During my first year as a VFA fellow I found myself in a number of roles. It was great to get to try out so many different positions and it enabled me to become more familiar with our team, product, and overall value proposition. It also illuminated the company’s trajectory and gave me a vantage from which I identified a number of inefficiencies, particularly in the way we approached product development.
We were using a common toolbox - email, skype, github - but there was no discipline in how we used these tools. Workflows weren’t defined anywhere and there was little sense of what work lay ahead. It was a constant whirlwind of information being asked for from one platform, delivered to another, discussed elsewhere and without a clearly defined outcome we often lost track of crucial components and tasks.
In an effort to organize our team, I reached out to Pete Bodenheimer of flatstack to see if he would share his team’s methodology. He took me through their Trello boards and their daily scrums in Basecamp. As a noob to project management I was blown away by their ability to track progress, follow consistent workflows, and lay out future sprints. I suggested using these tools to my company’s team but our lead developer’s response was something along the lines of, “go fuck yourself…”
"I don’t want to use another damn platform!" he said, so we trudged through another couple months of uncoordinated development only to have a critical feature that worked previously crap out in the middle of a high-profile demo. Boss man was not happy, to say the least, and he gave me the go-ahead to implement a new process.
After creating accounts for the tools Pete had shown me, I began setting up the boards. Then it occurred to me, I was shooting myself in the foot. Why would I implement a tool that our most technical team member is opposed to? He would resent me and inevitably fall out of habit, writing his updates elsewhere(if at all), leaving me with an even more unorganized mess to clean up down the line.
I went back to Pete and explained to him my dilemma. “The tool isn’t as important as the process,” he said, “figure out a way to make what you are already using work.”
So I did. I hacked together github to act not only as an issue tracker and code repo but also to outline and assign workflows, act as a space for daily reports and responsibility, and also to organize new and backlogged stories into future sprints.
While it’s not a perfect system, and it has its limitations, it is most certainly an improvement. We are working faster, having less unnecessary conversations, and other areas for improvement are becoming clearer.