Pivotal Task Tracker

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  • User story - a request; who is requesting something and why
  • story - a deliverable; specific request
  • Task - is specific. User story is more abstract, allows more flexibility to person doing the action. Point: specific is good. It allows direct results to be produced for the project. This limits contributions to significant ones only.


Right now with GVCS Development we have the wonderful pickle of having many assistance offers, but many of them are not aligned with our core mission. This ends up wasting organizational time on part of the core GVCS development team. To address this, we are pursuing a task tracking system which by design - or automatically - puts people on the right track.

Properties of Tracker:

  • Low entry barrier to participation
  • Infinite spawnability of new projects
  • By invite only

Metalevel Description of Pivotal Functionality

  • Someone creates a project
  • 5-10 people per project - or too many people trying to work together; at best, small team, collocated, with high level of trust
  • Task list is created (Icebox). These are the user stories or requests as defined above.
  • Someone takes on task, rates its difficulty on a relative scale, and then it can be started.
  • Reasons for using a Tracker:
    • Provides transparency:
      • Tasks to be done
      • If anyone is doing a task
      • What the status is (not taken, in development, delivered, or complete
    • Prioritizing all tasks (in backlog and initial task list)
    • Estimation of time to completion (probably not so useful due to a large number of unknown, critical parameters)
    • Allows stakeholder to make requests and rank them in importance, and allows team members to offer a deliverable on their own schedule; allows team team members' difficulty ratings to influence prioritization by stakeholder

To summarize: this tracker formalizes the basic human interaction pattern of creating shared promises - via request, offer, submission, and acceptance/rejection cycles.

Populating the Tracker with Tasks

Useful Tips

Use Labels

Create labels that represent sub-tasks. Say for example that your machine has three parts: base, box, and button. Naturally, each of these will need engineering drawings. Create the story with the name of the drawing and give it a label of "drawing". The titles of the stories will then appear as:

  • drawing base
  • drawing box
  • drawing button


Pivotal is a hosted, agile, free for public use, project management tool that just "gets out of your way." Unlike some heavier weight tools (say, BaseCamp) that include chat rooms, forums, and so forth, we decided to adopt a modular approach, one that both encourages an agile work flow, and who modularity mirrors OSE's hardware development efforts.

Pivotal is based around the concept of tracking "user stories." User stories are high level requests by a stakeholder, written in plain English, that state who needs what, and why. A user story might be "OSE needs a way for team leaders to sort through all these people offering to help us so we can get the GVCS built ASAP! "

After stakeholders create some user stories, team members can take ownership of the stories, and rate their difficulty on a relative scale. Stakeholders can prioritize user stories accordingly based on their difficulties. Pivotal takes care of estimating a team's capacity by observing how many tasks (of what difficulty) are performed per week, and automatically breaks the tasks into iterations and creates burn down charts, thereby giving project leaders an easy way to estimate how long a given project will take.

Members can optionally break down user stories into finer grained user stories, or they can attach actionable tasks to it. There's also provisions to comment on them, attach files, and move user stories through a cycle of "Not Yet Scheduled, Started, Finished, Delivered, Accepted or Rejected, and Finished." Pivotal takes care of putting the user stories in the right place, and notifying the invested parties: the task requester (often the stakeholder), or the task owner (usually a team member), or everyone on the team (if the team member likes). It's simple, but great at what it does.


  • http://retrospectiva.org/ - Open-source project management tool, intended to assist the collaborative aspect of work carried out by agile software development teams.

See Also