particular setup was that the team kept adding new columns. They had design and engineering tasks all in the same board which was awkward because those tasks mostly weren’t the same kind of work.

I like an IRL kanban board, but I am not a fan of digital simulations of same (Trello-style.) Can’t really articulate why.

Is there anything out there that will give me the velocity tracking/release marker functionality and single prioritised list of Tracker’s? I think that’s what I really want.

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Hi There!

Dan here from Shortcut- a PM tool that brings together Product & Engineering Teams.

We recently built an importer to bring your data right over from Pivotal Tracker! A lot of that information can be found here.
I am more than happy to answer any questions on features & functionality

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