Category Archives: Scrum

Posts related to Scrum methodology. See also Agile.

Kerika’s internal product development workflow

It will come as no surprise to our users that the Kerika team uses the software for every aspect of the company’s internal operations, including, of course, our product development.

(There really isn’t anything better on the market for planning and executing product roadmaps — we know, because we have checked and made sure we are better than everybody :-))

We are sometimes asked about our own internal workflow: how we plan releases and manage our Sprints, and in particular how we have gone without using regular old email for over 4 years now!

Well, here’s a glimpse at our internal workflow:

Kerika internal workflow
Kerika internal workflow

We work in two-week long Sprints; we have found two weeks to be the ideal Sprint length since it provides enough time to produce something — at least some usable part of a new feature — while not being so long that we forget we are supposed to be working as a Scrum team.

Planning

Whenever we plan a new Sprint, we are always also looking forward as well: hence the columns titled “Sprint +1” (i.e. the Sprint that will come after the current Sprint), “Sprint +2” (the Sprint that will come after the next Sprint), etc.

This gives a view into the next several weeks of our product roadmap which makes sure we don’t approach any single work item with tunnel vision.

Now you might notice that “Sprint +3” in the list above is way larger than “Sprint +1” or “Sprint +2”: that doesn’t mean that we expect a sudden spurt in productivity (i.e. increase in team velocity) in 4 weeks time.  It just means that as we go further out in our planning there is more uncertainty about priorities and so the Sprints that are well into the future are not well defined — and that’s perfectly OK.

Quality Assurance

Within each Sprint we have a fairly conventional flow: Planning, Development and QA.  The QA step actually consists of three separate stages:

  • Code Review: we try to make sure we review all the code we are writing in any Sprint, unless it is a really trivial change we are making (e.g. changing the label on a button).
  • Deploy to Staging: we have a separate set of servers where we test our new releases.  This also happens to be where we have all our real projects running: we believe very much in the idea that “developers should eat their own dogfood”, so we run out entire business on the latest build that went past Code Review.

    This can be a little scary or frustrating at times: if there was a bad release to our staging environment, it can bring every project and board to a screeching halt.  But, from our perspective, that’s the whole point: make it everyone’s business to ensure that we produce high-quality code, and make it everyone’s priority to fix any problems that come up.

    This model of living on the bleeding edge of our product gives us a really good incentive to write good quality code!

  • The final QA step is Show & Tell, where the team formally presents the new features or bug fixes to the Product Owner.  With each new feature we will have identified a set of test cases, as part of the Planning phase, and these are used to formally check the new feature in a meeting attended by everyone on the team.

    Very occasionally something will get rejected at the Show & Tell stage, in which case the card gets moved back to Planning or Development and flagged as “Needs Rework”.  It’s more common for work to get rejected at the Code Review phase, not because it is buggy, but because it might not meet our internal coding standards.

Deployment

Once a feature or bug fix has passed Show & Tell, it is ready for Deployment to Production.

We have a continuous integration process for handling code changes — pulling them from our internal git code repository — but we don’t do continuous deployment. Instead we prefer to deploy on the last day of each 2-week Sprint.  We usually time this for Friday morning, Indian Standard Time, so that our developers in India can take one final look at the system working in production.

Documentation

We have an unusually strong emphasis within the team on creating documentation at the same time as we write code.  Many small companies skip documentation because they think it will slow them down.

In our own (sometimes bitter) experience, skipping documentation is false savings: if there are problems to be fixed later, or even if a feature simply has to be extended in the future, it’s very hard for even the original developer to recall the logic that she used to write the code in a particular way.

What’s important to note, however, is that we don’t have very big documents: most documents are less than a page long, because they refer to very specific work items.  But we have thousands of these small documents, since every feature we have ever produced, and every bug we have fixed, has been documented.

And thanks to Kerika’s very cool integration with Google Docs (we use Kerika+Google), managing these thousands of documents is very easy: just open the relevant card for a specific feature or bug fix and you will find all the relevant documents as well:

Documents attached to cards
Documents attached to cards

For new features we always have a short Planning Document that identifies any existing modules that will be affected and provides an outline of the new code that will be written. Here’s an example:

Example of a Feature Planning document
Example of a Feature Planning document

There may be other documents created, depending upon the complexity of the new feature, but even the smallest new feature will have at least one planning-related document that’s written before the code is written.

Bug Fixes

For bug fixes, we have a Repro, Cause & Fix document that methodically analyzes the cause of a bug:

Root Cause Analysis
Root Cause Analysis

The most important section of this document is the Introduced Since piece, where we trace the origin of the bug back to its source, to understand what new feature or bug fix we were originally working on that resulted in this new bug appearing.

This methodical root cause analysis, which we do for even the most minor bugs, helps us identify patterns in our code writing that we need to improve.  Sometimes it can even point to bugs that we haven’t discovered yet: the root cause analysis may identify an assumption that we have applied in other places, all of which need to be looked at to make sure there aren’t other variations of the same bug that haven’t been identified yet.

After the bug has been fixed, the Repro, Cause & Fix document is updated to reference the git branches where the code fix can be found.  This completes the circle of careful analysis, careful execution, and methodical review that we strive to adopt (and improve continuously).

The End of Email

We stopped using regular email towards the end of 2013. There was never any formal decision to renounce email; instead there was a formal decision to “eat our own dogfood” in a very serious way.

And as we started to build our entire company using our own product, we found that using Kerika is so much better than using email that there really wasn’t any need for email any more.

So people simply started drifting away from email. There was no explicit decision or formal movement to do so, people just realized, on their own, that email is an exceptionally poor way of managing work within a distributed team.

Conclusion

Considering the size of our team — and entire company, for that matter — you may be surprised by the degree of formalism we have adopted, and the heavy emphasis on analysis and documentation.

We spend at least as much time on analysis and documentation as we do on “pure coding”, and if we add in the Code Reviews and other elements of formal QA, the actual coding time is a relatively small portion of our total expenditure.

But trying to skimp on analysis and documentation really doesn’t pay off, in our experience: if you are building a company and product for the long-run, as we very assuredly are, you need to build it right, not just fast.

New feature: alpha sort of cards

At a user’s request, we have added alpha sorting of cards on Task Boards and Scrum Boards:

Sorting alphabetically
Sorting alphabetically

This is most useful if combined with the Auto-Numbering feature in Kerika, that can automatically insert a number at the beginning of each new card: the alpha sort will sort all the cards in the column by their number.

New feature: partial sorting of cards in a column

We have improved the sorting feature for cards on Task Boards and Scrum Boards to allow for partial sorting: if you select some cards within a column and then do a sort, the sorting action will apply only for the selected cards.

Sort options
Sort options

This will make it easier to organize very large boards, e.g. where a single column may contain a hundred cards or more.

An improvement to Views: eliminating Templates

As one of our users pointed out, Kerika’s ViewsWhat’s Assigned to Me, What Got Done, etc. — shouldn’t include any cards from templates, just regular boards.

People who use templates on a regular basis often pre-assign cards in the template: for example, an employee on-boarding template that involves HR tasks may be preassigned to a specific HR employee.

Our initial implementation of Views included cards from Templates as well, which led to a misleading impression of the amount of work, particularly unscheduled work, that was waiting for a particular person.

That’s fixed now: Views will automatically exclude cards from Templates.

Visitors can view chat on public boards

Some of our users are working on open-source, advocacy, or volunteering projects, and for these people privacy is less important than publicity: rather than hide their work, they would prefer to have as many people as possible view it, in real-time, so they can build momentum for their initiatives.

Here’s an example of a public board:

Example of public board
Example of public board

We have always accommodated such users, by offering an Anyone with link option that Board Admins can use to make their boards accessible by anyone who has the URL of that board, even if they aren’t Kerika users:

Making boards public
Making boards public

When a board is made public, all the files attached to and all the chat as well can be viewed by anyone.

As with any other Visitors, members of the public cannot make any changes.

Our latest improvement to this public boards feature has been to make the chat also viewable by anyone who has the URL of the board.

Note: a Board Admin can change their mind at any time, and revert a public board back to one that’s restricted to the board team or account team.

 

We made it easier to sync your Kerika Due Dates with your Calendar

We made some user interface tweaks to make sure people are aware of a really great feature in Kerika that’s existed for a while, but was buried in a Preferences screen that not everyone paid attention to: you can have your Kerika Due Dates automatically show up on your Google, Microsoft or Apple Calendar.

Well, that’s buried no more: we have added a Calendar Synch button in a more prominent place on the top-right of the Kerika app:

Calendar button
Calendar button

Clicking on this button will let you choose the type of calendar you want to synch with:

Calendar choices
Calendar choices

(Hint: you can have your Kerika Due Dates synch with more than one calendar, if you like.)

Pick your favorite calendar type, and you will see detailed instructions on how to set up syncing of your Kerika Due Dates. Here’s an example of syncing with Apple Calendars:

Calendar instructions
Calendar instructions

The URL is personal, and should be kept confidential. (That’s why we aren’t showing it in the illustration above.)

The URL is long and random so it will be impossible for others to guess, but it’s not a good idea to share it with others unless you really want them to know all your Kerika Due Dates, e.g. if you have an assistant or delegate that helps manage your daily schedule.

 

Views across all your boards

At long last, we have built Views — one of the most commonly requested features, and something that we had been obsessively designing and redesigning over years, trying to figure out the best way to handle this need.

We have done it now. Views has been built, and is automatically available across all your Task Boards and Scrum Boards, whether they are owned by you or shared with you.

We are starting off with four standard Views, and we will built more in the future, and add a way for you to build your own Views as well.

The Views we have built are:

What’s Assigned To Me

The most commonly asked for feature by people who are working on several projects — and, hence, several boards — at the same time.  This is what it looks like:

What's Assigned To Me
What’s Assigned To Me

Everything that’s currently assigned to, on all boards except for those that are in the Trash or Archive, are collected for you into a single View, where cards are organized as follows:

  • Not Scheduled
  • Overdue
  • Due Today
  • Due This Week (excluding what’s already included in Due Today)
  • Due Next Week
  • Due This Month (excluding what’s already included in Due Today and Due This Week)
  • Due This Quarter
  • Due Next Quarter

It is a comprehensive summary of everything you need to get done, and it will be invaluable for managers and anyone else who has to work on multiple projects at the same time.

If you select a card in a View, like this

Selecting card from a View
Selecting card from a View

You get quick access to key actions:

  • Move to Done
  • Move to Trash
  • View Board
  • Open

Open opens the card right there, inside the View itself.  View Board, on the other hand, opens the card in the board in which it is located.

Both are useful, depending upon the card and what you want to do: in some cases you just need to update a particular card — e.g. reschedule it, add a comment or file — and opening the card in the View itself, which is very fast, is enough.

In other situations you might want to be sure you are understanding the context of the card, and it is better to see where it is on the board that contains it.  This can be helpful for cards that you are not quite sure about.

What’s Due

This View will be particularly helpful to managers (Board Admins): it summarizes everything that’s due, on all boards where you are one of the Board Admins:

What's Due
What’s Due

This basically brings to life everything that you can also (optionally) get in your 6AM Task Summary email.

Cards are organized for you as follows:

  • Overdue
  • Due Today
  • Due This Week (excluding what’s already shown as Due Today)
  • Due Next Week
  • Due This Month
  • Due Next Month

For this View, as with the What’s Assigned to Me View, we try to be smart about not showing duplicate cards: if something is due today, for example, it will show up in the Due Today column, but not get duplicated in the Due This Week or Due This Month column.

This makes it easier for you to plan your schedule: you can see what needs to get right away, and what needs to get done later.

What Needs Attention

Again, a View that will be of particular interest to managers concerned with several ongoing boards:

What Needs Attention
What Needs Attention

Here, Kerika tries to show everything that needs a little extra attention: things that are

  • Overdue
  • Flagged as Critical
  • Flagged as Blocked
  • Flagged as Needs Review
  • Flagged as Needs Rework
  • Flagged as being On Hold

These items typically represent your risk profile across all your boards, and Kerika brings it all together in a single View.

What Got Done

Great for anyone who needs to produce a status report, or any manager who needs to monitor progress across many different projects:

What Got Done
What Got Done

Across all boards where you are a Board Admin, this View summarizes

  • What got done Today
  • What got done This Week (excluding items shown in This Week)
  • What got done Last Week
  • What got done This Month (again, excluding items shown for Today and This Week)
  • What got done Last Month
  • What got done This Quarter

Accessing Views:

All your Views can be accessed from a new tab called Views (naturally) on your Home Page:

All your Views
All your Views

On each View card, Kerika shows how many items are included in that View, and as of when.  The Views are automatically refreshed when you open them, but in-between they are not updated because we do not expect the information shown to change on a second-by-second basis.

If you are worried that your View is out of date, you can update it by selecting it on your Home Page:

Refreshing a View
Refreshing a View

You can also update any View that you currently have open, by clicking on the Refresh button shown on the top-right of the View:

Refreshing a View
Refreshing a View

We will let you go crazy with these Views, for now. In the future we will add more (we already have some ideas on that front, but would love to hear from you as well!) and also add a Custom View capability.

Meanwhile, enjoy.

We aren’t going to support Highlights in the Planning Views (at least for now)

Most of the time, users are in what we call the Workflow View of their Task Boards and Scrum Boards:

Workflow View
Workflow View

It’s in the Workflow View that our new Highlights feature proves really useful:

Highlights in Workflow View
Highlights in Workflow View

In the Planning Views, however, Highlights are not as important since we expect the Planning Views to be used primarily for quick scheduling:

Planning View
Planning View

(The Planning Views, by the way, are what we refer to as the views that Kerika provides over the next few days, next few weeks and next few months.)

Is this a good assumption on our part? If not, let us know and we will add Highlights to the Planning Views as well.

A bunch of bug fixes and usability improvements for Tasks

We have done a bunch of small bug fixes and usability tweaks to the Tasks feature we introduced a few weeks ago:

  • When a user’s last Task within a card is marked as Done, the user’s name is removed from the list of people shown as being assigned to that card. (Previously you had to do this cleanup manually.)
  • When a Task that was previously marked as Done is changed to be “undone” (open/remaining), the user who had previously been assigned to that Task is added back to the list of people shown assigned to the card.
  • Bug fix: If someone is assigned to a Task, and this person had previously completed a Done Task, this user wasn’t getting added automatically to the list of people shown on the card. This has been fixed.