TFS : Make the most of it

The decision to buy TFS or Team Foundation Server is not an easy one ; it’s an expensive product, although Microsoft has introduced TFS Basic as of this writing , however several larger organizations with budgets have already invested in the TFS full version. Interestingly enough , where I was before I worked for different groups who all used TFS , but barely tapped it’s potential. TFS almost immediately gets adopted as a Source Control because of  it’s  containment inside Visual Studio IDE. It easily becomes a developer’s everyday tool where developers use it for Source Control as well as Continuous Integration. The Continuous Integration support works off of the IDE again and you need not use any other tool to configure it. The only other configuration that happens is on the Server side where you are hosting the Team Foundation Build Service. So , this is still in the Developer’s paradigm or a Build Master who interacts directly with Developers.

However , this is barely any use of what TFS can offer – TFS is an End To End SDLC tool which can be used for the entire Life Cycle Management of the Project by all team members without having to use anything else. Team members include non developers like Business Analysts, Project Managers , Testers , End Users and other Stake Holders. However the problem with all these non developers using TFS comes with TFS client being Team Explorer which installs a shell of Visual Studio and uses the Visual Studio interface for TFS connectivity . This can turn off a lot of non developers in the team from using it because most of these people are not used to having Visual Studio as an application on their machines.Even the Developers ended up not making full use of it because Project Managers or BAs don’t use it where Requirements and Work Items can be created, against which development can be done and tracked.

If your organization has already invested in TFS , I think you must make a dedicated effort in getting everyone to make use of it so the entire SDLC can be managed efficiently with just one tool.  This blog is not meant to be an advertisement for TFS : the idea is if you have chosen to invest in TFS , get most on your investment by getting the Team to use it as SDLC tool so you get the right value for your money. TFS integrates with Sharepoint and MS Project Manager – two very popular enterprise Project Management and Collaboration tools. The adjustment needs to happen mainly in installing the Team Explorer client which is Visual Studio GUI interface . I have used VS 2008 Team system and started using the 2010. Team Explorer for 2008 is free and a seperate install. Once that’s done you can connect to TFS server and your Team’s project and  manage everything from there itself.

We used TFS for our entire cycle as well as Post Production support for one of our projects. One major issue we found was we had our customers create issues in Sharepoint site of the Team Project . As of this writing the 2008 version lacked a good integration where the Work Items or Issues created by Sharepoint users could not be easily imported into the Visual Studio client interface. We had to Excel export the Sharepoint items and then import them back into Team explorer through Excel, which is a kind of round about way to achieve something that could have been offered as simple one click function from the tool itself. I am not sure if they fixed this in the newer 2010 version , if so then completes the product without any holes for SDLC management.

PS: we used TFS for all of our .Net projects . I know that TFS can be used with other stacks as well , like Java for example – however not sure if the Continuous Integartion would work correctly for Java because TFS Build engine uses MSBuild and the .Proj files to make builds. Anyways if you are a MS shop with .Net projects then TFS is definitely a great project management and collaboration tool.

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    Good article. Many times we forget that it is not the tool but how we use it. If you don’t know how to use it, you are wasting the company’s money.

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