Tools of the trade

Scott Hanselman is nothing short of a blogging god. Seriously, he is. Scott has a really good good post about the ultimate developer tools, which he updates around this time every year. Since I am not a developer, this list is of limited interest to me, at least in a work context. However, during Christmas dinner I started talking with my sister’s boyfriend about software development processes, he’s working on getting his start up off the ground, and I thought of the ultimate developer tools list. So, in stead of emailing a long list of links, I thought it might interesting to compile a list of tools for analysts and product owners. So without further ado, here’s my list of tools of the trade:

Rally: Rally is an online tool that allows a scrum team to manage their sprint backlog as well as their product backlog. As a product owner you simply create you’re a card for every feature you want in our product, and then the development team take these cards and add them to their sprint backlog. As far as I can tell, there’s no support for user stories, but you can always put these on your Sharepoint site.

JIRA: JIRA is Atlassian’s eqivalent to Rally. We used it in my previous work, and it worked very well. JIRA allows you to create Kanban cards as well, and has a pretty nice dashboard feature. As far as I remember, there are a couple of nice features for the project managers as well.

Confluence: Confluence is also made by our good friends at Atlassian, and I am a pretty big fan. It’s basically a wiki with limited blogging functionality. It’s really easy to use, and you can create teams wikis as well as a personal wiki, that also works a bit like a blog. I used both features quite a bit, but I think the blogging functionality could benefit from an update. Support for Windows Live Writer for instance.

Any emails over five paragraphs are in my opinion a blog post, and Confluence is so easy to use that it becomes an easy thing to incorporate in your daily work.

Blogging: If you are looking for more of a dedicated blogging platform, there are quite a few useful options out there. I prefer WordPress, but Community Server and to some extend Sharepoint offer workable alternatives.

Pencil project: For my mock up needs I currently use the open source tool Pencil project. It is a nifty little tool, which allows you create simple mock ups. It is not the most advanced piece of software, but it serves a basic need very well.

WebMatrix: For HTML editing I tend to use WebMatrix. Well, I used to. I don’t have the rights to install it on my current work PC, and to be honest it might be overkill too. However, I used to have copies of our front end HTML, which I would modify to reflect new UI requirements. Once you get to spend some time with it, it is a really fast way to create mock ups. The added benefit is that you can use the correct CSS in you design, thereby letting the developer know exactly how you want the front end to look.

I have tried to get into Microsoft Expression, which is now a free tool. As far as I can tell, it is a really useful tool, but to be honest, I find it pretty hard to learn. It might be me who is too dense, but I like my tools fairly light and very easy to use, and I am not sure Expression is just so. That being said, I fully plan on leaning it once I start my paternity leave.

As an analyst XML is the cornerstone of any project. Normally I use XML Spy, which is pretty much the standard app for working with XML. However, it’s a fairly expensive piece of software, and fortunately, there are alter alternatives.

XML Notepad is another little useful tool, however, I rarely use it for some reason. It’s probably because I use Notepad ++, which is really excellent, especially if you know how to work with regular expressions. When it comes to extracting data from large chumks of XML there’s nothing quite lik eit.

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