How great is Kerika’s integration with the Box Platform (that powers our direct signups?)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
For bug fixes, we have a Repro, Cause & Fix document that methodically analyzes the cause of a bug:
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.
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.
One final (?) bit of restyling, to make all of Kerika consistent with our new look-and-feel, has been updating the Board Settings dialogs.
The functionality is essentially the same, but the appearance is cleaner, lighter and more in keeping with the Material Design standards we have (mostly) adopted.
(We say “mostly”, because there are some elements of Material Design that we find unattractive. For example, for the on/off toggle switches we prefer the iOS style buttons.)
The Column Settings dialog has also been restyled, and looks nicer and cleaner. The example above shows a board that uses Work-In-Progress Limits.
And the same with Tag Settings: we have a restyled color picker, and better messages for warnings when tag names or colors might clash.
Every card (and every canvas) on a Task Board or Scrum Board in Kerika has a unique URL, but most of the time you might not notice the URL shown in your browser’s address bar is changing as you open one card after another.
(And if you are using Safari on Macs, you definitely won’t notice this since Safari hides most of the URL anyway.)
These URLs can be helpful in many ways: Kerika recognizes them as pointing to other cards or canvases, and makes these links an easy way to connect up different work items.
Here’s an example of a card URL that’s referenced in a chat message:
Any URLs that are included as part of the chat or details of a card, that reference other cards, canvases or boards within Kerika, are automatically recognized and presented as useful links as you can see from the first chat message shown in the above example.
To make it easier to get these card URLs (and to help you notice that they are important in the first place), we have made it possible to grab any card’s URL with a single click:
Clicking on the new Card URL button that appears on the top-right of each card’s detail view makes it possible to see, and copy, the card’s URL with a simple click:
We have made it easier to grab the URL of an entire board as well, from your Home Page:
Try this way of creating links between related work items, across all your Kerika 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:
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:
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.
People usually don’t pay attention to the question of who owns a particular board, but it is an important question to consider when you create a new board: the Account Owner owns not just the board, but also all the files attached to cards and canvases on that board.
This is not always important (and often not important in day-to-day use of Kerika): our deep integration with Google and Box ensures that everyone who is part of the board team has automatic access to all the files needed for that board, with access permissions managed according to each individual’s role on the board: Board Admins and Team Members get read+write access; Visitors get read-only access.
(And, as people join or leave board teams, or their roles on a particular board’s team changes, Kerika automatically manages their access to the underlying project files, regardless of whether these are being stored in Google or Box.)
But when someone is planning to leave an organization, the question of ownership can suddenly become important: you don’t want an ex-employee to continue to own critical project files.
Changing ownership of boards was not something that was easily done in the past — there were workarounds, but they were fairly cumbersome and obscure — and we mostly handled these as special requests, on a case-by-case basis.
With our newest update to Kerika, this is no longer the case: changing the ownership of a board is a simple process that can be initiated at any time by the current owner of a board:
You can ask any other Kerika user, who has signed up the same way as you did (i.e. either as Kerika+Google, Kerika+Box, or by directly signing up) to take ownership of a board. Because this is a consequential action, not something you should rush into, you are asked to confirm your intention by typing the word “YES”:
Once your request is sent off to the other user, the board is in a frozen state: existing members of the board team can continue to view the board, but no one can make any changes:
If you change your mind, you can cancel the request before it has been accepted. This can be done by selecting the board from your Home Page:
You can also find your pending request in your Sentbox, and cancel it from there:
Note: once a board’s transfer is complete, it can’t be undone by you. If you really need to get ownership back of a board, you will need to ask the new owner to transfer the board to you.
An important caveat for Kerika+Google users
We try to ensure that files attached to a Kerika+Google board have their ownership changed at the same time as the board itself is transferred, but there are some limits to how Google will allow for a change in ownership:
All Kerika-related files are stored in a set of folders in a user’s Google Drive, organized by account and board.
Google let’s us change the owner of a folder, so we can make sure that when a board is transferred the ownership of the associated Google Drive folder is also changed.
However, for the individual files contained within the folder, Google only allows for a change of ownership of files that are part of Google Docs: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, etc.
Files like images (.jpg, .png, .gif), zip files, and PDFs, for example, retain their old ownership between the Google API doesn’t let Kerika change the ownership of these “non-Google-formatted” file types.
A fun video we made recently featuring Faith Trimble and Kate King, from the Athena Group, talking about how a consulting company can function as a truly distributed team — and get great work-life balance as a result!
For experienced users who don’t need as much help in starting new boards, we are providing a faster mechanism that skips some steps that are currently shown to new users.
You can access this faster mechanism by clicking on the Skip Suggestions link in the current Start New Board dialog:
Once you click on Skip Suggestions, Kerika will recognize you as an experienced user who prefers a path like this:
Kerika will assume your new board will use the same template that you last used, but if you like you can change to a different template by clicking on the Change Settings link:
This should save our experienced users a few clicks when they want to start a new board…
While fast access to actions is generally a good thing in user interfaces, we think there are some circumstances where it might be a good idea to deliberately slow down users, if they are likely to rush into making a mistake.
One such tweak we have introduced is to collapse the Move and Sort options for arranging cards within a column into sub-menus:
When clicked, the Sort cards option expands to show the different sorts that are available:
Effectively, this use of a sub-menu within a an already short menu is a deliberate decision on our part to slow you down from rushing into a sorting action.
An inadvertent sort can cause some havoc if the team had previously spent many hours, or even days, carefully grooming the cards on a column (like the Backlog, for example) to arrange them in a precise order.
One rushed sort could wreck all that, so perhaps access to Sort needs to be a little harder?
We have done something similar for the Move actions that are available on cards:
What do you think? Smart move on our part, or dumb? Let us know.
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 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:
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
- 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
You get quick access to key actions:
- Move to Done
- Move to Trash
- View Board
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.
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:
Cards are organized for you as follows:
- 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:
Here, Kerika tries to show everything that needs a little extra attention: things that are
- 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:
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
All your Views can be accessed from a new tab called Views (naturally) on your Home Page:
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:
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:
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.