Pivotal Tracker Help


Getting Started

What is Pivotal Tracker?

Tracker is a simple, story-based project planning tool that allows teams to collaborate and react instantly to real-world changes. It's based on agile software development methods, but it can be used on a variety of types of projects. Tracker frees you up to focus on getting things done, without getting bogged down keeping your plans in sync with reality.


Pivotal Tracker embodies, and encourages, a practical agile software development process, as pioneered by Pivotal Labs.


Dashboard

The Dashboard

When you first sign in to Tracker, you'll find yourself on the dashboard. This page shows you all of your projects, recent activity, and important Tracker news and messages.

If you've already been invited to a project, you'll see that project in the project list. Clicking on the project will take you to the project's stories. Creating a new project is easy; click the Create Project button on the dashboard, enter a project name, and hit enter.

The Project Page

You'll spend most of your time in Tracker on the project page, working with stories. You can switch between projects by using the Projects drop-down in the navigation links at the top of the page. You can also turn on "project tabs", on the Profile page, which will show a horizontal list of links to your most recently accessed projects at the top of the page.

Within a project, you'll work with stories in several different panels. When you first open a project, you will see two panels open: the current panel and the backlog. The current panel shows the iteration currently in progress. The backlog shows iterations that will occur in the future. Each iteration holds stories whose point total adds up to the team's velocity. Therefore, the current panel contains stories that are expected to be completed in the current iteration.

Story View

Other panels can be opened by clicking on corresponding buttons in the panel button bar, at the top left, by using the More drop-down menu, or with keyboard shortcuts (type '?' to see them).

  • Done - the iterations that occurred in the past. Done iterations contain stories that have been accepted, in the order in which they were accepted.
  • Icebox - stories that have yet to be prioritized. Stories can stay in the icebox indefinitely, while they are 'on ice'. When ready, a story in the icebox can be prioritized by dragging it into the current panel or backlog panel.
  • Releases - the project's release markers. A story can be dragged onto a release in this panel to move it into that release.
  • My Work - stories that are owned by you (you're working on them), and stories that you requested which are ready to be accepted.
  • History - updates that have been made to stories.
  • Charts - release burn-down chart, velocity by iteration, current iteration burn-up, and a breakdown of story types.
  • Epics - big-picture themes or large features that consist of multiple stories.
  • Labels & Searches - clickable list of labels in the project, as well as your saved searches.
New Story

Creating Stories

A story represents one concrete deliverable or task. To create a new story in Tracker, click the Add Story button at the top of the project page, or just hit the 'a' key. This will open a story detail window in the icebox. The only information that is needed to save a new story is its title - everything else is optional, and can be captured later. The story title is a brief, one-sentence description of a concrete, independent requirement, such as "A user can request a password reset". To elaborate on the story, you can enter more information into the description field.

The user who created the story becomes the "requester", but that can be set to any project member. Ideally, this is someone who speaks for (or is) the project's customer, and can make decisions about story requirements and acceptance criteria.

The owner is the person who will be responsible for implementing the story (normally a developer). It's not necessary to identify an owner when the story is initially created - Tracker allows anyone to start a story. On a typical project, team members start stories from the current iteration (or the top of the backlog) when they finish work on the last story.

You can choose a point estimate, by clicking on one of the buttons in the points field. A point estimate is a relative measure of complexity and risk. New stories start out as un-estimated, and can be left that way until later. In fact, stories are often estimated a few iterations before they are started; that is when more is known about what they will entail.

The labels field allows you to add arbitrary tags to the story, which can represent larger feature themes, or indicate something special about the story, for example that it "needs design". Type into the Labels field to create a new label or choose an existing one, or click on the down-arrow button in the field to see and select from existing labels.

You can come back to a story and change any of its details later.

Types of Stories

There are four types of stories in Tracker: Features, Chores, Bugs, and Releases.

Feature Features are stories that provide verifiable business value to the team's customer. Examples of features include "add a 'special instructions' field to the checkout page", "purchase history should load in half a second", and "add a new method addToInventory to the public API". Features are worth points and therefore must be estimated.

Chore Chores are stories that are necessary, but provide no direct, obvious value to the customer. Examples include "sign up for access to geocoding service" and "Find out why the detailed test suite takes so long". Chores can represent "code debt", and/or points of dependency on other teams.

Bug Bugs represent unintended behavior that can be related to features, for example "login box is wrong color", and "price should be non-negative".

Release Releases are milestone markers, and allow your team to track progress towards concrete goals, for example stakeholder or investor demos, software launches, etc. It's possible to specify target dates for releases.

To help with the big picture, Epics can be used to describe, discuss, and visualize progress of large features or themes that are larger than individual stories. More on these below.

Estimating

Stories are estimated in points, which are a relative, team-specific metric representing the effort it will take to complete a given story. When starting out with Tracker, it helps to ground a point in something concrete - for example, how much can be done in an ideal day, or a typical small feature. Over time, points become more intuitive.

When estimating a story, you choose a value from the project's point scale. Tracker projects have a point scale. You can choose from 3 default scales: 'Powers of 2', 'Linear' and 'Fibonacci' or create your own scale by choosing 'Custom' from your project settings. This is to encourage consistency in the granularity of stories. In general, most stories should be small (1-2 points). Stories with larger estimates may hide unknown complexity, and should ideally be broken down further.

Points

The easiest way to estimate stories is to click an estimate button on a story. Only un-estimated stories have these buttons; once a story is estimated, you'll see a "Start" button instead. To change the estimate of a story, expand it (to show its details), and change the value in the estimate drop-down.

Commenting on Stories

Tracker facilitates discussions about a story through comments. Any team member can comment. Comments are a trail of the thinking around a story, and can only be deleted by their original author or a project Owner. All story commenters receive email notifications, unless they turn them off.

Prioritization

New stories begin their life in the Icebox, or "on ice". You can rearrange stories in the icebox by dragging them up and down, but the order of stories within the icebox is useful for organizational purposes only.

The backlog holds prioritized stories. Stories at the top of the backlog are the most important, and will be worked on first. To prioritize a story, drag it from the icebox to backlog or the current iteration. There are also striped drop zones at the bottom of each panel. (Sometimes stories move directly into Current when you drop them in the backlog; this is because the number of points that can fit is determined by the project's velocity).

Stories that have been started stay in a group at the top of Current, but you can change priorities for unstarted stories at any time by dragging them anywhere in the current panel or the backlog panel. You can also put an unstarted story back into the icebox.

Story Workflow

At the beginning of a typical day, a developer will pick an unstarted story in the current iteration and click its start button (thereby becoming its owner unless it already has one).

When work on the story is complete, the developer will click the finish button. The "deliver" button will appear; when the product is ready for acceptance testing/evaluation, a team member will click the "deliver" button. This will indicate to the story requester (visually in Tracker and via email) that they can now provide feedback on the story by accepting or rejecting it.

If the story requester (or someone else representing the customer) accepts the story, the story will turn green and move to the top of the current iteration. At the end of the iteration, accepted stories move to the done panel.

If the story is rejected, it will move to the end of the list of stories that are currently in progress. It's state will be set to "rejected", and a "restart" button will appear. This indicates to the owner of the story that more work is needed. When a story is rejected, Tracker prompts the rejector for a reason, which subsequently appears as a comment in the story. The owner of the story is notified by email.

Points & Velocity

A point is a relative, team-specific measure of effort it will take to implement a feature. Tracker allows you to estimate feature stories, using a fixed point scale, configured per-project. Currently, Tracker supports three default point scales:- Linear: 0/1/2/3, Powers of 2: 0/1/2/4/8, and Fibonacci: 0/1/2/3/5/8, or you can create your own custom point scale. Only features are estimated, since only features contribute to "business value". Bugs and chores are part of normal engineering overhead, and are not normally estimated (this can be enabled for some projects if you wish).

To use your own set of point values for your project, go to your project settings, choose 'Custom' in the point scale dropdown, and enter a list of numbers, separated by commas.

Custom Points, Expanded

When using a custom point scale, the estimate values will appear as numbers, instead of the bars that you see when using one of the default point scales. Unestimated stories will show the first 5 point values, which you can click to select. If your point scale has more values, you can choose one of them to estimate a story by clicking the '+' button on the right.

Velocity is a measure of project output. It's the average number of feature story points accepted in the last few iterations (1-4). Tracker calculates velocity automatically, and uses it to predict the number of iterations a given backlog of stories will take to complete.

It's possible to override calculated velocity, and experiment with hypothetical scenarios. Click the VELOCITY link to specify a hypothetical value and see the impact on the backlog or future releases. No other users see the change when you override velocity. You can click revert to revert it back to its true value. Overriden velocities are not stored, so velocity reverts to the calculated value when you reopen the project.

At the beginning of a project, Tracker will use a default value for velocity, as specified in project settings. It will also revert to this default velocity after a number of iterations with 0 accepted points.

Release Deadlines

Tracker allows you to monitor progress toward a fixed date release through the use of release deadlines. To specify a deadline, expand the release story and enter a date in the "deadline" field. Tracker will show this deadline as a thick line in the backlog, at the end of the iteration in which the date falls. As the scope of a particular release (the number of points above the release marker) and project velocity change, the release will move accordingly, but the deadline marker will stay fixed to a particular iteration. If the release marker moves past the deadline, it will turn red. This is a great way to manage scope creep, and experiment with different what-if scenarios.

To remove a deadline from a release, expand the release, and click the "clear" link.

Epics, for the big picture 

Epics allow your team to plan, discuss, and keep track of progress of coarse-grained features or themes, at a level higher than individual stories.

Epics

Epics are similar to stories, but they live in their own panel, and can be ordered independent of stories in the backlog, to make the project's big picture priorities obvious to the whole team. You can also use epics for design collaboration of big features, and make it easy for developers to find assets (such as mockups) for a big feature that spans many stories.

Epics are tied to stories via a special label, called the linked label. Apply this label to stories to make them part of the epic. Labels linked to epics are purple, instead of the usual green.

Click on the EPICS button at the top of the project page to show the epics panel, or just type shift-e. The + button at the top of the epics panel creates a new epic. You can also convert existing labels to epics, in the Labels and Searches panel.

Epics Hover

Epics allow you to see "where you are" with big features at a glance. As you prioritize and work on stories associated with an epic (via the linked label), a multi-color progress bar will appear on the epic, allowing you to see how big the given epic is, relative to other epics, and easily see how much of the epic has been accepted, is in progress, prioritized, or on ice. You can hover over the progress bar with the mouse to see a more detailed breakdown, as well as estimated completion date, which is the last day of the iteration that the epic's last prioritized story appears in, in the backlog. Clicking that progress bar, or the small arrow button to the right of it, reveals all of the epic's stories.

Drag and drop stories within an epic's story list to re-prioritize them relative to each other. Dragging a story from the icebox or backlog to an epic's story list panel will move that story to that position and associate the story with the epic. Dragging and dropping stories on the epic itself, in the epics panel, just associates the stories with that epic, without moving them to a new position.

For more about epics, please watch this overview video, or download this quick start guide.

Searching for Stories

Use the search field at the top of the project page to find stories. Tracker will search titles, descriptions, tasks, uploads and comments, and display matching stories. The reveal button can be used to highlight the story in context (for example, in the backlog or the icebox).

Working with Multiple Stories

It's possible to select a number of stories, and perform a few common tasks including move to icebox, move to backlog, and delete. Select stories by clicking on the small square selection box to the right of story titles, and use the Stories drop-down menu to perform an action. Other actions include application of labels and exporting stories.

More Information

For more information and help, see the Frequently Asked Questions page, as well as our user community discussions.