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Visual Studio Team System ups productivity at ParTech

Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System helps developers at the quick-service restaurant solutions provider integrate the entire software development lifecycle.

The team development process at ParTech, a provider of systems and service integration solutions for the quick-service restaurant industry, was well established.

But the process wasn't very integrated, as there was a separate task manager and bug tracking application outside the development tool environment. "The guys would enter tasks, put bugs against that, they tracked QA, tracked the lifecycle. It was a different system and it never matched up to our project," said Richard Huxtable, the director of enterprise services.

We've already increased productivity 60-80% just by having a point-and-click system in front of [developers].
Richard Huxtable
director of enterprise servicesParTech

Now ParTech's use of Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System is bringing that process together, and the result has been increased productivity.

ParTech Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of PAR Technology Corp., has roughly 60 developers at five different locations, using a variety of platforms. Huxtable's group has been a Microsoft shop for some time, migrating from Visual Basic 6 to Visual Studio 2003 and now Visual Studio 2005. And this summer, some of his developers adopted Visual Studio Team System. Right now they have nine developers using VSTS for project management, task management and source control.

Huxtable's group was established in 1998 to develop a horizontal platform for the enterprise that would bring together the company's vertical markets. Around that platform, ParTech offers a variety of software options for quick-service restaurants, table service chains, quick casual, and independent table service operations. The company has installed more than 25,000 of its point-of-sale systems in more than 95 countries.

Although ParTech had its team development process in place, Huxtable said Team System offered a number of features he thought would benefit the productivity of the team. One was integrating task management with project management. Accountability was another: "Not only are the requirements more on target and accurate, they are accountable; we know who's updated what and what's been updated."

And the ability to expand its horizontal platform was another benefit.

"As we expanded our horizontal platform we had to start branching the code," Huxtable said. "[Microsoft] Visual SourceSafe didn't allow you to branch without implications. Team System allows us to branch the code and pull the code back together when we need to, so it tracks the differentials all the way through, which is nice."

Team System's reporting services and portal integration have also proven helpful. "We put the project plan right into Team System so everyone can track, update and use it," he said. "The project lifecycle is all integrated, which saves a lot of administrative time."

Because Huxtable's group had a team structure in place, he said the learning curve and transition to Team System was minimal. Previously, an ASP.NET-based tool called Gemini handled task management and bug tracking, and Visual SourceSafe 6.0 took care of source control. The group used Excel spreadsheets for reporting task and bug items, too.

"Task management wasn't integrated, but it's very simple to do it in Team System, plus it offers more capabilities, and it was an easy transition from Visual SourceSafe 6.0," Huxtable said.

According to Microsoft, the Team Foundation source control client interfaces were designed to be familiar to Visual SourceSafe users. Both products offer a command-line client and Visual Studio 2005 integration, but Team Foundation source control does not have a separate user interface like Visual SourceSafe.

Huxtable said the group was already using Microsoft Project, and since that is now integrated with Team System, it was an easy upgrade. "We're using the reporting capability pretty much out of the box; the canned reports seem to hit mark pretty well," he added.

In setting up Team System, Huxtable said they struggled a bit with issues such as how to put in authentications and deliver security, but, he admitted, "that's always a learning curve."

ParTech is utilizing the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) for CMMI Process Improvement, one of two templates available with Visual Studio 2005 Team System, and said they would likely utilize the MSF for Agile Software Development template as well. He said the group uses a mix of agile and CMMI development methodologies, with CMMI being used for larger, longer-term projects and strategies.

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In addition, ParTech has just started implementing Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals (Team Data), part of the Visual Studio Team Edition family.

"We had been watching Team Data for a couple of years. We write a lot of SQL code, so it's a very important piece to us," Huxtable said. "We were using other tools [from Red Gate] that provided some of the differentials between the different data models, but now it's all integrated into Visual Studio Team System; now developers have pretty much everything they need in one model."

While Huxtable said all the Team Data features are not fully working, "they've done a nice first cut. We've already increased productivity 60-80% just by having a point-and-click system in front of [developers]."

What he would like to see in Team System going forward is fully automated workflow. With his development teams, in different locations, working more closely together, it is increasingly important for users to check in their work and "pass it through workflow" for the next set of eyes.

"As we embrace the rest of the organization in product planning, we'd like to have the approval process through workflow; right now it's still email," Huxtable said.

Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007 feature comparison site indicates that fully automated workflow is available in MOSS 2007.

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