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Thinking in Extremes with Xplanner Print
As a developer of distributed and complex software systems, I have seen the good the bad and the well not quite good of project management.

This is an overview of Xplanner a tool for extreme project management.


Prince II methodology ensures a baseline of quality. The burden of documentation does not always improve communication between all the stakeholders. We always seem to manage to finish the projects, but sometimes we also scratch our collective heads over how to make the path to success easier.


Communication is the key and as long as documentation assists in this or acts as a relevant checklist of actions the documentation is worthy of writing. If the documentation is "write once, read never" then store the documentation somewhere, but not on my servers.

During one of my regular market surveys of opensource software I noticed Xplanner an excellent web based tool for improvement of communication.


Extreme programming methodology is the core meaning of Xplanner. However, do not let this fact fool you, as the software is a viable partial solution inside more traditional structures. It is a Java based web application and deploys without any fuss.

Figure 1 defines how the software logically divides a project. A project leader can define the details of the project. Within each project, there are iterations.

The trick with extreme programming is to make those iterations short. The average iteration should be an atom of around three weeks. Within each iteration, the customer creates a story or a number of stories in plain English. The story describes the functionality that is expected to be achieved within that part of the project cycle. Naturally, one would expect constant feedback between the interested parties and the project leader at this point. Stories places in the layman's hands the ability to define a product using terminology from their own problem domain. Next, each storyboard is split into a number of tasks. For each task, two programmers are assigned. Each programmer keeps the other clean, improving the final quality of the output.

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Figure 1: Logical division of responsibility within an Xplanner project


Xplanner has a number of supporting features:


Exporting projects: The application has the ability to export a project to XML and to Microsoft project format. The specific XML format used as shown in figure 2 can easily be translated via XSLT allowing conversion to plaintext, CSV or whichever format your developers wish to rely on later. Therefore, you are not locked in to a given product line at a later date.


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Graphical status: Xplanner has built in timesheet functionality. This allows the software to generate an insightful overview of the project via scrum statistics. You can see where you are in the lifecycle without sweating with Excel spreadsheets or nagging the worker in the next office. The graphics are easily understood by the stakeholders and do not need much clarification.

Service Orientated Architecture: SOAP is enabled by default. Visiting the URL http://yourhost.com:port/xplanner/soap/XPlanner you may programmatically, get, add, remove and modify a project and the projects sub sections. This allows for gluing and synchronization of infrastructure in your organization and enables scalability.

WIKI like Markup Language: The descriptions of the various components of the project are formatted in a WIKI type language. For example to obtain bold you need to surround the relevant word(s) with a * or to make italics the underscore. If you type a correctly structured URL the Hyperlink is later at presentation automatically expanded into a clickable link..

Standalone demo: Xplanner has a binary download that includes the tomcat server and runs on Windows and Unix without significant configuration. After expanding the archive file in windows run startup_xplanner.bat in the top level directory or for Unix startup_xplanner.sh. If all goes well then the URL for the start page is http://localhost:8080/xplanner

Organic integration: As part of a description, one may easily point to a WIKI subject or a bug in bugzilla or to CVSweb a CGI overview tool for CVS. For example if you have the subject Gadgets within the content of a WIKI server then you need only type wiki:Gadgets to obtain a fully expanded URL. In practice, one would use Xplanner to give structure to a project and outsource the details to a WIKI acting as a knowledge server.

Relatively simple to integrate: A typical opensource test environment is shown in figure 3. Please note for the simplification of testing, the infrastructure is designed to be hosted on a single server. Of course when deploying, to avoid bottlenecks, the components should be spread over a number of servers. In more detail, the WIKI is abused as a knowledge server to allow capture of ideas, FAQ's and howto's from the project group and allow diffusion of knowledge from within a project to a wider audience. Bugzilla is a highly popular and respected bug-tracking tool. CVSweb is a CGI tool to allow an overview of changes of software. CVSweb also manages to convey an idea of where the code sits in its life cycle. Both Bugzilla and CVSWeb require Perl and Xplanner and some WIKI's require Java. The database of the author?s choice is MySQL, but many companies prefer the commercial product Oracle. It is wise to set Tomcat behind Apache for two reasons: The first is that Apache is better at delivering static content. The second is that you can place extra security and monitoring of logs at the Apache parameter.

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Figure 3: An example a test infrastructure


Final comments

I hope this brief review has given you a feeling of confidence for the quality and worth of Xplanner. I believe Xplanner is an excellent tool for communication that has potential outside an extreme programming environment. Therefore, I would recommend that interested parties download the standalone demonstration and from there build up background knowledge of the product.


1. Apache server homepage - http://httpd.apache.org/
2. Author's current home page - http://home.student.uva.nl/a.m.berg
3. CVS information- http://www.nongnu.org/cvs/
4. CVSWeb - http://www.freebsd.org/projects/cvsweb.html
5. Extreme programming resources - http://www.extremeprogramming.org/
6. Linux - http://www.linux.org/
7. Mysql database - http://www.mysql.com/
8. SOAP resources - http://www.w3schools.com/SOAP/soap_intro.asp
9. Tomcat server homepage - http://jakarta.apache.org/tomcat/
10. TWIKI format - http://www.twiki.org/
11. Xplanner - http://www.xplanner.org/

Thinking in Extremes with Xplanner.
(c) 2005 Alan Berg

Project management resource About the Author
Alan Berg, Bsc. MSc. MSc. PGCE, has been a lead developer at the Central Computer Services at the University of Amsterdam for the last seven years. In his spare time, he writes. He has a degree, two masters and a teaching qualification. In previous incarnations, he was a technical writer, an Internet/Linux course writer, and a science teacher. He likes to get his hands dirty with the building and gluing of systems. He remains agile by playing computer games with his kids who (sadly) consistently beat him.

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