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.
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.
In part 1 last week, Spotlight CEO discussed the benefits a business can see by using a distributed team model. Today, Vincent looks at the issues he ran into while running his nearshore software development company that ultimately led to the creation of Spotlight People & Project Manager.
“Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” Mickey was pissed. Pablo was hired as a full-time dedicated resource for Mickey’s company through my services company.
“Did he send you an email or something, Mickey”, I asked.
“Nope. And we need to deploy the database before tomorrow morning. I tried Skyping him, emailing him, and called his mobile.”
It was 3:30 in the afternoon. “OK, let me try to get in touch with him. I’m sure he’ll make up the hours and we’ll be fine. Pablo’s responsible.”
Pablo really is responsible, and gets his tasks done. He works more than 40 hours per week… but not the usual 9-5. As a remote contractor, he enjoys the benefits of working remotely, which include picking up his kids from school around 3:15 in the afternoon.
I reached Pablo a little after 4:00. “Pablo… I don’t mind if you take off to pick up your kids… but you have to let the client know.”
Pablo seemed panicked. “Vincent, I sent Mickey an email. Here let me forward it to you.”
The email was sent in the earlier part of the afternoon. And lo and behold, it cited that Pablo would be out from 3:00 – 4:15, and that he would deploy the database when he returned. Which is exactly what he did, and the deployment turned out to be a success.
However, we still have the issue of solid communications among distributed teams. Because while I wish this was an isolated instance, it actually happens a lot more than it should. And it wasn’t just my company, it’s an issue that plagues all distributed teams…whether they are an office that telecommutes, an enterprise team spread across a campus, or a company that hires contractors in Mexico, India and China. Distributed teams face the challenge of communication, collaboration and accountability.
We all know where this story’s going, so I’ll cut to the chase. I built Spotlight to enhance communication, collaboration and accountability among my crew of ~25 contractors spread all over Mexico and the United States, and to provide my clients with a way to peer into the daily operations of their project. In other words, Spotlight’s mission was to minimize the “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” phone calls from my clients.
It worked. It worked much better than even I expected. That’s why I spun the product off as its own entity. And with the help of my partner, Dan Schulz, we took the product to even higher aspirations by adding a task-timing feature that blows the competition out of the water.
So… guess whom our most excited customers are today? That’s right… PM’s, scrum masters and other product owners that received similar “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” calls when they ran distributed projects.
Our company is 100% virtual. All employees work from home or wherever they have an Internet connection (and we have worked from a lot of places) in the southwestern part of the U.S. and throughout Mexico. Needless to say, being able to communicate is extremely important…and Skype is one communication tool we can’t live without. I imagine many other businesses fall into the same boat.
Spotlight’s product and service offerings relate directly to how we operate – we help distributed teams like ourselves manage people and projects better. And we use our own project management tool, Spotlight PPM, to help us communicate, collaborate, and work better together as a distributed team. I think the saying goes “we eat our own dogfood.”
Obviously Spotlight is another tool we can’t live without, so we decided to merge our two favorite methods of communication and integrate Skype right into Spotlight. You can now initiate a chat, phone, or video call straight from a team member’s status card on the dashboard.
By integrating Skype directly on the dashboard, it makes it very easy to get your whole team together for meetings with just a few clicks. Simply click the Skype button on the person’s status card you want to include in the meeting and they are instantly added to the queue. You can easily tell who is already added to your call by the queue list or if the Skype button is highlighted on the status card. Just click the type of communication channel you want to initiate (chat, video call, audio call) and you have a team meeting going in just a few seconds.
This is where we live by the KISS acronym – keep it simple, stupid.
One of our goals with Spotlight is to combine many of these tools used to communicate and collaborate with your distributed team into one solution. Integrating Skype and some other features we have on our product roadmap in the future will allow you to almost completely manage your distributed team and project from one interface.
This overview video shows how Spotlight helps teams working across borders communicate and collaborate. You can specifically see how the Skype integration works at the 0:58 second mark.
Does your business rely heavily on Skype to communicate? What other tools do you use to quickly initiate conference calls or chat?
The mobile app economy is booming. The word booming may be an understatement as the sales of physical goods and services from mobile apps is expected to reach $151 billion by 2017. According to Google’s Our Mobile Planet, people will have an average of 20 apps downloaded to their phone at any given time. So as Flurry put it: “It’s An App World, the Web Just Lives In It”.
It’s no secret that your business needs a mobile presence, whether it’s a native app or a mobile-friendly website. But knowing which mobile app development platform to choose for both cost and quality is difficult for business owners with no background in software. There are so many things to consider from flexibility and scalability to cost and difficulty of development.
Some mobile app development platforms offer clear advantages over others. The key is considering the trade-offs for each and finding that one platform that gets you the biggest bang for your buck. Here we look at 5 popular platforms and how they stack up against each other for a quality mobile app experience.
Click to enlarge
Objective C + iPhone
Using the Objective C programming language, this platform can be used across all iOS devices. The native platform for developing the app gives you the most comprehensive API integration and a very strong developer community. This combination of the developer community and extensive documentation offers your development team lots of great resources for efficiently building a mobile app with Objective C.
The obvious disadvantage is that it applies only to iOS and is not cross platform. But it is a very efficient mobile app development platform for iOS specific apps. The combination of a GUI builder, fast compilation speeds and great developer support will give you a reliable and high functioning iOS app.
Java + Android
Java for Android can be used across all Android specific devices and is a native platform. Similar to Objective C for iOS, it offers a very comprehensive API and developer community for support. Java for Android is open source and has a faster learning curve than Obejective C.
While not cross platform, this is a very good mobile app development method to creating Android apps. Java is also a very secure platform if you plan on processing sensitive data via the Android app.
MonoTouch and Mono for Android from Xamarin use C# and .NET to allow you to reuse code between platforms. This cuts down on development time, reducing the overall cost of developing a mobile app. For example, we built Spotlight’s mobile apps using Xamarin and reused almost 80% of the code between iOS and Android. The platform provides access to native API’s on both devices and rich IDE support. Mono is very easy to learn as any developer with existing .NET skills can start building almost immediately.
The one drawback to Mono is that it does require a fee at $399. If you choose this route to build a mobile app, just consider the trade-off between reduced development time and the extra cost to use it. If you can justify the trade-off, this mobile app development platform is definitely worth it.
Phonegap uses a combination of the HTML, CSS and JQuery languages for mobile app development. This platform basically allows you to use a normal webpage and repackage it as a mobile app with minimal changes. There is no need to learn a new API or language to work in Phonegap making it fast and easy.
It also can be used across both iOS and Android devices but does not use native widgets meaning the app will not appear native. Documentation is sparse causing difficulty for developers if they run into something unfamiliar. Phonegap is good to quickly get your app ready but may lack some of the overall functionality the other mobile app development tools have.
Several disadvantages of Titanium may make you want to consider the other platforms ahead of it. Titanium only uses its own API to lie out widgets so any other existing tools will not work. The API also differs considerably between iOS and Android devices, which will increase development time. Overall, builds are very slow, especially for Android.
These mobile app development platforms are only a few of the ones available but are probably the most widely used. Each has its own advantages so finding the one that is right for what you are trying to accomplish with your mobile app is key. Reliability, scalability, and security should all be major considerations when choosing the right mobile app development platform.
Choosing a mobile app development platform is only a start; you still have to manage the project through delivery. Spotlight PPM can help by providing you the visibility and collaboration tools needed to ensure your development team is on the right track towards a successful product delivery. Learn tips and techniques on how to manage a mobile app project by joining our community.
Have other platforms or tips on mobile app development? Share your expertise and help the rest of us learn!
Imagine this scenario: you manage a project team that is spread out over a few different locations. It could be a software project, it could be a design project, it could even be a writing project of huge proportions. Team communication is a necessity, yet you still find yourself having a hard time reaching people, knowing what they’re working on, when they are out of the office for lunch, and when they’re offline for the weekend. There has to be better ways to communicate.
Can you relate? For many project managers, this is the reality of managing a project, especially with distributed team members.
Now think of this possibility: you can log into an app from the web or your mobile phone from anywhere and instantly see which team members are online. You can see exactly what task they are working on. You can see how long they will be available and then fire up a chat, conference, or video call via Skype for the daily scrum. All without sending an email or picking up a phone.
This is what Spotlight People & Project Manager does. It facilitates communication using the principles of social media to keep your project team in sync 24/7. In this week’s Friday Findings, we look at 10 ways to communicate in Spotlight for your project team.
Real-Time Status Updates
Each team member in the project has their own status card that provides all status, availability, and task information in one area. Using the status update text field in the image, team members can easily communicate their current status and availability. For example, the status card shows this team member is working on the mobile version of private messaging until this afternoon. When he leaves the office for lunch, the status card is simply updated to away and he types a message in the status update field letting the rest of the team know it’s lunchtime.
All project managers and team members can instantly see the updated statuses from the dashboard both on the web and mobile. This allows project managers to know what the team is working on or if they are away without the hassle of sending emails or calling all the time. No more black box with your team!
What is Everyone Working On?
A pain point when managing a project with distributed team members is knowing what they are working on. The “Currently Working On:” field alleviates this. All tasks that are assigned to a team member at that time are listed in this drop-down menu for selection. When they select a task to begin, Spotlight automatically starts tracking time worked.
This is one of the more important ways to communicate. In software development, it’s important that fellow developers know what each other are working on. All the pieces have to fit together at the end and this prevents any confusion on tasks.
As a project manager, you usually know when a team member is going to be out of the office for an appointment, etc. But when will they be back? The availability portion of the status card lets you know when a team member is available or away and for how long. For example, the person in the status card is ‘Busy’ and working on the mobile app until this afternoon. If he leaves for an appointment, he can update his availability status to ‘Away’ until say 2 pm.
When a team member updates their status and availability, other team members can directly reply. Spotlight will then notify the person there is a reply waiting on the web and mobile in case they are away from the computer. If it’s urgent and the team member is away, they will instantly know via mobile that the issue needs addressed.
The status update and reply can be a way for team members to engage each other on a more personal or even fun level. We use the status updates to wish happy birthdays or say something about the weekend and people reply with lighthearted messages. It’s a way to build team camaraderie and trust that will make them even more productive.
See a team member working hard on a task or out for a fun weekend? ‘Like’ their status! Not only does this further promote that team relationship building but it gives members recognition if they are working hard on a major task for the project. Everyone instantly sees a like on the dashboard and it becomes somewhat viral. The likes keep the team motivated and is an easy way to recognize people for their hard work.
Tons of tools have come out for quick conference or video calls but Skype is still the people’s choice. That’s why Spotlight built Skype right in. By clicking the Skype button on a team member’s status card, a conference or video call, or chat can be initiated immediately. If you want to add team members to the call, simply click the button on their status card and you can easily conduct the daily scrum right from Spotlight’s dashboard. There really isn’t very many better ways to communicate than Skype.
Private Messages and Project Board
Situations during a project warrant the need for both private messaging to individual or only certain team members and project discussion boards. Spotlight’s project board gives everyone a centralized place to immediately notify the whole team of something pertaining to the project. Assistance from other team members, important delivery dates, recognition and motivation are all topics that could be addressed on the project board.
Private messages are pretty self-explanatory. Use them to send a message to a recipient or group of recipients. There are things during a project you don’t want all team members worrying about. The private messages are for this reason.
Someone late for a meeting? Or need to tell someone you need help with a task? Use the Chat button on a team member’s status card to quickly initiate a conversation. Our developers will use this to quickly ask for help on an issue they are stuck on or to let someone know of an emergency for example. Not only does it facilitate open and frequent communication among the team but let’s them quickly address issues with each other before they get out of control.
Comment On Everything
Almost everything in Spotlight has a comment functionality. The ability to comment on tasks is especially useful because it allows team members to quickly add information that may make the task easier to complete. Screen shots can be uploaded with comments for a visual representation of any wire frame, new design, or bug for consideration. No more attaching large documents, images, or PDF’s to emails and hoping they get through to the other inbox!
Manage Projects from Anywhere, Any Time
Everyone is on the go these days. Spotlight’s mobile apps available on iOS and Android give you the needed visibility into your project and team from anywhere in the world, at any time. All the communication channels and functionality are fully available on the mobile apps so when you leave the office, you really are just bringing it with you. If you want visibility into the project at all times and be able to communicate with your team, Spotlight’s mobile apps give you that opportunity.
Collaboration between team members in a project, whether it’s software development or other, can often be the difference between success and failure. Yes, phone and email still work. But how much time do you have to constantly be typing emails and making phone calls to find out what your team is doing?
This is how Spotlight does it for communication and visibility. We’re also interested in your ways to communicate during a project. Share your advice and experience with a comment, it can only help the rest of us!
The term ‘quality’ comes up a lot when considering an offshore software development strategy. Any business that has thought about offshore software development as an alternative to hiring in-house often asks themselves, “How can I still ensure a quality product at the end of the day?” This tunnel vision of only thinking about quality in terms of the final product is what gets businesses into trouble when offshoring. Quality isn’t only about the final product; it starts the minute you decide to take the offshore development route.
Using an offshore software development team can be very successful and produce high quality applications. But the quality starts from day one of the project. An industry disrupting application doesn’t just happen with a talented developer putting his or her head down and writing the application. It definitely helps to have an experienced development team but the quality and success of the product is all about how the project is managed from the start.
Turning your software idea into a quality and robust application often comes down to three areas: preparation, people, and processes.
Businesses thinking in the short term don’t often do all the necessary preparation. They just know they don’t have the people to build the software in-house or the resources to hire full-time. So the project is sent out the door to a cheap outsourcing firm with hopes for a quality application in 6 weeks. The horror stories often heard with offshore software development start right here.
Do all your homework first. This means having your idea clearly mapped out and a detailed software requirements analysiswritten. The fact of the matter is most offshore service providers will only produce exactly what is given to them. So go heavy on the details of your product roadmap. Ensure your management team and stakeholders understand each and every requirement that will form the roadmap. Show it to one of your colleagues with development experience for further validation. This will save a lot of headache when revealing the requirements to an offshore partner and help to ensure the quality will be built right in.
The requirements analysis have been written and a product roadmap in place. Now it’s time to engage the right people who will create that quality app you are looking for.
An offshore software development company will usually hand pick the people within their company to develop the software. It’s advisable not to let this happen and ensure you have an influence into the hiring decision. Thoroughly vet the software developers being considered even if it requires a few days. The best way to really get a sense of how they’ll work with your team and their talent? Hand them a short development task and see how they handle it. A payment may be required for this task but a mere $50 is worth the trouble if it validates you will get a quality product in the end.
Considering freelancers from sites such as Freelancer can offer more control over the project and team than a traditional, large offshore company. In this scenario, you have complete control over your team instead of trying to work through several people in a large company. Finding the right people will help make the process of working together smoother.
The process of putting the project in motion begins the actual management phase. This mainly boils down to the question “How will we work together?”
First, ensure the requirements analysis are understood and agreed on by everyone involved on the development side. This will put the team all on the same page and working towards the same goal. The detailed nature of the requirements analysis helps build in the quality, not allowing the team to overlook something.
Ensuring a productive environment, especially in an offshore software development setting, requires constant communication. It’s the key to moving the project toward delivery. Frequent communication eliminates the “black box” businesses often find when the offshore team implements their own processes and they have no visual into them. Using an online collaboration tool like Spotlight can provide the needed visibility into the project and team through its social media based communication platform.
Processes also need to be implemented for dealing with uncertainties, how issues are handled, and many more factors. Having a process that the offshore team can follow for almost any scenario will create a high quality software development process.
With careful planning and preparation, using an offshore software development strategy can result in that quality product a business looks for at the end of the project. But quality service and development isn’t all about the written code, it’s engrained into a process that starts at day one.
Now it’s your turn, so let’s hear some great success stories about your business offshoring a software project. How did you manage that process? And if you are having trouble with a current software project or team, try a 30-day free trial of Spotlight to get your team and project back on track.
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