Customising TFS Work Items

Work Items in TFS forms one of the primary “abilities” that Team Foundation Server exposes. A work item is a generic object that you use to record various “things” in TFS. The type, structure and workflow is defined as part of the process template as a work item definition or type. The MSF for CMMI process template has different work item definitions than for example the Scrum template would have. Work item definitions is also the closest that TFS will get to “exposing” or modelling a methodology.

In my business I often get requests to change or adapt work items to include fields that are important to the customer or to alter the workflow to better represent the process that is used internally in the customer’s team.

The work item definition is at its heart an xml schema containing fields, rules, form layout and workflow associated to the specific work item.
If you have a good xml editor you can export the work item definition using the witadmin utility, make your changes and then import it back into TFS using the same tool.

Of course if you don’t feel like wading through all those angle brackets you can get hold of the TFS power tools and use the process editor.

After installing the power tools, select “Tools –> Process Editor –> Work Item Types” from the Visual Studio menu. You have the option of importing or exporting work item types (WIT),  editing types directly on the server or locally (using an exported WIT).
Good advice would obviously be to first export a WIT, make changes and then import the changed WIT if you are using a production  instance of TFS.

A note: As mentioned previously, the different types of work items are defined as part of the process template. For example the MSF for Agile template would yield the following work item types:


After selecting a work item the work item editor will open


You are now free to add new fields, change the work item form and alter the workflow.

It is simple enough to change the work item definitions using the process editor but you still need to take note of the following:

  • Make sure you know the difference between the a Dimension, Measure and Detail when setting the “Reportable” field
  • Make sure that you have a good understanding of, and cover all paths when changing the workflow for the work item
  • When customising a work item it is important to remember that if you change the work item definition on a team project, the change will not be reflected on other team projects unless you manually update them. One way to overcome this is to alter the process template and include the changed work item definition in the process template. Next time you create a new team project those changes will be present.