LeanKit if you haven’t heard of it is a popular Kanban board available as a service over the Internet. I’ve used it myself and seen it used on several client sites in the past. However the one question I seem to be hearing lately is “can’t we use LeanKit for our tasks and TFS for code?”.
Its a reasonable question, Team Foundation Server depending on what version you are using gives you quite a lot of functionality out of the box. You could argue that if you have TFS 2012 you wouldn’t need to use a separate KanBan board. However just because you have a KanBan board doesn’t necessarily mean you’re writing code and an organisation may have been set on LeanKit way before TFS was introduced.
So can we have both?
You certainly can, and one sleepy afternoon I decided to see if I could get the two to talk to each other. The initial integration between the two was a lot easier than I thought it would be, anyone who is familiar with REST and the TFS API would find it a breeze! And yes it answered the question of could it be done but it also raised several more questions!
- What about conflicts?
- Does this add value?
Now the “why” is probably self explanatory from the paragraphs above. However conflicts and “Does this type of integration actually add value” weren’t that straight forward. My conundrum wasn’t getting them to work together but more what to do about someone changing something in TFS and another changing something in LeanKit?
So I came up with the following scenario.
“If you are storing tasks and editing them in LeanKit in the first place you’re probably not that likely to want to edit them in TFS? However when you check in your code you will probably want to associate your check in with a task you have been working on.”
While I appreciate the above probably doesn’t apply to everyone, this is one way with the least amount of effort I came up with for integrating the two that could add value. There are several more that I will go into in more detail on later.
Firstly I created a program that polled LeanKit for updates (I would have preferred an event service but couldn’t find one in the LeanKit API). I’ve called my simple polling app “LeanKit Kanban Caller” it basically goes over the tasks in LeanKit and ensure they exist in TFS.
If a task doesn’t exist in TFS the program creates one otherwise it just updates any existing tasks if they are different.
The program knows which task to associate with LeanKit because I altered the default Product Backlog Item WIT from the Scrum 2.0 template in TFS 2012 to store the LeanKit ID (note this type of integration should also work with TFS 2010 on a different template).
For the purposes of my experiment I only mapped the title, description and size fields across but mapping others is easy. I didn’t bother with the State of the item in TFS, partly because the state in LeanKit can be changed so easily by adding more columns while in TFS its a question of editing the workflow on the WIT. While it is possible to map these to each other it would end up making your board inflexible and for the purposes of this scenario we’re not actually using that field.
I have assumed that in TFS everything is a PBI and child tasks are redundant for the purpose of this scenario.
Pros and Cons of my approachPros
- The polling app can sit on any machine that has the Team Explorer client installed and has an Internet connection
- You can associate code check-ins with tasks from your LeanKit board as they now exist in TFS
- Using LeanKit is business as usual as no changes are made to your LeanKit board
- Changing a task in TFS will not update the task in LeanKit
- The states in TFS are not mapped to those in LeanKit
- Analysis tools in TFS for the backlog have no use with this scenario.
How else could we have worked?
There are several other ways in which I could have made this solution work.
- Treat TFS as the master and overwrite anything in LeanKit (no real value)
- Allow updates to go both ways and make use of the datetime stamp to determine if TFS updates LeanKit or if LeanKit updates TFS (could lead to conflicts).
- Make TFS and LeanKit responsible for different fields. This way both can update each other sound in the knowledge that no data will be overwritten.
Are there any other scenarios? If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them.