Work Item Visualization is one of many productivity extensions on the marketplace

We are pleased to announce the latest update of the Work Item Visualization extension. It’s one of our first productivity extensions, enabling you to easily visualize work item relationships and traceability from requirements to code, to test cases, to releases.

The update contains tons of bug fixes and these new features: annotations [1], saving [2] visualizations, and  find [3] on visualizations.


What’s next?

Here’s what the team has planned:

  • Currently we are focused on converting code to TypeScript and upgrading necessary base libraries. Once complete, we are ready for another wave of features and improvements.
  • Some of the ideas from the team and community that are waiting in the backlog are:
    • Allowing to filter what link types are shown on visualizations
    • Offering full sharing and favorites functionality for visualizations on personal and project level, including being able to add / remove (/ send and share)
    • Having context menu on the nodes which allows different actions such as collapse / expand / open in new tab / …
    • Having ordered and link type aware visualizations (e.g. Parent -> Child relationships)

A bit of history

By Jeff Levinson, VSTS Customer Success and product owner for the work item visualization extension:

In 2010 Microsoft released the Architecture Explorer tool for visualizing code. It worked by reading an XML file and displayed nodes and edges. At the time I was facing a particular problem – how do I show an auditor that A is linked to B is linked to C and who worked on everything? Sure, I could use a complex set of work item queries but auditors don’t want to wade through hundreds of queries and hundreds of links – they want areas where there are potential problems to jump out at them. This started me down what turned out to be a multi-year project to bring work item visualization to Team Foundation Server and eventually Visual Studio Team Services.

The first version was a fairly robust but manually generated map of relationships that could take a long, long time to generate:


In 2012, Microsoft opened up the Architecture Explorer so that it was extensible and another revision was made to allow users to drill into the nodes before plotting them. The tool started gaining in popularity (to date there have been 6,657 downloads on Visual Studio Gallery). But it was only available to people with the very highest version of Visual Studio – I wanted to bring it to the masses. Which lead to the first version of the Work Item Visualization Web which I built in conjunction with Ahmed Al-Asaad (Canada) and Vinicius Scardazzi (Brazil):


This extension turned out to be not as popular because it had to be hosted on a separate web server and it was more complex to set up because it used the TFS Object Model (the REST API’s didn’t exist at that time). Then Microsoft introduced the VSTS/TFS Extensions SDK and an opportunity presented itself – could the visualization web be integrated directly into VSTS/TFS so that anyone could get this view and could it be done in a way where the nodes could be dynamically added so as not to overload the viewer and the user with too much information.

At that point I did not have the time to do it so I approached the Rangers. They had two big things going for them: a) practically all of the rangers are better web developers than I am and b) they had a drive and passion to produce items of value to the community. Taavi Koosaar jumped in as the lead with help from Mattias Sköld. They re-wrote it almost from scratch to provide capabilities that I was unable to provide and truly added to the user value.

To date they have made numerous updates (I especially like the annotations and the find on visualization) that I could not have envisioned and they have kept the needs of the users in mind by responding to the feedback, making it available in TFS and a host of bug fixes. I think more can come of this in the future and we welcome your feedback to continue to drive the development of this extension. There are lots of great suggestions such as adding Pull Requests to the visualization. We want to hear from you on how you are using it, how it is providing you benefit and if it is saving you time.

At last look, this appears to be the most popular non-Microsoft extension in the store which means that the Rangers are fulfilling their mission of providing benefit to the community. They sacrifice a lot of free time to keep up on the latest capabilities of the product and to build these extensions that potentially benefit all of the users of VSTS/TFS. Enjoy this extension and keep the feedback coming – critical or not, this feedback helps drive our passion.

Looking for more?

Our list of Ranger DevLabs extensions has grown from four, back in November 2015, to twelve on the Marketplace.

Microsoft DevLabs is an outlet for experiments from Microsoft, experiments that represent some of the latest ideas around developer tools. Solutions in this category are designed for broad usage, and you are encouraged to use and provide feedback on them; however, these extensions are not supported nor are any commitments made as to their longevity.

Here’s a little bit about them:

_branching Branch VisualizationVisualize your Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) branches for your current project. clip_image001[1]

_BuildUsage Build UsageShow how many build minutes are being used within an account on your dashboard!

_contdown Countdown Widget – Team has important dates to remember. Make them visible for your team on your dashboard! clip_image001[1]

_fileownerFile OwnerAllows users to quickly and easily determine ownership of a file.

_folder Folder ManagementCreate a folder in your source repositories from the web. No need to clone the repository or install extra tools. clip_image001[1]

_cards Print CardsPrint cards from your Kanban board for use on a physical board. clip_image002[1]

_rollup Roll-up BoardThe widget shows the number of cards in each column of the Kanban board.

_sample Sample DataLets you create and remove sample data in your project. clip_image001[1]

_depende Show Area Path DependenciesProvides a lightweight way to manage dependencies on other teams.

logo Work Item Details – View Details of work item(s) on your dashboard

_TCE Test Case ExplorerHelps you manage your test cases better.

_visualize Work Item VisualizationVisualize these work items from within the work item form.  clip_image003[1]

Many have been open sourced to be shared as sample code and to foster community collaboration. See our Library of tooling and guidance solutions and Samples Overview | Extensions for Visual Studio Team Services for more information.


We look forward to hearing from you. Here are some ways to connect with us:

Author: Willy-P. Schaub

I’m a program manager with the Visual Studio Team Services group. I’m responsible for the ALM Ranger program and other interesting work streams. We provide professional guidance and gap-filling solutions to the developer community for Visual Studio. Come directly to me if you need help with missing guidance or features for Visual Studio Team Services. Since the mid-’80s, I’ve been striving for simplicity and maintainability in software engineering. Reach me on LinkedIn, Twitter @wpschaub, or blog