Over the past year or two I’ve read and heard, on multiple occasions, comments along the lines of “our team is not big enough to justify Team Foundation Server” or “we don’t have the need for TFS”. Contrary to these perceptions, Team Foundation Server can provide a lot of benefits – even for small development teams.
Here is a list of ten reasons for using TFS with small development teams (in no particular order):
- Version Control – no matter how small or big your development team and/or project is, everyone eventually loses source code for one reason or another (e.g. power/network outage, hard drive crash, human error, etc.). Along with the ability to backup source code (and other project “artifacts”) a good version control system (like the one built into TFS) allows you to version your source code, apply labels, and perform branching/merging operations. The version control system built into TFS utilizes Microsoft SQL Server as its data store which allows for easy backup and restore operations.
- Automated Builds – a lot of time is spent on the actual development of a product. However, unless you “package” your product for deployment/publishing, then you’re only half way there. TFS allows you to create automated build scripts that will build the latest version of your source code, in a clean environment, and (optionally) perform various tests against the source code, build installation packages, deploy files (e.g. web sites, MSI packages, etc.), publish build reports, etc.
With TFS 2008 you also have the option to setup Continuous Integration with the click of a button or schedule a specific build type to run at a pre-designated time (e.g. “nightly” build). Frequently running an automated build script provides a certain amount of assurance that you can deploy/ship your product with limited notice.
- Work Items – anyone that’s ever been involved in the software development process (no matter the size) has created various types of lists. For example, a list of requirements, a list of defects, a “wish” list, etc. There are at least two down-sides to these lists: lack of tracking and lack of workflow.
TFS allows you to create Work Items which, out of the box, are things like Bugs, Tasks, Scenarios, Risks, etc.. You can also modify existing work item types and/or create your own (e.g. to more closely match your development practices). These work item types also have the ability to define a workflow so that the work item can move from one state to another in a controlled fashion.
- Documentation Management – regardless of the size of your project or the type of software development methodology you’re using, you will no doubt create some documentation along the way (even if it’s as simple as installation instructions). TFS utilizes Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (MOSS) to store and manage documents related to your project. In fact, the Team Explorer Client that integrates with Visual Studio gives you direct access to your SharePoint documents directly from within Visual Studio.
- Unit Test Integration – although you can create and run unit tests in Visual Studio without the use of TFS, by automating your unit tests within a TFS-based build, you can track the progress of unit tests over time and publish each test run to TFS (e.g. so that it can be viewed within various reports and/or the TFS SharePoint site).
- Code Coverage Integration – like unit tests, you can get code coverage manually within Visual Studio. However, by including code coverage in your TFS-based builds, you can track code coverage over time and view the results within various reports and/or the SharePoint portal.
- Integrated (Static) Code Analysis – again, like unit tests, you can run static code analysis manually from within Visual Studio (e.g. via FxCop). However, having the ability to enforce code analysis rules at the time your source code is checked in and/or built, you can add another level of quality control to your project.
- Distributed Development – you may end up on a project, even with small teams, where the team is physically distributed – e.g.. home vs. work, work vs. another country, etc. This physical separation can introduce many challenges for developers (e.g. source code concurrency/consistency, updating documentation, modifying work items, performance issues, etc.). TFS was built from the ground up with this challenge in mind. You may have TFS installed at your company’s office but can still connect to it using the Team Explorer client from your home (assuming the TFS server is accessible via the Internet or VPN).
- Overall Integration – all of the features listed above can be cobbled together using other Microsoft, open source, or 3rdparty products. However, what this type of environment would lack is the overall integration provided with TFS. For example, you could use NUnit for running unit tests and possibly utilize CruiseControl.NET to implement your build process. However, how would you publish the unit test results to a web site for later review? How easy would it be to provide a history of those results?
- Cost (sort of) – one of the more common reasons you hear when justifying the use of open source software is the price – i.e: free. However, “free” doesn’t always come without cost. Without the integration provided by TFS, you will no doubt be spending a good amount of time “wiring” various technologies together to gain similar functionality.
With TFS, you spend a lot less time on integration issues and more time concentrating on developing and increasing the overall quality of your product. If the features listed above can save your several hours of manual effort a week or possibly reduce the defect rates of delivered products, what’s that worth?
There are basically four Team Foundation Server products:
- Team Foundation Server Trial Edition – this is a fully functional 90-day trial edition. If you want to give TFS a try, you can download the trial edition here.
- Team Foundation Server Retail Edition – this is the “full” version of TFS with a price starting around $2,000 (and going up, depending on your specific needs).
- Team Foundaiton Server Volume License Edition – this is basically the same as the Retail Edition, only it’s obtained differently.
- Team Foundation Server Workgroup Edition – this is a 5-user version of Team Foundation Server with the same functionality of the full version. This version is included with the “Team System” editions of the MSDN Premium subscription. So, if you (or your company) already has one of the “Team System” MSDN Premium subscriptions, then you already have this edition – so why not use it?
For more details about the different versions of Team Foundation Server, check out this post.
This list only scratches the surface of what’s available within Team Foundation Server and the benefits it can provide to teams of all sizes. As TFS matures and approaches the next release (“Rosario“) the features will only improve and the benefits will increase.