Customize your work tracking experience

Last Update: 10/24/2016

Team Services | TFS 2015 | Previous versions

As you plan and track your project, you'll find you may want to customize or configure a feature to meet your team’s processes. You configure most features through the web portal.

Feature availability: Some features are only available from the cloud service or from an on-premises deployment. These are annotated as follows:
- Team Services - Visual Studio Team Services only (cloud service)
- TFS - Team Foundation Server only (on-premises)


Access and permissions

You can grant or restrict access to select features and functions through the web portal. When you add user accounts to your team, they're automatically added to the Contributor group. They then have access to most of the features they'll need to contribute to code, work item tracking, builds, and test.

Contributor group default permissions

However, it doesn’t allow users to create shared queries or to add area or iteration paths. You have to grant these permissions separately. If you're new to managing accounts, see these resources:

Manage users and groups

Add users to built-in groups to grant them access to your team project. Optionally, create groups to customize access based on your business requirements.

Permission states

Understand how Allow, Deny, Not set and other permissions states control access to features and objects.

permission states

Valid users

Understand how valid user groups are populated and the permissions they're granted.

Restrict access

You can restrict access to several features and tasks by setting the permission state to Deny through to individual accounts or a security group.

Area and iteration path permissions

Permit or restrict access to edit or modify work items, test cases, or test plans based on assigned area. Also grant access to users to add or modify areas or iterations for a team project.

Query permissions

Grant permissions to create shared queries and query folders.

Query permissions

Stakeholder permissions

Grant stakeholders, non-licensed users, limited access to contribute ideas and access team dashboards.

Feedback permissions

Grant users access to provide feedback through the Microsoft Feedback client.

Test permissions

Grant or restrict access to manage test plans and test cases.

Team admin role and permissions

Add user accounts as team administrators to enable them to configure backlogs, boards, and other team assets .

Process permissions

To customize a process, add custom fields, or change the layout of a work item form, you must be a member of the Project Collection Administrators group or be granted explicit permissions to edit a specific process.

Team project permissions

Grant or restrict access to manage team project assets.

Collection-level permissions

Add accounts to the Project Collection Administrators group to enable them to create team projects and to manage collection-level features and functions.

TFS administrator group (TFS)

Add accounts to the TFS Administrator group to enable them to manage on-premises application servers.

Permission reference

Provide or restrict access for practically any feature, function, or object at the collection or team project level.

Shared resources

Shared resources support all teams within a team project. You configure most of these features through the web portal or the web admin context.


Add tags to work items to filter backlogs and queries

Add tags to filter backlogs, boards, and queries

Shared queries

Open shared queries or create your own query using the query editor to list work items or show hierarchical or dependent items.

Shared queries

Area path pick lists

Change the pick list of area paths to support grouping work items by team, product, or feature area.

Hierarchical area paths

Sprint/iteration pick lists

Change the pick list of iteration paths to support grouping work into sprints, milestones, or other event-specific or time-related period. Activate sprints for each team.

Iterations or sprints

Personal alerts

Get notified as changes occur to work items, code reviews, source control files, and builds by setting personal alerts.

Set personal alerts

Teams and Agile tools

You plan and track your project using the set of Agile tools managed and configurable for each team. You access these tools from the web portal.

Agile tools, team assets

The following tools are team specific, that is, when you add another team, you create another variant of the tool that is configurable and customizable by the team:

For details on configuring and customizing Agile planning tools and team assets, see Customize an Agile tool.

Team projects and processes (Team Services)

In Team Services, you customize your work tracking experience through an inherited process. A process defines the building blocks of the work item tracking system as well as other sub-systems you access through VSTS. Whenever you create a team project, you select the process which contains the building blocks you want for your project.

Process page

You customize your team projects and processes from the Process admin pages.

Create an inherited process

The first step in customizing a team project is to create an inherited process. You can only customize inherited processes.

Create an inherited process menu option

Customize a process

Customizations you make to an inherited process automatically update all team projects that reference that process. You can add and modify fields and modify the layout of each work item type defined for that process.

Change a team project to use a different process

To apply customizations to one or more team projects, you change the process they reference to a customized inherited process.

Set a default process

Set the process you want used when adding team projects to your account.

Create a team project from a process

Add a new team project based on a core system or inherited process.

New work item experience

Switch to the new work item experience to get access to a more modern form and additional features. You must make this switch to access the customizations you make to a work item type and process.

New form experience

Add or modify a field

Add a custom field to support tracking additional data requirements or modify an existing field to apply optional rules.

Add field

Add a rich-text field

Add a rich text, HTML formatted field to capture information with a mix of text, images, hyper-links, and more.

Add a custom pick list

Add a custom pick list to support tracking additional data requirements or modify an existing field to apply optional rules.

Remove a field from a form

You can remove a custom field and select inherited fields from a work item form. You can also relabel the fields that appear on the form.

Review fields

You can review the list of fields defined for a process, their data type, and the WITs which reference them.

Add or modify the form layout

Add a custom group or modify which fields appear within the groups and columns used to organize fields within the work item form.

Add custom group

Enable/disable a process

To make sure no one creates a team project from a process that you don't want used, you can disable it.

Delete a process

Delete those inherited processes that you no longer want used. Simply choose the Delete option from its context menu.

Set process permissions

To customize a process, add custom fields, or change the layout of a work item form, you must be a member of the Project Collection Administrators group or be granted explicit permissions to edit a specific process.

Field index reference

Lookup descriptions and usage information for all fields defined within the core system processes.

Team projects and process templates (TFS)

When you work with an on-premises TFS, you customize your work tracking experience through one or more XML definition files. You can start by customizing a process template and its XML definition files, and then create a team project based on the template. Or, you can simply make modifications as needed to add customizations to the work item fields, work item types, and other objects that support tracking work.

Add or modify a field

Add or modify a field to support work tracking and reporting by editing the WIT definition.

Add rules to a field

Apply various rules to custom fields to qualify the value it can have, to copy a value, to specify a default, to restrict who can modify it, to enforce pattern matching, or to enforce conditional values.

Remove a field

Stop tracking a field by removing the field from the work item form of select work item types.

Modify or add a WIT

Customize a WIT by adding or modifying the fields or field rules, the workflow, or the work item form.

Modify the workflow

Design your custom workflow by adding states, transitions, reasons, and optional actions.

Change the work item form

Change the layout of your work item form by adding fields, custom controls, or tabs.

Add a custom work item type

Add a custom work item type to track different data requirements.

Add WITs to backlogs or boards

To support specific business processes, your team may want to track additional WITs as requirements or as tasks. This way, you can add them and track them within the product and sprint backlogs or Kanban and task boards.

Agile, Scrum, and CMMI processes

Review and compare the three default, core system processes provided. Each process provides a set of work item types, workflow, and other artifacts for tracking work.

Custom pick lists

Define or modify pick list values by editing the work item type definition.

Example custom pick list for Resolution field

Global lists

Define global lists when you share lists across several WITs or team projects. Global lists help minimize maintenance and update work.

Agile tools and process configuration

Configure the default experience or customize several Agile tools to support business needs.

Add portfolio backlogs

Add up to two additional portfolio levels to support additional portfolio management requirements. When you organize your backlogs into portfolios, you can gain a hierarchical view of the work defined in lower-level backlogs, including work in progress across several teams.

Customize a process template

Before you create a team project, you can customize a process template to modify or add artifacts.

Download, upload, and manage process templates

You can upload, download, and delete process templates for a team project collection. Also, you can mark a template to appear as the default when you add team projects.

Support rollup of work and other fields

Rollup provides summed values of select fields for all child work items of a parent. Some Agile tools support native rollup subject to select conditions. Learn how to get rollup of estimated or completed work, effort, size, or story points.


If you use SQL Server or Excel to generate reports or charts, you can specify field attributes for existing or custom fields that you want to use to support reporting.

Project field mapping

If you use Project, you can track work using both TFS and Project by mapping those fields you want to track in both places.

Field index reference

Lookup descriptions and usage information for all fields defined within the core system processes.

Scope your requirements

Depending on your customization requirements, you might want to configure defaults by customizing a process. You create a team project from a process. Objects that you customize within the process provide the initial configuration of the object. By customizing a process, you increase compliance with processes across all team projects that are created with the process template.

Customizations you make are scoped to different levels. As you plan your customization requirements, consider the scope areas outlined in the following table. Also, to minimize your maintenance tasks, review additional guidance provided below.


Implementation notes

Project or collection scope
  • Process: Customize a process when you plan to create several team projects and you want to minimize the time to get projects up and running and enforce compliance of team processes.
  • Team project: Customize a team project when you only want to make changes that your team or group of teams working in the same team project require.

    To apply changes to several team projects, you will need to import changes to object definition files to several team projects.

  • Project collection: Changes you make to work item fields, global lists, and link types impact all team projects defined in the team project collection. Consider the implications when implementing changes at this level.

  • Team: Choose this option when only your team requires the changes. To learn what you can configure, review the list of Team Agile tools.
Data integration requirements A select set of fields integrate with Team Foundation Build, Test Manager, and Team Foundation version control. These applications automate the assignment of data to these fields.
Localization and globalization requirements You can localize the names of WITs, fields, and many elements defined for a WIT.
Category groups required to support cross-group efforts When you have similar WITs with different names, you can use categories to group them and generate reports more easily. Categories support flexible queries, reporting, process configuration, and integration across team projects.

Learn more about how to use work tracking to plan, manage, and monitor your projects:

Customize the test experience (TFS)

Several WITs support the test experience and work with the Test Manager and the web portal. You can customize these WITs as you would any other WIT. The following image illustrates the support link relationships.

Test management work item types

From the web portal or Test Manager, you can view which test cases are defined for a test suite, and which test suites are defined for a test plan. However, these objects aren't connected to each other through link types.

See the following resources for additional usage and customization information:

Maintenance and upgrade implications (TFS)

Before you customize, you should understand how your customizations may impact your team project when you upgrade your application-tier server.

Upgrades to an on-premises TFS can introduce new features that require updates to the objects used to track work. These objects include work item types, categories, and process configuration. Minimizing changes to the workflow for a WIT or the process configuration can help minimize the work you must do when you upgrade your TFS.

To minimize the amount of manual work you'll need to do after a TFS upgrade, understand which customizations support an easy update path and which do not.

Compatible for quick updating Compatible, but may require manual updates

With the following customizations, you can use the Configure Features Wizard to automatically apply any changes to your team project required for new features.

  • Fields: Add custom fields, customize a pick list, add or modify area and iteration paths, add rules to a field
  • WITs: Add custom WITs, change the form layout
  • Categories: Add custom categories
  • Agile tools: Customize the columns on the Kanban board, customize the quick add panel
  • Office integration: Add or change how Project fields map to TFS fields

To learn more about the Configure Features Wizard, go here.

The Configure Features Wizard requires that specific work item types, workflow states, and fields are defined in the work tracking objects and process configuration. When you make the following customizations, you might need to modify your custom process for the wizard to run, or you might have to update your team project manually.

  • Fields: Change attributes of an existing field, remove fields that are referenced in the process configuration
  • WITs: Change the workflow
  • Agile tools: Change the WITs defined for the Requirement Category, Task Category, or Feature Category.
  • Agile tools: Change the metastate mapping defined in the process configuration.
  • Agile tools: Change a field specified for a TypeField in the process configuration.

In addition, changes you make to WITs or the workflow could require updates to other artifacts provided with your process, such as Excel or SQL Server Reporting Services reports.

Customizations to avoid

You should avoid making the following customizations because they can result in schema conflicts in the data warehouse or cause problems when updating team projects after a TFS upgrade.

  • Fields:
    • Change the friendly name of a default field (a field defined in a WIT definition file)
    • Change one or more reporting attributes, or the attribute to synchronize person names with Active Directory of a default field
  • WITs: Rename or delete WITs
  • Categories: Change the name of default categories, or change the WITs defined within default categories

To learn more about reporting attributes, see Add or modify work item fields to support reporting.

  • Identify the best options for customizing WITs that support your tracking requirements. When you change objects that track work items, you should identify how these changes will affect existing and future team projects.
  • Put processes and all XML definition files under version control. Do not deploy objects that you define but have not stored in a repository.
  • Test your customized objects just as you would test your software.
  • Minimize the number of custom fields that you introduce. Minimize the number of fields that you make reportable.