Every day, in our business and personal lives, we’re confronted by massive amounts of disparate information. Keeping on top of this informational Tsunami that threatens to swamp us presents real challenges. From traditional information sources such as television, radio and the press to online providers like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, RSS feeds and various portals (to name but a few) the constant deluge seems almost limitless.
In a similar way, the standard toolset used in a software project could include a large variety of services, hosted or installed on site, that monitor multiple different aspects of a project’s execution. Consider code control, CI, bug tracking and agile planning tools, for example, they all have multiple web interfacesÂ that we’re forced to employ. It’s pretty obvious that we’re bound to lose track of significant pieces of information. While the information is, of course, always available, we need to actively request it and this severely restricts our ability to react quickly.
Sure, email notifications have been used for a long time by systems like JIRA, CI, code hosting services etc. but email is just not practical anymore. Spammed inboxes have seen to that and, more than anything, we would love to unsubscribe from these email based updates – if only such email updates were not so critical to what we do.
At ProxiDock we’re firmly focused on making the best use of available tools. We want tools that support our processes, help organise workflow and achieve higher quality results. But, we quickly realised that we couldn’t achieve our objectives by using “out of the box” tools, at least not to efficiently manage problems relating to information overload and unavailability. That’s why we decided to extend these systems with a comprehensive dashboard which we call Project Wallboard.
Dashboards have been used extensively in other industries, particularly where efficient process execution is key. We don’t believe software development should be any different. However, we haven’t found much best practice information to speak of and we’ve certainly not found any mature products. Sure, Atlassian lets you create a kind of dashboard and so do some other tools.
The major problem is that each of these tools only handles about a third of the information that we need to display at most. This means that you would have to look at several dashboards to get a comprehensive picture of the projects progress.
Being developers, we tend to prefer using our own software which can be tailored precisely to our needs. So we decided to implement a dedicated system to aggregate relevant data from different sources and present reports in a user friendly, graphical way. The result is the Project Wallboard system which we have used for more than a year now. It has now become a central data hub for our teams.
We run Project Wallboard on large screens placed next to our developers’ desks so that all information is available at a glance with zero-clicks required and without the need for them to stand up from their chairs. It shows data from Atlassian JIRA, Confluence, Bitbucket, Github, Sonar, ical calendars and our time tracking system, as well as Jenkins/Hudson including their code coverage, analysis plugins. It’s easy to add more sources when needed.
Immediately after introduction, Wallboards became a central element of our processes. Since then the interest of team members might have dropped slightly, say from the level of “cool” to “useful tool”, but Project Wallboard has now reached a reasonable level of maturity and it allows us to set up a board for a new project within minutes.
Whenever we face a problem in one of the retrospectives which could be solved by tooling, we assess whether Project Wallboard can help. In fact, we have implemented a number of new components, some of them for general use and some for particular project situations that appear to be very efficient.
Whether this is because Project Wallboard is unconventional and cool or because you cannot escape the piece of information you see out of the corner of your eye, we don’t know. What we do know is that it works.