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Team Foundation Server (TFS) has always had work item customization power as one if it’s strengths. However, the work was done in XML and was relatively complex. Although much could be accomplished, including relatively complex rules, it took experience and was fraught with complexity.

Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) changed all that when they released work item customization in December of 2015. Instead of power and complexity, VSTS customization was simple and restrictive. Microsoft traded in flexibility for simplicity, and provided a clean user experience, process inheritance and a new extensibility model based on web standards.

Fast forward to today, and Microsoft has continued to add power and flexibility to VSTS work item and process customization. Not only can you add new work item types, states and custom fields, you can build or install complex extensions that extend the user experience in powerful ways.

For instance, a recently added extension in the VSTS marketplace by Mohit Bagra includes a wide variety of custom controls. My favorites include the date-time control with a pleasant UI for selecting dates, a multivalue autocomplete control (that operates much like the tags feature in VSTS and TFS), and regex based text control that enforces correct formatting. (You can find more at https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=mohitbagra.vsts-wit-control-library.)

The community is rapidly contributing more, and providing options. In addition to the multivalue control mentioned above, you can also select from one built by Microsoft DevLabs (with excellent reviews, I might add), and another one built by Otto Streifel that provides a multiselect that gets its values from a standard REST API call.

Northwest Cadence has also gotten into the action with a cascading fields control that an arbitrary number of child picklist controls whose values are driven by selections at higher level controls. This lets organizations create custom hierarchies in addition to the Area Path and Iteration Path fields. It’s currently in private release, let us know if you’d like an invite and we’ll happily get you into the beta!

Bottom line: VSTS is now sufficiently customizable and extensible to handle nearly any organizational need, as long as you’re willing to install a custom control or do a little work. And for simple changes to work items, like adding custom fields and the like, the experience is so simple that a beginning user can get changes in place in only a few minutes of research and work.

And that’s not all! Look for VSTS work item rules coming in the next few sprints! Its slated for release soon. Check out the VSTS roadmap for more great improvements: https://www.visualstudio.com/en-us/articles/news/features-timeline.

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