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News for December 2013

Finding a Happy Medium: Distributed Team Communication

Spotlight Software is your go-to tool to facilitate communication within your team; however, there can be too much of a good thing, even where team communication is involved.  Over-communicating may be an especially pressing problem for teams that are changing and growing at a rapid pace, such as with start-ups and app development projects.

Team-Communication-Spotlight-SoftwareAccording to a recent article in Inc. Magazine, studies dating as far back as the 1970s showed that adding people to a project will put it further behind schedule.  The article summarizes an IBM project case study, which showed that:

Every time some aspect of the project fell behind schedule, IBM assigned a few more people to the task. And what [the study’s author] Brook’s noticed, which still surprises people, is that this didn’t work. His observation came to be known as Brooks’ Law: Adding people to a late project tends to make it run later still.

At the heart of the issue lies the growth of an organization or team.  As the number of team members increases, so too does the need for more communication between individuals.  In the beginning stages, a project may only involve a handful of individuals who are involved in all areas of development.  But as the team grows, positions tend to become more specialized, meaning that, while the number of individuals involved in communication increases, not every team member may need (or want) to know everything that’s going on.  It’s been documented that most meetings – nearly half, according to the Harvard Business School – are unnecessary and hence, unproductive, in part because of over-communicating.  Email may be a contributing factor, making it easy to invite a whole list of people or, as with some web mail applications, suggesting names to add to a list, even if those people are only loosely connected to the department at hand.

Spotlight tackles the issue of over-communicating by allowing for specialized reports and focused dialogue. Unlike other task management tools, with Spotlight, users have control over what’s important. While Spotlight offers a top-quality task management system, the real strength lies in its ability to help manage people and encourage timely, appropriate communication among virtual teams. By using social network-like communication tools, virtual teams communicate even better than in an office because users quickly see what others are working on at any time of the day.

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Spotlight Bug Tracking and QA Flags Tool

In a project management sprint, multiple activities are happening all at once – new features are being added, improvements are being made to existing features, bugs are getting fixed – tasks run the gamut.  Managing this process and keeping up to date on progress is, at once, both imperative and daunting.

Because so much happens within a sprint, Spotlight’s functionality allows users to accurately track progress every step of the way.  In the initial stage of planning, specific tasks will be laid out and assigned to distributed employees, appearing in a list in the Message Center.  There are no QA flags on tasks that are not started, tasks that are in progress, or tasks that are paused. When a task has been marked as completed in the Status column, the QA flags become visible.  There are three different QA flags:

  • Red indicates that the task is completed and ready for QA
  • Yellow indicates that the task in being tested, and automatically tracks time for that tester
  • Green indicates that the task has been approved

Alternatively, if the task is not approved, the tester can choose the “Re-opened” option in the drop-down box in the Status column, alerting the developer of the task’s changed status. The tester also has the option to open the task and comment on the changed status. When a task is re-opened, the QA flags disappear once again.

QA flags clearly display the progress of all the tasks, allowing users to see which tasks need to be QA’d, which are in progress, and which have been tested and approved.

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Vincent Serpico: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the webinar. We are going to go over the new QA flags and the bug tracking in Spotlight, a new feature that we are very, very excited about.

First thing, I need to change my status. I’m going to change my status to “in a webinar.” I am busy, and will be into this webinar until, let’s say, 11 AM. We’ll call this a meeting. Fantastic.

Let’s go over the new QA flags and bug tracking in Spotlight. Let me just give you a bit of history about on how we arrived at our above tracking and our QA flags.

First of all, during a sprint, you’re going to be adding new features. You’re going to be adding improvements to existing features. You’re going to be fixing bugs, and you’re going to adding other tasks, as well.

Everything happens within a sprint. When a task is set to completed, QA flags will display. Notice that there are no QA flags on tasks that are not started, tasks that are in progress, and any tasks that are paused, don’t have any QA flags.

QA flags are only on display on tasks, bugs, features, or improvements that are marked completed. They display as red, signifying that the task, bug, feature, or improvement is ready for QA.

Once it’s ready for QA, the QA tester, in this case it’s Kristen Simmons, will come in and mark the QA flag yellow. Yellow means that it’s currently being QAed.

Also, this is very important, this system will begin recording time for Kristen testing this task. It is 10:11 AM, where I am right now. This system is currently recording the time for Kristen QAing this task over here.

Once completed, once it passed QA, Kristen can then mark the task as approved and green, or if the task is not approved, she can flip it back open to reopen.

Notice the QA flags will go away, and the task is not reopened. Norman will get an alert that his task has been reopened. Presumably, Kristen will go into the task, and leave a comment as to why it’s reopened.

Actually, let’s go ahead and mark this as completed again. We feel that the QA flags are a very easy way to quickly see the progress of all the tasks. Let’s say, I want to do a filter on everything that has been completed. After all, that’s where the QA flags are set on.

Out of all the completed tasks, I can see that there are still several that need to be QAed, and still several that are in progress, and several that are already tested and approved. I can quickly scan down and get an idea of where we are with all of the QA testing. We feel that’s a very, very efficient way to manage QA, keep QA as a first class citizen, and stay involved with everything going on at the development level.

I like to keep these webinars short. I like to keep them to the point. Everybody has very, very busy days. As always, the webinar will be posted on our website for further review. Again, we try to keep them very short, 10, 15 minutes, and followed by a round of Q and A.

I’m going to open it up to Q and A right now. If you have any questions, please go ahead and type it in the questions area. I’ll go ahead and get them answered. Other than that…

OK, I see a question right now about marking a QA flag as yellow. Yes, it does track time. The time tracking works exactly the same as a time tracking on a status update.

If you mark a QA flag as yellow and your status is away or offline, it will not track the time. If you mark a QA flag as yellow and your status is busy or available, then yes, it will track the time.

Of course, it will track the time for the person who is assigned as a tester to the task.

Another question, no, a comment. Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.

We feel that the integrated approach is quick, easy, to the point, and just gets the job done. Thank you very much for attending the webinar. We’ll see you next week. Bye‑bye.


Spotlight Daily Progress Reports

In any project, software development or otherwise, communication is key. It’s of crucial importance, but is often overlooked, that ending the day with communication increases both productivity and accountability. Spotlight’s Daily Progress Reports feature allows users the option to fill out reports on a daily basis.  Using these simple, yet comprehensive reports, distributed workers recount what they’ve done for the day, and detail what they’ll accomplish the following day.

Similar to a scrum (where team members discuss their projects for the previous and upcoming days) but with some very important differences – the Daily Progress Report ends the team member’s day by communicating with their manager.  By mentally cataloging and physically recording the details of their workday, the Daily Progress Report accomplishes several key actions:

  • Creates a sense of accountability in the team member by submitting the Daily Progress Report to their manager
  • Mentally prepares team member for the following day’s work by outlining anticipated tasks and workload.
  • Prepares managers for the following day’s scrum by reviewing the team members’ Daily Progress Reports
  • Constitutes a written history of performance for each distributed team member

In addition, the Daily Progress Report function is customizable.  All reports for the day are viewable in the inbox of the Report Center, and are optional by default, but can be made mandatory if desired.  If a team member doesn’t fill out a Daily Progress Report, the system will actually block usage until the progress report is completed. Daily Progress Report can also be created, submitted and accessed via mobile.

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Vincent Serpico:  Good morning, everybody. Welcome to this week’s webinar, where we’re going to discuss the Report Center and the powerful features of reports in Spotlight. Let’s go ahead and get started.

First thing I need to do is go ahead and change my status. Let me go ahead and change my status to “Spotlight Webinar.” We’ll be on this webinar until about 10:15, Arizona time. I am in a meeting. Always be sure to update your status.

Spotlight has a feature called “Daily Progress Reports.” The idea behind Daily Progress Reports is that team members fill out reports on a daily basis, recounting what they’ve done for the day, and what they’re going to do tomorrow.

This might sound similar to a scrum, where you have your morning meeting with your team and everybody talks about what they did the previous day, and what they’re going to do today.

Similar to a scrum, with some very important differences, the Daily Progress Report, number one, ends the team member’s day by communicating with their manager. This is very important.

In any software development project, in any project, communication is key. It’s very, very important that you end your day with communication.

Also, by submitting a Daily Progress Report each day, there’s a sense of accountability created in the team member by submitting this report to their manager.

Also, by creating a Daily Progress Report, the team member mentally becomes prepared for the next day. Your most successful CEOs of Fortune 500 companies will do journaling at the end of the day, recounting what they did, and planning for tomorrow. This is very similar.

Also, a Daily Progress Report allows the managers to prepare for the next day’s scrum by reviewing the Daily Progress Reports for the next day.

Instead of coming to the scrum saying, “Yesterday, you said you were going to do this. What did you do?” they read the Daily Progress Report and say, “I can see what you’ve done. Now, let’s discuss what you’re going to do today.”

Finally, the Daily Progress Report is a written history of performance for each and every team member.

Let’s take a look at the Daily Progress Report. I see I have one new report, which I have not read. I’m going to open it right now, and take a look at it. Let’s see what Norman did yesterday. Norman did a lot of work yesterday. Excellent.

Today, he’s going to be working on documentation assignments, design bugs, and continue with task. Excellent. His progress looks good, and I’m going to let him know. “Looking good, Norman.”

I can go to the inbox of the Report Center, and view anybody’s report for the day. Let’s take a look at what Dan worked on. Looks like Dan was very, very busy yesterday.

We get to see what everybody worked on, at any given day, and scroll through the history of all your team members, and get an idea of their progress.

The Daily Progress Report is optional by default. However, your Daily Progress Report can be mandatory if you so choose.

What we’re going to do is we’re going to Project Settings, Daily Progress Reports. What you’ll see over here is a check mark next to the team members who must fill out their Daily Progress Report.

What happens if they don’t fill out a Daily Progress Report? The system will actually block usage until the progress report is completed. The progress report screen will display. When the progress report is submitted, then the team member will be allowed to use the system again.

You’ll notice there is a field over here for recipients. Recipients means that once your Daily Progress Report is submitted for the day, an HTML version will be mailed to anybody on this comma‑separated email list.

Note that the recipients on the email list do not need to be members of Spotlight. What is this used for? Maybe you have a peripheral stakeholder, a peripheral executive, client, somebody who wants to be apprised of what the team members are working on.

Finally, your Daily Progress Report will be submitted via mobile. You’ll be able to check the reports via mobile, and you’ll be able to create reports via mobile.

Any questions?

That’s a very good question. The question was “What is the difference between the daily report from the team member, project manager, and team lead?”

This is pretty much role‑based. If my role is a team member role, I’ll be filling out a team member report. If my role is project manager, I’ll be filling out a project manager report, and be able to see project manager reports, as well as team member reports.

If I’m a team lead, same thing. I’ll be able to fill out team lead report, and see team member reports. My role is a super user, so I’m able to see all reports. If my role was a team member, I would not see these reports, and I would not see these reports.

I’m going to wrap up unless there’s any other…That is a good question. Team members cannot see other team members’ Daily Progress Reports. The idea there is that these reports are meant for your managers.

During the scrum, we all get together as a team. We all discuss what we did yesterday and what we’re doing for the day. The Daily Progress Report is a report you submit directly to your manager, and your manager reviews it. It’s almost like a daily progress review.

Thank you very much for the questions. Thanks very much for attending. We’ll see you next week. Bye‑bye.


Utilizing Spotlight Status Cards

Spotlight Status Cards are the number one way for virtual teams to communicate. Team members update their status cards with their availability, the task they are working on, and their progress, and a quick update to the rest of the team.

Team members receive an alert, and new status updates display at the top of the queue for all to see. Show support by liking a status update, start a conversation, a chat, or request more information. Flip the status card over for more details, including contact information and an overview of the team member’s daily activities.

In addition to the user’s current status and time stamp, the status card offers a range of information, including the team member’s:

  • Username for social networks like Skype
  • Phone number
  • Physical location and time zone
  • Description of current task and progress
  • Recently-completed and upcoming tasks

Updating status is simple to do, both from the computer and on the go. The user chooses an availability option – whether online – available/busy/away, or offline – then inputs the appropriate length of time the status will be valid.   Status updates are color-coded (red, yellow, green, black) so other users will know with a quick glance if another team member is available.  Spotlight goes mobile on the iPhone and Android, so you get every status update from every team member in real time.  The mobile app is equally intuitive, with features and design similar to the desktop version.

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Vincent Serpico:  Spotlight Status Cards are the number one way for virtual teams to communicate. Team members update their status cards with their availability, the task they are working on, and their progress, and a quick update to the rest of the team.

Team members receive an alert, and new status updates display at the top of the queue for all to see. Show support by liking a status update, start a conversation, a chat, or request more information. Flip the status card over for more details, including contact information and an overview of the team member’s daily activities.

On the go? No problem. Spotlight goes mobile on the iPhone and Android, so you get every status update from every team member in real time.

Looks like it’s time for me to update my status.


Spotlight Automatic Time Tracking

Distributed teams need to maintain accountability and productivity in task management, and Spotlight is the most trusted way to ensure accurate task timing. Spotlight’s time tracker lets clients accurately forecast projects, as well as balancing contractors’ invoices against the actual amount of timed work recorded in the Spotlight system.

Spotlight’s task timing is integrated into a world-class task manager and social networking dashboard.  With this integrated functionality, members don’t need to think about timing tasks – it automatically happens when team members select and update their current tasks in the Spotlight status control.

Progress is manually set to provide an indication to others how they are progressing on the task. When the team member chooses an online status of “available” or “busy,” Spotlight times the actual hours spent on the selected task.

When the team member chooses an online status of “away” or “offline,” Spotlight ceases the timing of the actual hours spent on the task, and pauses the task status.

Spotlight also accommodates QA testing.  When a task is ready for testing, Spotlight logs testing time while status is flagged as “yellow, in progress.” Timing ceases when the QA status changes to “green, approved,” or “reopened.”

Accurate task timing is vital to good project management – that’s why it’s seamlessly integrated into Spotlight.  Spotlight makes it easy for distributed team members to maintain an accurate record of their productivity, while offering powerful analytics that drive the project now and in the future. When it comes to world‑class task timing and time tracking, Spotlight shines.

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Vincent Serpico:  Spotlight is the most trusted way to ensure accurate task timing. We understand the need to accurately time task. That is why we built the world’s best time tracker. Spotlight’s time tracker lets you accurately forecast your projects, and even balance your contractors’ invoices against actual timed work.

Spotlight’s task timing is integrated into our world class task manager and social networking dashboard. That means team members don’t need to think about timing tasks. It automatically happens. Team members select the tasks they are working on in Spotlight status control.

Progress is manually set to provide an indication to others how they are progressing on the task. When the team member chooses an online status of available or busy, Spotlight times the actual hours spent on the selected task.

When the team member chooses an online status of “away” or “offline”, Spotlight ceases the timing of the actual hours spent on the task, and places the task status in a paused state.

QA members can time their tasks similar to developers. QA testers simply select a task that is ready for testing. Spotlight will log the amount of time testing while the QA status is flagged as “yellow, in progress.” When a tester sets the QA status to “green, approved,” or “reopened,” timing ceases. You can always check the timing progression of any task in the task detail history section.

Note here that the developer started and paused the task three times for cumulative of four hours of development, and QA tested for 30 minutes. You can even balance invoices received against actual hours in Spotlight’s project report.

Here, we can see that the developer spent 90 percent of his time working on tasks. Each task he worked is represented below with actual time worked.

Accurate task timing is vital to good project management. That’s why task timing is integrated into Spotlight at the deepest levels. Spotlight makes it easy for team members to time their tasks and powerful for you to analyze. When it comes to world‑class task timing, Spotlight shines.


Executing your Software Development Project

Most software development projects fail. Statistics have a rate of around 60 to 70 percent failure. And, if the software development project is driven by a distributed team – such as having developers in Mexico, India, or New York – that statistic can go as high as 90 percent.

The reason the bulk of these projects fail is lack of process and strategy due, in part, to a lack of accountability and communication instilled within the team. But success is possible – by using the right processes for hiring your distributed developers, planning your software development project before you even start, and, finally, managing and executing your software development project.

So, what’s the best way to instill accountability and communication into your software development project?

The first strategy is called the “daily scrum,” or daily meeting.  This is a way to bring the whole team together at the beginning of the day, allowing everyone to communicate to the team which projects, both recent and upcoming, are in their workload.  To maintain an efficient and expedient meeting, each person should plan to speak for no more than a minute or two, with everyone keeping on-topic.  By publicly announcing what they’re going to work on in the day ahead, you’re instilling a sense of group accountability – this is very, very powerful.

The next strategy keeps the distributed team communicating all day long, maintaining strong momentum with regular status updates. Just like in social media, a status update is broadcast by a team member to the entire team detailing what they’re working on, their progress, and what their availability.  This strategy creates synergy within the team, even though they may be thousands of miles away from one another.

The final strategy is the Daily Progress Report, which is sent by each team member to their direct supervisor. In this report, the team member recounts what they did that day, what they’re going to do tomorrow, any challenges they might be experiencing.  Because this step is so similar to the daily scrum, it may seem unimportant; however, this “brain dump” by the team member allows him to get out all that he did today, and plan for his next day – a tactic employed by many Fortune 500 CEOs.  This step also reinforces a sense of accountability, because a team member is now accounting for his own productivity that day, not just to the team, but directly to his manager.  With these reports, the manager has the opportunity to review what everyone did for the day, and prepare for the scrum the next morning. This circular process helps tie everything together, while strengthening the team’s communication and accountability.

You know managing a software development project is not rocket science, and it’s not brain surgery – even though it can sometimes feel that way.  You can succeed if you follow the process outlined here.

Yes, you can:

  • Yes, you can build your mobile app.
  • Yes, you can bring your dream to the marketplace.
  • And, yes, you can succeed.

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Vincent Serpico:  Most software development projects fail. Statistics have a rate of around 60 to 70 percent failure rate. And, if your software development project is driven by a distributed team, you know, developers in Mexico, India, New York. If your software development project is driven by a distributed team, that statistic can go as high as 90 percent.

This is completely unacceptable. And the reason why these software development projects fail is because of a lack of process and strategy. That’s right. By a lack of process and strategy, these software development projects fail. But I’m here to tell you that “Yes, you can succeed with the right process.” There is a process for hiring your distributed developers. There is a process for planning your software development project before you ever start. And, there’s a process for managing and executing your software development project.

This video is going to discuss the strategies and the process for executing a software development project.

Now, most software development projects fail in their execution, due to a lack of accountability and communication instilled within your team. So we’re going to discuss the process of how to instill accountability and communication into your software development project. The first strategy is called the “daily scrum”. Why do software development has this strange vernaculars? So, you can call it a Scrum, I like to call it a meeting.

Either way, it’s a way to bring the whole team together at the beginning of the day, so that everybody can describe to everyone else what they’re going to work on. So, the way to instill the accountability and communication is to have each person, one by one, recount what they did yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and any challenges they might have. Each person should speak for about a minute or two, and any side bar tangential conversations should be taken offline in another meeting.

This is a great way to get everybody talking. So, your team in Mexico is speaking with your team in India. The team in India is speaking with the team in New York. The entire distributed team is speaking to each other, and starting the day with communication. And by publicly announcing what they’re going to work on today, you’re instilling a sense of group accountability, and this is very, very powerful.

OK, great. Now, what we want to do is implement the next strategy and keep this distributed team communicating all day long, so your momentum stays strong. And the way to do that is with regular status updates. And a status update is simply a broadcast by a team member to the entire team of what they’re working on, what the progress is, and what their availability is.

For example, a team member in Mexico might say, “I am 75 percent done implementing the database, and I’ll be available till about 6:00 PM tonight.” Maybe somebody in India might say, “I am 25 percent done with Ecom shopping cart. I’ll be working till 11:00 PM tonight, and I need some help testing.”

Maybe the designer in New York says, “When I get back from the dentist at 3:00 PM, I’ll be working on the UI.” Now one hand knows what the other is doing. So, your entire distributed team can create this synergy, even though they’re thousands of miles away from each other. Maybe, even a synergy better than everyone sitting in the office.

OK. So, you started your day with accountability and communication. You kept that communication of momentum going throughout the day, now you want to end the day with more accountability and communication. And that’s done through the Daily Progress Report.

The Daily Progress Report is a report sent by each team member to the direct supervisor. It’s kind of like an inverse Scrum, where they recount what they did today, what they’re going to do tomorrow, any challenges they might have.

Now, this daily progress report is extremely important for many reasons. First of all, it’s a brain dump by the team member. It allows him to get out all that he did today, and plan for his next day. Many Fortune 500 CEOs will regularly journal what they did at the end of the day, and prepare for the next day. It’s a really good habit to get into. If you don’t do it yourself, I highly recommend that you do it.

Number two, it creates a sense of accountability, because a team member is now saying, “This is what I did and said I was going to in the Scrum this morning, and this is what I did today.” Now, he’s had a sense of accountability to his manager. And also, he’s communicating with his manager at the end of the day.

Now, the manager loves these daily progress reports, because he’s able to review what everyone did for the day, and prepare for the Scrum the next morning. You see how this is all circular and how it all ties together?

And if you ever do quarterly reviews, it’s a great way to go through all the daily progress reports, and see the progress of your team members. So, let’s recount the three strategies of executing a software development project.

Number one, start the day with a daily huddle, where everybody has a sense of accountability and communication. Number two, require that each team member broadcast three to five status updates a day, and another three at the end of the day, plus wrap up the day with more accountability and more communication by each team member disseminating a daily progress report to his manager.

Look, managing a software development project is not rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. I’m here to say that, “Yes, you can do it.” If you follow this process, if you’re diligent enough to stay on top of the process, then, “Yes, you can. Yes, you can build your mobile app. Yes, you can bring your dream to the marketplace. And, yes, you can succeed.”

My name is Vincent Serpico. I am CEO and founder of Spotlight Software. Thank you for watching…