Backlog is a project management tool focused on serving software development organizations. It focuses on various aspects of a software development cycle and provides tools for multiple people to collaborate. A lot of its features are more relatable and useful for people working around the software development industry.
- Easy to set up projects.
- Functional nomenclature for various tasks.
- Allows creation of Git and SVN repositories.
- Customizable view.
- Simplifies bug tracking.
- Allows creating Wiki on the platform.
- Gantt chart view is available.
- Easy for team members to communicate.
- Abundant integration options.
- No Kanban boards.
- Time tracker not available.
The nature of project management varies with the kind of project being handled. An industrial project might need management of another kind when compared to even management.
Most project management tools are based on the idea of breaking down a project into smaller tasks and jobs which can be mentioned and identified in terms of their ends and beginnings.
There is no doubt that it is an excellent method of going about completing the task in most of the cases, but sometimes breaking down a project into measurable tasks might not be enough.
Some projects and tasks may be unpredictable, preventing you from setting any fixed parameters for them. There may also be a few cases when a project manager may encounter a roadblock which was never a part of the discussion while mapping the blueprint of the project.
Backlog does not promise to be the one stop solution for all kinds of projects, but it may be the only project management tool that a software development organization may need. It works equally well for individuals working in the field.
Since they are primarily focused on projects related to software development, it is appropriately customized for developers. Bugs are something that developers encounter now and then, and Backlog has got a dedicated tool to monitor their handling.
In this review, we will go through all the features of Backlog and see if they will be beneficial to developers. It will also be interesting to see how this tool is different or similar to other project management tools available in the market.
There are some static fields when it comes to project management, such as team management, task monitoring, scalability, etc. We will keep an eye on what Backlog does when it comes to handling all these fields.
Start with listing projects and underlying issues
Let us start with the basics of project management on this platform. The first thing you would need to do will be to list a project to handle.
Backlog is a web-based application, and it provides you with a Space ID in which you can manage projects.
Listing a project is a simple enough task. You need to name the project and give it a project key at the beginning. Project key is not a very common feature on project management applications, Backlog considers it a better way to identify and access projects. They recommend you keep it short and concise.
You can choose to manage advanced settings for a project either at this point or at a later stage. It will include options like enabling/disabling charts and subtasks inside the project.
The next level after projects will be ‘issues.’ Everything you mention under a project on Backlog will be an issue. So, you need to add an issue once you have created a project.
There are four kinds of issues that you can mention under a project. These four categories are ‘task,’ ‘bug,’ ‘request,’ and ‘other.’ These categories don’t have much to differentiate between them other than their names.
Users need to choose an appropriate category for issues to make sure they and others can sort these issues better when needed. For instance, addressing a bug in the system might be a bigger priority when compared to a task or a request.
These categories also help other team members identify issues they need to handle. For example, a person from the support team can get into a project and open up only the request issues rather than going through all of them to find out which one he needs to address.
However, Backlog is advanced enough to handle task assignment better, and we will discuss it in later sections of this review.
After you decide the project, you can give it a name and describe it in detail for everyone to get a better idea about it. This is the first time one gets to see how Backlog is more focused on serving the needs of developers.
Generally, project management tools do not provide such description areas for tasks and issues. Since developers will be collaborating on this tool, they might need a lot more details about an issue than what is usually needed in other projects.
If it is a bug or a request, then the person adding the issue will have to be specific about the job so that the assignee can handle it better and there are no wrong turns made because of insufficient information.
The description section comes with a lot of customizability options making it more flexible. One can format text, add bullets, include a checklist, add tables, write codes, add links, etc.
It allows one to include a lot of information about the issue on the tool itself making it easier for the developer to tackle issues, and she won’t have to jump from one tab to another looking for information.
After the description, there are a lot of attributes to manage the product better. At first, we have the status, which is ‘New’ by default when you set up a new project. Once you start managing the project, you will get to change the status into subsequent stages such as ‘In progress’ and ‘Completed.’
You can set the priority level of the issue. If it is a regular task, you may want to keep it at ‘Normal,’ while you might prefer to keep all the bugs at ‘High’ priority. You can create milestones for a project and add them to monitor its progress even closely.
Milestones will give you more insights about the completion of a project when compared to regular status options. It will help you know if the project is near completion or if it will take more time than what you expected.
You can assign the issue to various members of the team. We will discuss this part in more details in a later section of this review.
Another thing which makes Backlog more relevant to developers is that you can add versions on issues. It will help one identify various stages of the software, a feature which would only make sense in a project management tool for software developers.
You can mention the start and due date for a project, and even mention the estimated number of hours it is supposed to take before completion. There is an option to specify the actual number of hours it took as well.
It can help after the completion of a task to make better estimations next time
You can attach files to an issue which you feel might be relevant for it, and there is an option to notify other team members about the project. These members are usually different from the assignees.
You can notify a department head when an issue is added concerning to their department, or to someone who might have been previously related to that project to get their valuable insights on it.
You will get a pretty decent idea about the capabilities of Backlog while listing a project and issues under it. The parameters you see will be what you can access while handling the task.
However, it does a bit more than what you may assume while adding a task. Let us explore this tool, even more, to dig out some more features and capabilities.
The dashboard and project handling
Once you have added a few projects and issues under them, you will get to see a boiled down version of everything when you visit the dashboard.
It helps the user have a brief look at all the issues and search the ones which matter the most to him using available filters.
You will see two columns of data when you get on to the dashboard. The one on the left will show all the projects and issues you have got to handle. The one on the right will have all the recent updates on these projects.
It includes changes that you have introduced on the issues and the changes introduced by others as well. The updates are listed in the order of their occurrence. You don’t get to see them sorted by projects, on the dashboard.
You can search for projects on the dashboard which filters out tasks as well, but the updates section remains the same. You will need to get into managing these products to see the updates related only to them.
It would have been much better if updates were visible according to projects on the dashboard itself since the user could have easily checked the progress made on each product without the need to get into all of them individually.
The top panel on Backlog is helpful when it comes to filtering projects and issues. It has tabs called ‘Projects, ‘Recently Viewed Issues,’ ‘Recently Viewed Wikis,’ and ‘Filters.’ The names of the first three tabs make it easy to understand what to expect from them.
You can use the fourth tab if you have already got some filters saved on this tool. When you look for issues in a project, you can filter them under multiple parameters such as category, milestone, assignee, and all other parameters you have entered for the issue.
You can always use a combination of these filters and save the combination for future reference. Saved filters will be available in the top panel for you to readily browse the issues of your interest. We like this feature a lot. It helps the user get through the mountain of projects and issues listed on their dashboard to find the one they want to address first.
There is one more feature which allows users to identify projects and issues. You can change the theme for different projects so that it is easier for you to identify them at first look on the dashboard. People use color coding in a lot of creative ways, and Backlog has kept the room open for that kind of creativity.
Backlog allows team members to differentiate between tasks, bugs, and requests. It gives you a better idea of how one can use this tool in various ways.
When it comes to tasks, you may have well laid out blueprint of how everything is supposed to be done. Usually, tasks will come with set dates and steps for competition. One can breakdown tasks into checklists to ensure better monitoring.
Tasks will generally be predictable in nature, whereas requests and bugs will be the ones which don’t allow much for planning.
It is bugs and issues handling what makes Backlog a better option for developers. These terms are more common in software development organizations when compared to others.
Since requests and bugs come uninvited, they need a slightly more flexible platform for better handling. There can be a lot of unknowns which make it difficult for members to deal with them.
Bugs usually require more attention and better handling as they can affect the whole system. Requests come uninvited, but there is always a possibility of stalling them and staying relaxed.
Since dealing with bugs is such an important part of any software development organization, we have dedicated a separate section to it in this review. Let us see how Backlog helps teams deal with them.
Developers come across bugs more often then what most of them would prefer. But it is difficult to create a bug free software in just one go. It can be considered a part of the process. Dealing with bugs ensures that the program gets better with every iteration.
Teams often use bug tracking software to deal with issues systematically, but a lot of these tools are not properly equipped for developers to get rid of the bugs.
Some don’t allow for satisfactory documenting while there are some which don’t have proper communication channels for teams. Backlog promises to avail all the necessary tools which would let users comprehensively deal with any issues related to bugs.
The application promises to assist in all the four stages of bug tracking, that is, capture, prioritize, track, and release.
Capturing a bug refers to documenting as much information about it as possible. Backlog not only provides traditional methods of documenting issues, but it also allows one to log information about the bug in unique ways.
You can fill details against parameters such as priority, versions, due date, estimated hours, etc. Then you can type in more information and details about the bug in the description section. It will help others know more about the issue.
Since the description box allows for so many forms of input, including codes, it makes it easier for a person at the other end to understand the issue.
The next stage of bug tracking is prioritizing. It is necessary that you provide the right priority to a bug to ensure it doesn’t affect other areas. Some bugs will have higher priority than the others.
Backlog helps you identify and assign different priorities to bugs. You can take help of Gantt charts to assess the importance of other tasks which are currently under progress. You can choose the suitable priority standing for the bug in hand and assign it to members who would be able to deal with it.
The platform will also help you know if the person already has a lot on his plate. It helps ensure that team members don’t get overburdened by work. You can have the bug prioritized after your regular task if it doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat.
The penultimate step is to track the bug. Backlog allows you to keep a close eye on all the steps being taken to get rid of the bug. One can easily inform others about the changes they have introduced, or they can also ask for inputs from others.
Users can easily mention others in comments to make sure the other person gets notified about the comment. It is an easy and efficient way to keep everyone in the loop.
The final step is to release the bug. Since Backlog provides integration with Git, one can release the bug update directly from this tool and keep a record of it the same time. It reduces the need for continual switching between different tabs.
Bug tracking on Backlog also shows the competence of this tool when it comes to dealing with other issues. One can have similar communication channels when dealing with requests and have similar stringent monitoring when assessing the progress made on various tasks.
Some common and some exclusive features
Backlog comes with a lot of features which help users in project management in one way or another. Some of these features are quite common but effective tools when it comes to project management. There are also some features which are usually not available on a platform like this.
Let us go through some of these features and try to understand how they make life easier for users.
Git & SVN
When it comes to collaborations, Git and SVN help them keep everything organized. Backlog allows you to integrate projects with Git and SVN, allowing one to make all the necessary changes in the source code from within the tool.
Those who don’t know much about Git and SVN, these are systems which help to share codes in such a way that one can easily backtrack the changes made on the source code. It also helps developers introduce changes in new code or add new branches to it without interfering with the work done by others on the same project.
Since tracking is easier on Git, it is effortless for one to find out where things went south, and therefore, fix the issues. One can create subversions and Git repositories on Backlog, and keep track of all the changes introduced by developers.
Once you enable Git or subversions for a project, you can manage all the Git components such as Branches, Pull requests, commits, etc.
It helps team members communicate better, and everyone is aware of all the modifications being made in the source code. Members can comment on pull requests and let others know about their opinion or provide their feedback and suggestions.
The integration also helps in monitoring all the changes introduced on the Git. The good part about this feature is that one will not have to leave the tab or the platform. All the relevant information will be available in a single place.
Even if you are getting Backlog for a software development organization, it is not necessary that everyone in the organization will be a coder or someone with the capabilities of a coder. There will be people from the marketing department, legal department, and many others.
These people may also need something similar to Git, where they can introduce changes over already available content. However, this solution should not require one to have knowledge of coding or computing languages.
Backlog provides a solution to this problem in the form of Wiki. One can create a Wiki for projects which may contain all the literature relevant to that project. Members can edit the content on Wiki as and when any changes are introduced on the project to ensure that the literature keeps getting modified along with the progress made on that project.
It is a great way to enhance collaboration between various team members. There are a lot of ways to use Wiki if one is creative enough. One can use it to mention guidelines or provide templates for tasks. It can obviously be used as a place where everyone can provide inputs related to the project.
It can be used to list out instructions as well. Wiki is quite flexible when it comes to formatting and structuring content on this platform. You can include lists and tables, add links, include codes, add tags, etc.
Tags act as bookmarks on the wiki page and allow you to find specific content on the page. With Wiki in place for a project, one can ensure that team members or people who have been assigned issues under that project do not miss out on any necessary information.
It allows one to go as descriptive as they want to be about a project.
Gantt charts are a popular method of monitoring progress made on a project. Gantt chart is used across a lot of industries where there are a lot of tasks and people handling those tasks.
It is quite an old method, yet it is widely preferred by project managers around the world simply because of its effectiveness. It is being used in large and small businesses alike.
The most impressive part about a Gantt chart is that it maintains a logical relationship between the tasks being performed. Monitoring the progress of a project over a sequence is much easier than dealing with a lot of small tasks with no relation between them.
Backlog have included this powerful project management tool in their arsenal to help users have a better grasp over the overall completion of the project.
One does not need to do anything special to create a Gant chart for their project on Backlog. The tool creates one for the user. It shows how tasks have progressed over workflow stages and who has been working on what task.
It brings in due dates into perspective as well. You can clearly see when a member started working on an issue and how much time it took them to get through it.
Gantt chart is especially useful when there are so many issues involved in a project that it becomes difficult to go through all of them. The color coding for different stages of a task tells you about the likeliness of completion of a task in the near feature.
Another one of the unique features on Backlog is a burndown chart. It is a tool which tells the user about the likeliness of completion of tasks and project within the due date.
It measures time remaining for a due date against the percentage of the job left to be completed. It is a great tool to know if one is progressing at the correct pace or not.
You can have these charts for projects you add in Backlog to make sure you don’t fall behind the pace you have set down for you. It accounts for milestones to calculate the progress rate and give you a better sense of what the graph means when it comes to task completion.
A burndown chart will have three lines of different colors. The green one tells about the actual progress you have made on a project. It advances as you reach milestones on a task and progress through different stages.
The yellow line is for the estimation for the completion of a task. It is based on due dates you have set for the project and the milestones and other stages you have set for it. The actual completion line and this yellow line will coincide if everything goes as planned.
Then there is one grey line which shows how things would have been under ideal conditions. It considers the total amount of time and the whole task rather than splitting it into stages.
As you gain more experience with this chart and learn about your own pace, you can use the ideal line as reference for next time you set up targets.
No project management tool is complete without a complete array or integrations available at the disposal of a user. There are so many productivity tools aimed at achieving better efficiency in certain areas.
People use these tools to enhance their productivity, and it only makes sense that a project management tool comes with integration options such that the user can make the most out of her productivity app and the management tool.
Backlog also comes with the options for such integrations. They allow users to integrate Backlog with a lot of the applications developed by their parent company, Nulabs.
Some of the worthy mentions for the allowed integrations are Slack, Google sheets importer, iCal Sync, Redmine, etc.
Some of these integrations help with better communication and connectivity. For instance, with Slack integration, you can notify others and get notified yourself about any update on the project.
Google sheets importer can help you create a lot of issues at once without the need for typing in every single detail about all of them.
Another impressive fact about integration on Backlog is that they provide you API access. You can use it to have your own integrations and add-ons.
Collaborating with other members
One of the key factors responsible for the success of a project management tool is how good it is at allowing people to work coherently on projects and complete tasks.
Software development is one of the industries where a lot of people work as a freelancer, and team members are usually far apart. There can even be in completely different time zones reducing the usefulness of features such as live chats and video calling.
The distance can make it incredibly challenging to keep everyone in sync. But since it helps in getting better resources and better ideas by involving freelancers in a project, one can only expect freelancing and teams with members in different parts of the world getting more common in the software development industry.
Backlog has got some tricks up its sleeves to help users collaborate better on this tool. But let us first start with building a team and adding team members.
There are two ways for you to add a new member on Backlog. The first way to add members is by adding them from the dashboard’s top panel. The members you add this way can later be included in one or multiple projects that you have in your account.
The other way to add members is by inviting them from within the project. The members invited this way will automatically get added to the project you used to invite them.
But we feel there is one flaw in how members can be added on Backlog. When it comes to assigning an issue to some member, you cannot assign it to them unless you have already added them to the project.
We feel that the necessity of adding a user to the project prior to assigning them an issue is an unnecessary step. It makes sense to have an option to add people to a project, but it should not be a compulsion when someone needs to assign an issue to a member.
When you add a new member on Backlog, either way, you get to choose their access privileges as well. It helps setting up boundaries and sometimes helps with the security as well.
If you add the new member as an ‘Administrator,’ they will be able to do most of the tasks that you can do on Backlog. It includes managing teams and members in the organization and inviting new ones and deciding their permission levels.
As you can already tell, it is an important role, and one should not go about granting administrator access to everyone unless they can be trusted with sensitive information.
‘Members’ get to deal with projects and issues. They can create teams and become the administrator of a team as well. Backlog allows them to see other members and teams of the organization. You may prefer to assign this role to members of your organization.
‘Guests’ don’t get to enjoy as much freedom and authority like the previous two classes. They will not be able to tinker with the team and not even be able to see other teams in which they are not involved.
This role is more suited to clients or freelancers from outside of your organization. You can add clients to show them the progress being made on their project and have freelancers get all the necessary information they need to complete the job.
Once you have added members in projects and teams with suitable roles, Backlog ensures that it is easy for team members to collaborate and communicate with each other.
When you assign a project to some user, they will get notified immediately. There may also be situations when you don’t want to assign an issue to a person but want to let them know about the task. You can do this easily on Backlog by simply mentioning them under the issue.
Once an issue is added, users can easily update others about the progress made on it. They can do so by using status, milestone, version, or just mentioning it in the comments section.
The comments section on Backlog allows people to chat with each other by directly mentioning other team members. Since all the comments go under projects and issues, it is easier for people to know the context of messages and the conversation.
All members get notified about any updates in projects and tasks relevant to them. It prevents them from missing any useful information. People can also look for comments in which they are mentioned. It helps one focus on information which is more relevant to them rather than looking at updates on every issue from everyone.
Backlog serves a very specific niche when it comes to their target user base. It makes it a bit difficult to directly compare it with other project management software.
Difficult but not impossible. There is a lot of common ground between project management in the software industry and others. If we are to judge by these common areas, then Backlog is a good enough tool but not a remarkable one.
It does not fall behind on features, but how easy it is to use them. For instance, one can include a lot of details while adding an issue. But there is no option of adding a new field, and the whole process is not very intuitive.
Backlog appeared to be on the right track by allowing one to add milestones. But somehow, milestones don’t seem so important in this case.
As soon as you start looking at things from the standpoint of a developer, it turns out that Backlog is loaded with useful features. They allow one to add versions with issues, something that you don’t get to see on an average project management tool.
The ability to maintain Git and SVN repositories must have left software developers drooling for this platform. Then they added Wiki on top to make it more appealing. They made bug tracking easier by allowing users to put it under a process with clearly defined steps.
While these features made developers yearn for the tool, traditional project management and monitoring tools did their part of bringing project managers on their side. There are Gantt charts to maintain the relationship between different projects, project status column to keep track of the progress, etc.
Backlog showed us that it can handle teams pretty well. It is easy to assign an issue to different members and then keep an eye on how well the issue is being handled.
Communication between team members is also not much of an issue, and users can stay updated about all the progress being made on a project.
Finally, we were not disappointed with the integration end as well. You can use Backlog with abundant tools to enhance productivity. It helps in automating tasks and reducing errors.
Backlog is an excellent tool for teams dealing primarily with software. It takes care of members who don’t have much to do with software development but other facets of the project, which ensures that no one is left behind.