TFS and VSO guidance – Teams

I often get questions along the lines of “How do we do this in TFS?” It can be anything from setting up teams to choosing the best process template or how to structure a useful area path tree. My answer is always “Well, it depends…” because that is the truth. It really does depend on quite a lot of things. Fortunately, most of the time, you can change how you do things as you gather more and more experience from working with TFS in your organization. On the other hand, if you start out wrong it might require quite a lot of work to rectify that mistake. This realisation quickly turns the original question into “Ok, so how are we supposed to do this in TFS? Are there any recommendations or best practices? What does Microsoft say?”

Well, if you take a quick look at MSDN Library you will quickly realize that Microsoft actually has quite a lot to say. But over the years they have become less and less prescriptive. Which is good. Unless you are looking for some solid pointers… As far as recommendations and best practices goes these golden nuggets of information can sometimes be difficult to find.

So, this is the first post in a series where I will try to give you some solid guidance on TFS/VSO or point you towards existing solutions and recommendations. These posts will be based on my experience from working with TFS over the last 10 years.

Setting up Teams

What you need to know here is that the default way of setting up Teams in a Team Project is flawed. It works, but it is flawed and it will often cause grief down the road. Why? Because it uses the Area Path field to define your teams. This is not what the field was originally intended for. The Area Path field is intended to categorize work into product areas. The team is not a product area. Having multiple purposes for one field is bad design and this will quickly become apparent when you want two teams to work on the same product as you suddenly find yourself maintaining two identical area path structures in TFS, one for each team.

A much much better way to set up teams in TFS is to add a separate Team field, which is actually fully supported by Microsoft and opens up a hidden Team settings interface in WebAccess. It will require some customization of your TFS but it is definitely worth the effort.

Team field settings page

Unfortunately, for those of you who are using VSO it is currently not possible to do the necessary customizations in VSO. You’re stuck with the default. This might change in the near future though as VSO process customization is coming.

VSO in Europe

Great news for those of you who want to use VSO (Visual Studio Online) but did not like the idea of having all your data in the US.

VSO is now hosted in Europe as well! To be more precise it is hosted in the Netherlands.

This should make VSO a viable option for many organizations and government agencies in Europe. For those of us in Europe not restricted by law or company policy it is still great news as it offers a VSO option with lower latency.

So, a short summary:

  • For now you have to create a new VSO account for this
  • It will be possible to move your account from “South Central US” to “Western Europe”, but not yet. You have to wait a few months for that.
  • The entire account has to be hosted in one place. You can not have some of your Team Projects hosted in the US and some in Europe unless you create them on different VSO accounts.

You can read more about the details on Brian Harry’s blog.

ALM Rangers want your feedback and ideas

I’ve always been a fan of the ALM Rangers’ solutions but until I joined them I was not really aware of how I could influence their work. So I thought I’d share that info here in the hope that some of you will vote for ideas and give some valueable feedback.

So, what can you do?

  1. Go to the Visual Studio UserVoice site and post/vote for ideas. Use the “Rangers project” category to see ALM Rangers specific items.
  2. Keep an eye on Willy-Peter Shaub’s blog for anything Rangers related and public request for feedback, like this post.

That’s it. Quite simple really. Wish I’d know about it years ago.

If you havent heard about the ALM Rangers before you can read about us and what we do here.


Starting with TFS 2012 we are now faced with the options of using either Team Foundation Server or Team Foundation Service as our ALM platform of choice. The big question is which one to choose. One is installed locally while the other is hosted in the cloud. This is an important difference but not the only one you need to consider. I’ll list the most important points to consider here.

The cloud

If for some reason you are not allowed to handle your work items or source code in the cloud then Team Foundation Service is out of the question as it is based on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform.

Installation and administration

Installing Team Foundation Server has become much easier than it was back in 2005 but can still be a bit tricky. Using Team Foundation Service is basically a matter of supplying a name for your instance. If you dont want the hassle of server installation and administration then you should consider Team Foundation Service.


Process templates are not customizable in Team Foundation Service. If you think you will have to make adjustments to the process template (like adding new fields to work items) then you probably want to go with Team Foundation Server instead. Unless you are ready to wait, because this will change in the future.

Document management

If you want solid document management features then Team Foundation Server is the way to go as it includes Sharepoint. Team Foundation Service currently has no document management features. This will change in the future with Office 365 integration (see Brian Harry’s first response in the comments).


One of the many nice features of Team Foundation Server is all the reports you get out of the box. Apart from sprint burndown charts you get no reports at all in Team Foundation Service. This might be perfectly fine for some or a complete deal breaker for others. This will probably change in the future but I’ve been unable to find anything to support this claim. Windows Azure SQL Reporting is available though so hopefully only a matter of time before it is integrated into the Team Foundation Service offering.

Price tag

There is actually a pricing preview for Visual Studio 2012 (and Team Foundation Server) but very limited information about Team Foundation Service pricing.

There are other differences but this should cover the most important aspects. If you want to dig deeper, have a look at the Team Founation Service whitepaper.

New scrum guide

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-founders of Scrum, have been working together and with the Scrum community on updating the official Scrum Body of Knowledge, the Scrum Guide. The core principles of Scrum remain, but misunderstandings have been clarified and techniques have been removed. The “Definitive Guide to Scrum,” focuses on the framework, rules, and ceremonies of Scrum. Emphasis is placed on the roles of the Scrum Team and understanding of their responsibilities, as opposed to the strategies and techniques involved in fulfilling those roles and responsibilities.

The new scrum guide was announced on July 15 but the reasoning behind the changes are not always clear to everyone. To remedy this is releasing a series of Scrum Guide Explanations. These explanations are really good, not only do they explain the specific change in question but reading the explanations will also give you a deeper understanding of the core principles of scrum.

If you are using scrum today or plan to use it in the future I strongly suggest you head over to and check out both the new Scrum Guide as well as the Scrum Guide Explanations.