It can be a daunting task to look for an agile project planning tool. You will find a plethora of options – even free agile project management tools.
This post focuses on three hosted agile project management software tools – from Atlassian, Microsoft, and Google. You will find comparisons of key attributes, pricing, and strengths against market competitors.
Agile Project Planning Tool Features
The features needed will depend upon the specific needs of the project teams and stakeholders, as well as the skill levels and ways of working. The diagram at right shows the ultimate robust Development Operations (DevOps) process. It is similar to an agile project planning process for a larger and more sophisticated project.
I am assuming for this review that users will want something fairly simple and functional for the following three applications:
- Issue repository – For tracking requirements, tasks, big tickets, etc.
- Collaboration workspace – Provides a wiki-like project dashboard for team members and stakeholders to find up to date project info such as plans, schedules, meeting notes, test reports, documentation, etc.
- Code repository / repo – Where developers keep the latest versions of code. Includes ability to use branch structures to support continuing development while maintaining version control.
Based on those needs, the following list of considerations will be used to compare the three solutions:
- Features – Robustness of functionality offered, whether needed or not
- Ease of use – Setup, user interface, and overall intuitiveness
- Extensibility – Ability to grow with needs of growing team
- Ease of migration – If moving from another platform, how easy
- Integrations – How closely, and easily, tied in with other useful and popular applications
- Cost – Affordability – Level of commitment, and easiness of paying
Let’s take a look at each of the three software/service providers for an overview. What do they provide for an issue repository, collaboration workspace, and code repository (repo)?
Atlassian: JIRA, Confluence, and Bitbucket
Atlassian is a software company headquartered in Australia. Atlassian provides a whole suite of software and services. While the Atlassian tools list is extensive, for the requirements focus here, we will focus on three:
- JIRA for Issue Repository: ‘JIRA document management’ is used to plan, track, release, and report all through the software development process. Planning includes creating issues such as requirements, user stories, and tasks for the software development team. Tracking includes using a Kanban board to prioritize, follow progress, and identify and fix bugs as part of the process. It enables the team to release software with confidence that a structured, effective process was used. Robust reporting capabilities are available to support.
- Confluence for collaboration workspace: Confluence supports the team in building, organizing, and collaborate on work on a shared portal. Just about anything important to the team can be made available in Confluence documentation. This includes team calendar, formal requirements, plans of all sorts, specifications meeting notes, schedule, and more.
- Bitbucket for code repo: Bitbucket provides extensive development capabilities. These include continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD), code review workflow, branching, security checking, and configuration management. Many of these capabilities will scale to the enterprise level. However, small development teams can easily scale it down to support their needs.
JIRA, Confluence, and Bitbucket pricing is in the comparison chart below.
Microsoft Azure Platform: Boards, SharePoint, and Repos
Microsoft is known worldwide and provides a product for just about anything related to software. For agile project management planning, it provides suite of products under the label Microsoft Azure.
For the requirements focus here, we will focus on:
- Boards for issue repository: Track work with Kanban boards, backlogs, dashboards, and customizable reporting so support planning and work item tracking.
- SharePoint for collaboration workspace: Separate from the Azure suite, it provides online collaboration, information sharing, and document management capabilities.
- Repos for code repo: Repos is scalable for the smallest to the largest team. This includes repositories pull requests, code search. It is used to securely push code, configuration manage, branching (forks), continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD), and automated code review and signoff.
Microsoft Azure pricing is in the comparison chart below.
Google Cloud: Cloud Source Repositories, plus ‘Build Your Own’
What is Google Cloud Services? In short, the Google Cloud can provide capabilities that can be attractive to some teams but fall short for others.
Here is what Google Cloud offers for our needs.
- ‘Build your own’ for issues repository: Infinitely flexible for teams that want to, and can, build their own custom issues repository using Google tools provided.
- ‘Integrate/choose your own’ for collaboration workspace: Choose from among various OOTB Google piece part applications to assemble your own workspace.
- Repo for code repository: An industry standard code repository to store, manage, and track code. Scalable from the smallest team to enterprise. Collaborate using private Git repository, and extend coding workflow to other Google Cloud tools.
Complete pricing is hard to determine. There are different permutations and combinations of products and self-developed capabilities.
Comparing Atlassian, Microsoft, and Google
The following simple comparison rating chart was built, based on the factors discussed above. The ratings are based on judgment, as objective as possible, and not on extensive research and data.
The chart indicates superiority for the Atlassian offering – again, depending on the team.
For further perspective, the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Agile Project Planning Tools can provide some insight. Below are the charts for 2018 and 2021. Atlassian is highlighted with the green diamonds, and Microsoft Azure with the red diamonds. Google tools were not included in the chart, perhaps because they were not defined well enough as a product.
The charts show that Microsoft Azure and Atlassian were rated similarly in 2018 – both in the upper left quadrant, the Challengers.
By 2021, Atlassian had moved upward and to the right to the Leaders quadrant. In facto, Atlassian is THE Leader – more advanced than any other competitors.
By contrast, Microsoft was still in the Challengers quadrant. It actually moved downward a bit toward Niche Players, but also slightly right toward Leaders.
The last area for comparison is a pricing chart. Note that the pricing chart is for online hosted versions, not on premises.
The chart shows that both Atlassian and Microsoft Azure products are fairly comparably priced. For very small teams, Atlassian may be more attractive. It has a free limit of 10 users, versus 5 for Microsoft.
Many small teams can actually get a free online agile project management tool with either provider! The comparative costs even out at higher numbers of users.
Note that the cost of SharePoint can be substantial for Microsoft users. Without SharePoint, the Microsoft Azure cost is much lower than Atlassian for higher numbers of users.
Note: This comparison provides a rough order of magnitude (ROM) of what it might cost. The circumstances, and thus choices and costs, will vary depending upon the situation.
Note: I did not include Google Cloud in the price comparison chart. The Google products were so customizable, and largely not out-of-the-box (OOTB). Google Cloud Repositories, which is OOTB, is priced based on users per project. It is free for up to 5 project users, 50 GB storage per month, and 50 GB network egress per month. Above those limitations, it is $1/user/project/month, $0.10 GB/mon for storage, and $0.10 GB/mon for network egress.
Atlassian appears to be the winner. However, that is surely situation dependent. A change in how any one or more factors can change the result for a specific team. All three are worth considering, and as the Gartner Magic Quadrant chart indicates, there are many other good providers that also may be worth considering.
I recommend these project management templates and strategy frameworks (paid links):