Zenhub is the only project management tool natively integrated into GitHub, giving teams the ability to collaborate, plan, and execute projects from a familiar user interface and application.
Though a niche PM solution, Zenhub is still one of the most affordably priced among industry competitors and offers plenty to consider for software development teams and projects.
This review is based on my experience registering, using, and considering Zenhub for a project involving a three-month application development timeline with six sprints and over 20 core tasks. I familiarized myself with Zenhub’s product documentation, demos, industry reviews and recognition, and a comparative analysis with alternative software applications. I ran a free trial of the Growth plan to test this tool.
Zenhub alternatives and competitors
What is Zenhub?
Zenhub is a project management platform designed for software development teams using the popular code host, GitHub. While built for developers, the Zenhub platform is similar to other PM tools with boards, workflow automation, reporting, sprint planning, and more to optimize the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
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Launched in 2014 to address frustrations with building software in GitHub, Zenhub has grown into one of the leading PM solutions for managing software projects. The Vancouver-based company specializes in GitHub project management and its platform creates a layer of enhanced visibility and collaboration for clients.
With seed funding each of the last two years and a growing customer base of 8,000 teams, Zenhub’s capabilities, and demand for developer-centric PM solutions point to continued success.
Why GitHub? The leader in code hosting and management
Alongside the boom in cloud computing and software development tools, GitHub has become the largest host of source code on the internet. GitHub’s presence within the software development community is tremendous, touting more than 200 million repositories and a user base of over 83 million developers and 4 million organizations.
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Alternative hosting platforms like GitLab, Bitbucket by Atlassian, Sourceforge, AWS CodeCommit, and Google Cloud Source Repositories offer plenty for software development teams, but none compare to GitHub’s industry authority. Zenhub’s success, as an extension and complementary tool to the popular repository host, is just one testament to GitHub’s dominance.
GitHub vs Zenhub: Separation of features
Zenhub complements work on GitHub creating a separation of features. As seen below, there are features the team must control from the GitHub platform, and similarly, features only found on Zenhub.
- General Issue data
- Issue Templates
- GitHub Projects
- Transfer this issue
- Lock conversation
- Delete Issue
- Repositories and repo data
- Pipeline name
- Release reports
- Move Issue button
- Projects on the Roadmap
Recent brand change: ZenHub to Zenhub
Last month Zenhub announced in a blog post the company would shift its brand name from ZenHub to Zenhub, removing the upper-case H. While the former name is still being offboarded throughout the platform and documentation, this article will use the PM platform’s new logo and name.
Zenhub is available as a 14-day free trial, free plan, or SaaS subscription for teams looking to boost productivity and collaboration between stakeholders that manage software development processes.
Start with the Zenhub platform and browser extension
From the Zenhub homepage, users can register for the platform with a business email and password or via Google SSO. Upon submission, new users move through prompts for intended use, role, organization, and workspace name.
Unlike other PM platforms, Zenhub is available as a browser extension through Firefox or the Google Chrome Web Store (Figure B), but not as a mobile or desktop application. For developers already working in GitHub within their browser, Zenhub seamlessly integrates into the code hosting interface.
For new GitHub users
For this project I created a new GitHub account to source data for use with my Zenhub account. Upon creation of the GitHub account, I will need to add and connect code repositories before Zenhub gets to work.
Connect to GitHub
Prior to connecting to GitHub, the Zenhub platform was fairly bare with prompts on each page to connect to GitHub. Users are redirected to the authorization page (Figure C) where they can allow Zenhub to access a GitHub account, public and private repositories, and an identifying email.
Upon authorization, users jump back to Zenhub where the platform will prompt the user to authorize Zenhub via their GitHub account. Thankfully, Zenhub offers a short video tutorial on the platform homepage (Figure D) to guide users through the connection process. Within an organization on GitHub, users can navigate to their settings and third-party access configurations.
In my GitHub account, I removed the restriction on all third-party application access and was quickly connected.
Zenhub features and capabilities
Importing repositories to create a Board
Workspaces can be a collection of repositories organized for use within Zenhub. In Figure E, users can see the list of repositories I selected loading on the Zenhub tab from the GitHub repository. With the Growth plan, I’m able to import an unlimited number of public and private repositories for use in the project.
The default view for users is the Kanban-style Board view (Figure F) that divides issues into lanes with drag-and-drop functionality for moving cards horizontally between lanes and vertically within a lane. Teams can combine multiple GitHub repos into a single board for real-time collaboration and visibility across project tasks.
Create issues, epics, releases, and sprints
On the left-hand side menu (Figure G), Zenhub users have the option to select “Create” and choose from building an issue, epic, release, or sprint for workload planning over time.
Issues vs. epics vs. releases on Zenhub
Part of the initial learning curve for Zenhub is learning terminology differences between GitHub and other Agile methodologies. Agile practitioners know epics, user stories, and sub-tasks, which in GitHub and ZenHub represent epics, issues, and checklists.
- Epics organize and track issues for wider project and portfolio visibility.
- Issues track specific tasks and workloads held by team members during a sprint.
- Checklists act as sub-tasks to an issue to complete the issue.
In this article, we will use issues to describe discrete tasks the team creates within a project—not to be confused with the GitHub Issues product, which is the internal GitHub project management and work organization tool.
The other two items featured in Figure G are Releases and Sprints. Releases cover multiple epics, long-term business, and external commitments, while sprints can be periods of any length—although commonly weekly or bi-weekly periods—for completing a limited number of project objectives.
Create a new issue
The first action item when creating a new software development project to track in Zenhub is to generate issues. For developers and teams, issues on GitHub are the most common way to cite tasks, log additional details, and keep pertinent team members updated.
Users with an existing repository and issues can connect the repo to Zenhub or create an issue within the PM software (Figure H). This window allows users to create a new issue within the GitHub repo including a name, description, labels, assignees, sprints, and more.
In Figure H, I added an issue with a brief description, assigned it to myself, set it to the current sprint, and labeled it under “documentation.” Platform issues are ideal for increasing visibility into types of issues and their complexities and communicating project details and tasks.
Build and adjust sprints
For Agile development teams, and a growing number of non-software teams, sprints have become the de facto standard for completing work over a set period of time. In Figure I, I opened the “Create sprints” window and built a 2-week sprint for my project. The sprint engine allows users to set the range of the sprint, enable the sprint to repeat, and move unfinished items to future sprints.
A useful feature for any team here is automatically building new sprints from the backlog. For teams managing software over an extended period like the CI/CD pipeline, toggling this can ensure tasks are set and resolved in a future sprint.
Without having to parse through endless data or remember missed items – which can be time-consuming and is prone to human error – Zenhub’s sprint engine holds teams accountable to addressing backlog tasks.
Like other PM tools, Zenhub offers teams alternative ways to view data including a Roadmap tool. Known on other platforms as a timeline or Gantt chart, the Roadmap is a central platform page offering tasks and workloads on a timescale. With similar functionality to Board view, users can drag-and-drop issues where needed, open issue details, and update team data instantly.
The Zenhub Workflow Automation tool is available through the “Workflows” tab and can help facilitate the movement of issues through a pipeline.
The automation engine gives users options to configure trigger and destination pipelines to reduce manual tasks and unnecessary efforts by team members. Any issues are placed in trigger pipelines they flow to destination pipelines representing the handoff of tasks, status check-ins, and more.
Other Zenhub features
Whereas teams may use a third-party planning poker tool to ease sprint planning, Zenhub offers a built-in application to apply estimated point values to issues and create sprints so teams can focus on code.
Project managers can request estimates from team members who can vote independently to resolve issue questions before sprints kick off. Most PM tools don’t offer a built-in scrum poker, so I’m happy to see it easily available.
Reporting progress and
The Reports tool is ideal for analyzing project data including progress, processes, and workloads with five agile report types:
- Cumulative flows
- Control charts
- Burndown reports
- Velocity tracking
- Release reports (Figure L)
Switch between workspaces
For companies managing multiple application development teams, switching between workspaces is only a couple clicks away.
From the Zenhub platform or a GitHub workspace, users can select the button (Figure M) in the top right corner with the alternating arrows icon. This opens the left-hand side menu with options to view the statuses of different ongoing projects, teams, and repositories.
Zenhub use cases and audience
As a more niche project management platform, Zenhub’s use cases and client base is smaller than alternative PM tools marketing to teams and projects in a multitude of industries.
The developer-focused extension boasts over 8,000 teams and 54,000 users across 150 countries. Zenhub’s client base include notable customers like Adobe, Comcast, Docker, Grafana, Microsoft, NASA, and VMware.
- Plan, organize, and automate sprint schedules.
- Manage and distribute team member workloads.
- Track project data through graphic charts and visualizations
- Add multiple public and private repos to a project for cross-project visibility.
- Configure and automate workflows of GitHub issues.
- Visualize project timeline against GitHub progress.
Clients and users
While parts of Zenhub like tracking reports will be useful for non-software developers, the platform as a whole doesn’t shy away from its focus on developers. Zenhub’s capabilities are ideal for teams utilizing agile and scrum project management philosophies.
As most teams are familiar if not actively using GitHub, Zenhub’s clientele and users covers the spectrum of software development teams and companies.
Zenhub pricing and plans
After a free trial, users can continue to use much of Zenhub with the unlimited free plan – which covers unlimited public repositories and all features under reporting, productivity, and project management capabilities. Prospective customers can see on the platform pricing page, there are only a few additional benefits offered to Growth and Enterprise clients.
For businesses, the Growth plan includes the crucial variation of unlimited private repositories and license management, while the Enterprise plan’s attributes are a Dedicated Customer Success Manager and the option of an on-premises solution.
While testing the platform, the Enterprise plan initially displayed as $12.45 and has since been replaced with “Contact Sales.” This is a common prompt for enterprise plans, but my hope is the cost remains low considering the light differentiation between Growth and Enterprise plans. As a maturing platform, it’s possible this too will change soon.
Zenhub vs GitHub Issues
GitHub teams considering project management tools will naturally come across the platform’s existing PM software, GitHub Issues. While the features in GitHub’s solution that are generally available are promising and will directly compete with some of Zenhub’s features, many capabilities are still in an open beta.
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Unless GitHub intends on acquiring Zenhub, I’m curious of the developer extension’s future when GitHub Issues becomes widely available. Existing Zenhub customers are best off staying put, but if GitHub Issues gains steam or diminishes Zenhub’s posture as the native integration, newer teams and customers in the future may feel confident managing all of their project work in GitHub.
Pros & cons of Zenhub
Zenhub advantages and benefits
- Tailored to software development teams using GitHub for primary repos.
- Incredibly clean interface compared to alternative project management software tools.
- Extensive documentation and walk-through gifs for troubleshooting features.
- More affordable than Jira Software and most general PM platforms.
- The only natively integrated PM tool on GitHub.
- Limited to teams working on GitHub.
- Not ideal for general project managers unfamiliar with GitHub or the SDLC.
- Definite learning curve for terminology, features, and software utilization.
- Lagging with loading page views at times.
- No mobile application or desktop application for additional access.
- Niche project management tool targeting software development teams using GitHub.
- Offer teams a stack of PM tools for managing the SDLC and GitHub projects.
- Seamless integration into GitHub and affordable plans for the subscription value.
My experience using Zenhub tells me developer-focused project managers and teams will have plenty to appreciate with this handy extension. Teams have the flexibility to use Zenhub on its platform or within GitHub with one of the most robust integrations between two applications I’ve ever seen.
Part of maximizing a Zenhub subscription is also having familiarity with GitHub – how it works and what it does and doesn’t do. Large software development teams and companies already committed to GitHub through one of their premium plans (Team or Enterprise) can’t go wrong trying Zenhub’s free trial. Note, once ended, users will only have access to public repositories on GitHub.
A critical question for prospective customers is: Does a specialized platform like Zenhub match and exceed general PM tools for software development project management? For teams working on GitHub seeking the most integrated workflow, that answer is yes. I found Zenhub excels in reducing context switching, duplicating work, and facilitating smoother project management for software development teams.