Inside VSTS

What Is TFS?

As Jeff shows, it's all about process, process, process.

On the surface, this is a ridiculous question. Everyone knows what TFS is. At least, that's what I thought.

Then I realized that maybe there needs to be a better understanding of what it is and why you want it. I decided to devote this article to a discussion of what TFS is and how you go about accepting it into your organization -- and it is an acceptance, because TFS is not just another tool.

Team Foundation Server (TFS) at its heart is a process improvement tool. Oh, sure, there isn't any guarantee that your process will improve because you're using it, but if that isn't your goal then you may need to rethink your decision to use it. TFS is not just a version control tool. Or rather, it is a version control tool -- and an excellent one at that -- but using a version control tool isn't difficult and really doesn't require a lot of thought or acceptance. A version control tool is used by a team or teams and versions their files. That's it. If you're using TFS only for version control, then you're wasting your investment. It's the rest of TFS that makes it truly special.

TFS is all about process. It helps you implement your process to increase efficiency. It tracks your process to tell you if everyone is following the process and whether you're making progress. And this is a key thing to note: It is all about the progress, not the tool. We are software developers, which means every tool we use should advance the goal of making software, as TFS does.

TFS also collects metrics -- all kinds of metrics. Metrics not used equals wasted time, in both their collection and their reporting. Being able to show cool reports doesn't provide value. But being able to show a report that says "We have a problem, let's fix it" is cool. Better yet, being able to show a report three months later that says "We had a problem, but we fixed it -- see!" is very, very cool. I would pay money for that. That's what you paid for when you bought TFS.

The question is, are you using the money you invested wisely? Is TFS giving you that return on investment? Have you saved more through efficiency gains, productivity gains, higher quality and higher customer, developer and management satisfaction, than you're paying for in licenses? If not, the answer isn't to say that TFS hasn't lived up to its reputation. Ist's that it isn't being used appropriately.

So how do you use it the "right" way? The first is to determine where you need to make improvements. That's easy; every developer usually knows what the problems are. It isn't a secret.

Next, you need to figure out what information is going to help you quantify the problem. That is, what metric identifies the problem and would show an improvement. There's a fairly old saying that goes something like "If you can't measure it, you can't improve upon it." Start measuring -- that's what TFS is for. Make a change that is going to bring about a positive impact on the item you're having a problem with. And repeat your measurements over time. If you've set a goal for where you want to be, and that goal is quantifiable, then you can determine your progress.

That's what TFS is for. That's what it does well. A discussion of TFS always has to include a discussion of process. If you are talking about TFS and not talking about process, then you're wasting your time.

About the Author

Jeff Levinson is the Application Lifecycle Management practice lead for Northwest Cadence specializing in process and methodology. He is the co-author of "Pro Visual Studio Team System with Database Professionals" (Apress 2007), the author of "Building Client/Server Applications with VB.NET" (Apress 2003) and has written numerous articles. He is an MCAD, MCSD, MCDBA, MCT and is a Team System MVP. He has a Masters in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and is a former Solutions Design and Integration Architect for The Boeing Company. You can reach him at

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Jan 20, 2010 A Frustrated TFS User Maryland

TFS may be more than a version control tool, however most of us are too busy battling its version control functions to have time for anything else. Run, do not walk, away from TFS as fast as you can. Since "upgrading" from VSS to TFS I now spend 70% of my time battling the tool.

Wed, Jul 1, 2009

I think the author deservs a bit of credit.. It's important to have a tool that can help imporve processes. TFS is alot like CRM for software it allows you to track and manage progress and if you are or aren't meeting your goals.

A little more content would be nice however.. No mention of the test tools integration, etc..

Wed, Jul 1, 2009 Dink

TFS is a lot more than just a version control repository, although that is a major function. It has methoidology workflow, task assignment and tracking, continuous integration, metrics collection, lots of reporting, etc. This is before you add any customization. But keep oin mind TFS is currently a 1.1 version - the next version is really going to start breaking some new ground in Agile methodology support and software lifecycle management.

Go check out Brian Harry's blog at:

Go check out

Wed, Jul 1, 2009 Jeff Barton Dallas, TX

I'm with Barnaby on this one. This was a waste of my time. Please never let this fool write for you again. You suck!

Wed, Jul 1, 2009 Barnaby Sheridan Portland, OR

This article could have been one sentence long: "TFS helps you improve your software development processes." There was no useful content in this article, and I'm a little annoyed at having spent five minutes reading it.

Wed, Jul 1, 2009 Bill Jackson Utah

I disagree. The source control changes themselves are worth upgrading from VSS to TFS. Web based source code viewing, better versioning, easier and more secure management of large numbers of repositories, etc. That's what made it valuable to us. There are a ton of tools out there for process that are much better than TFS. If you want a process tool then buy one that is more mature.

Wed, Jul 1, 2009 kevin

Below average article. Not helpful at all. Seems like Jeff is regurgitating the MS marketing propoganda and not a real user. So TFS identifies the problems you already know are problems and quantifies them. Makes me want to go out and get it.

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