Friday, 28 September 2007

Installing Jira - The Development Support Tool

We are a relatively small (less than 20 employees) software development house with about half a dozen mainline products as well as any number of consulting projects going on. We have some very big name clients in several countries and therefore need to ensure work is completed on time and efficiently.

While there are normal enhancement projects and major installation projects going on, there are also a number of items that come up for customers wanting changes or where something doesn't go quite as planned. These can disrupt the programmers day and disturb the development of future enhancements or otherwise frustrate the project timelines.

We have a web based system for clients to record requests and log bugs. This is monitored by our support staff and an email is fired off to developers where necessary.

All this means that as more emails come in, the developer has to judge the urgency of the email and either drop everything to perform that task, or note that this is another item that he has to do in the future. While they are very good at what they do, I was concerned for several reasons.

  1. I don't have a view on what a developer is doing at any time, or what he has done
  2. I don't have any way to tell what the workload of a particular developer is. This means I don't know to spread the load between developers when one is overloaded and another is just doing some normal housework
  3. Programmers can easily forget tasks
  4. It doesn't assist in any process to development
  5. I can't plan to ensure enough resources are available.
  6. I could go on, but you get the idea...

Generally though, it makes the whole development area invisible to me as the manager.

I knew that I needed to install a development process, but I knew immediately, I needed a tool to give me the visibility on what's being worked on work to correctly design a development process. I had used Jira before so the decision was an easy one for me. Setting it up was easy and done in minutes, but I wanted a number of changes to the permission and notification schemes, then it was a matter if creating some projects. Done.

It worked well and I installed a testing project so that people can try out the system without disturbing real work.

Its been installed now for about a week but the uptake has not been immediate. I'll have to do a demo on Monday to show everyone how it works, assure them that its not going to take over their day with mundane admin tasks, and finally show them a few neat wow bits. After that I'll be enforcing the use of it for the next month.

If, after that trial, no-one is convinced, then I'll take it away, but I'll need to know what to replace it with if that is the case. There seems to be a few main problems with installing this work request system that I'll have to overcome. These include:

  • It seems like more work for no reason. While it may take a minute or less to create a new Jira issue, there are huge benefits for the user, the company, and the client - get over it.
  • Its a way for the boss to monitor my work so he can breathe down my neck. In fact, its a way to STOP the boss breathing down your neck as he can see what's going on instead of bugging you every half hour. As for monitoring, your not that interesting that I want to spend all my time "monitoring" what you are doing "right now", I'm a lot busier than that but a quick glance to review workloads will tell me if you have too much work and need help.
  • I get lots of little emails from lots of people wanting me to do things that only take a minute or two, why should I have to put all these into Jira?. By putting these into Jira, these little jobs will not only show you how much time they take up, but you will never, ever forget to do them. I have set up an email for each project in Jira, simply forward to the email to that address and it'll create your Jira issue instantly.
  • I'm a senior developer, surely "I" don't have to do this. Yes, sadly I'm afraid that you do.

I'm sure that once everyone is using it and the advantages are being seen, then it'll resolve any arguments. To be fair, no argument have been forthcoming, but I can sense what's not being said at times. They are a great bunch or people that I enjoy working with, I just think I can make life easier for them with this tool. I'll let you know how it goes.

6 comments:

  1. I would reccomend that you take a look at SourceForge Enterprise, which is free for up to 15 users. Jira is "free" regardless of user-count, but only tracks change-requests. SFE installs as an applience running on a virtual machine and does far more.

    If your team is > 15, or may reasonably grow to more than that, then SFE is no longer free. I'd reccomend looking at it anyway.

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  2. We use a combination of Trac and a custom time tracking application that I wrote to manage similiar issues.

    Trac serves us well because it's a very open yet streamlined system so you don't have to fill out 19 different drop-downs to file a bug or task request. We also use it's wiki ability to post information about the project that everyone should know but doesn't quite work in the concept of an e-mail. It's integration with subversion makes it pretty much a rockstar as well.

    The time tracking app sits in the tray and you can quickly switch tasks via a global hotkey and use another one to start/stop your timer. You can also create tasks on the fly which I find useful when someone walks into the room because as they're talking I quickly hotkey, enter a new task name like "Talking to Bob" and afterwards when I actually understand what product Bob was talking about I either rename the task or move it under an existing one. Simple and fast enough that no one minds using it.

    One thing lacking is the ability to marry time data with tasks in Trac but based on how we deal with time that's actually not a concern.

    We've also tried Basecamp which I really like and it has time tracking but the lack integration wtih a true bug tracking solution turned some of us off.

    I've also really been wanting to check out Mingle. We are already an agile-style shop and it seems like Mingle really would be a great fit, I just haven't had the time to check it out.

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  3. Thanks to both those responses.

    I have had a look at SourceForge and indeed it looks impressive. Unfortunately Jira is not "free", but once purchased the user count is not affected.

    I have looked at trac and Mingle, but while they both are great systems, I'm well used to jira and know how well it works. I am intrigued with SourceForge though so will keep a good eye on that.

    Jira has been in real use now for a few days, after the initial "playtime" of about a week where it wasn't properly used. With Jira in live use, I found I had to change a number of things, like the amount of emails it fired off, but its getting quite accepted now. Whats difficult is getting the users to let me know of any little niggles (like the number of emails). Once these are highlighted, I can make a simple change and everyone's happy.

    I've now extended Jira into the Business Analyst area and also a restricted project under the "Management Team". The Sales team have expressed interest in a place to put tasks that can be assigned that won't be forgotten so I'll do a demo to them next week to create a Sales project. I suspect they'd be better with CRM, but I don't know the full requirement yet.

    All going well so far.

    Thanks so much for the suggestions.

    Steve

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  4. Andrew NichollsJuly 26, 2008

    Hi Steve

    Very interesting post. I am looking at Jira (and maybe Confluence) in our software development house in Auckland. I would be interested to know how it has been going over the past year. Has your development and support team embraced the system and does it make life easier for them and you?

    We currently use a combination of bugzilla and an in-house developed issue management system but are looking to something that can bring it all together and also provide an easy to use/view customer interface. We also have problems around the visibility of any specific issue and planning of work and are looking for something to help with this.

    Regards
    Andrew

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  5. Hello Andrew,

    JIRA very quickly became an integral part of the development process. The tool is open all the time on my desktop and I am able to view updates from the team in real time. We also installed the time logging add-on called Kaamelot (free) which allows me to run timesheets.

    Everything goes into JIRA, even the weekly management reporting - in a restricted project viewable only by the management team.

    For the monthly reports I run various reports and graphs from JIRA which allows me to report on where the team is spending its time.

    Although aprehensive about it for the first few weeks, the benefits for the team showed the team members themselves why they should use it. None here regret putting it in as it makes life a lot easier. More than once, team members are able to prove their case simply by using the logs in JIRA.

    I did write up a full review in my blog post here that you can read.

    We have not regretted installing JIRA and I can highly recommend it. However, a few weeks after reading my post Atlassian did send me a T-shirt (by coincidence I'm wearing it now) so I may have been tainted a little :-)

    Email me Andrew and I'll send you my phone number if you wish to chat. You'll find my email link by clicking on my picture (top right) and you'll see the email link on the left of the resulting page.

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  6. Jacob Samson SchlüterOctober 28, 2008

    Hi,

    Very insteresting. We are using JIRA (Pro. edition) and are only using it for but-tracking.

    We have tried to start using SalesForce; but this is taken some time to get to run, since it is a very application.

    But I find it hard to start using JIRA as support tool. How do I secure a good communication with our customers, when we are basing most of our communication on emails. And how do I keep track on from which companies the customer is mailing?

    It could be good to have some input from you - thank you for a very good article.


    Best regards


    Jacob

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