Signs That You’ve Outgrown Github

Github is WONDERFUL. I have used it for a long time now, and it’s great. It’s easy to get started, and especially for one-person projects, it really helps keep things organized.

But as you start to add team members, competing priorities, and overall complexity, something changes. In lots of little ways, Github starts to show that it just wasn’t designed for long-haul software projects, with many team members and a non-trivial workflow.

Here are some of the things you might already be dealing with:

  • You’ve created so many labels that you’ve written a wiki page to tell everyone how to use them (and how NOT to use them!)
  • Maybe you want to keep track of bugs and support tickets separately.
  • Perhaps you don’t think that developers should be able to close a ticket just by committing code.
  • Maybe you’re tired of having to search in Google Docs, Basecamp, Slack and Github to find where you talked about that new feature.
  • Could be that you need to manage the relationships between tasks that depend on or block each other.

I’ll do a blog post for each of these topics. This week, let’s start with the first one — labels.

Labels

Labels are quick and easy to use, offer a lot of flexibility and require virtually no setup or configuration overhead. The default labels in Github look something like this:

Those are probably fine for 98% of new Github projects. Over time, however, most teams will expand on the list of tags to include different values than the default list, and even different types of data. Adding categories for basics like type, priority, and status makes a lot of sense when you’re managing a backlog. But all of those new values expands the list beyond what you can keep straight in your head.

So, how can teams use complex label sets reliably? One common convention is to use a prefix word to identify the group to which each label belongs (courtesy of Dave Lunny):

This approach has the benefit of including the type of label as part of the label text, so you won’t be confused between “Status: Test”, “Environment: Test”, and “Task Type: Test”. Visually, the various colors can be used to show differences in the specific values, like production vs non-production, or high priority vs lower priority.

The downside is that when viewed across label types, the different colors are confusing and even downright jarring. Instead of quick visual signals based on color, you actually have to read each label value. It’s bad enough when looking at a single task, but when browsing a list of tasks, it can be a hot mess.

Another approach is to use similar colors for grouping. Here’s an example (from robinpowered.com):

While it’s much easier on the eyes, you no longer have the label type included with the label value. Also, this particular set of labels combines and separates a lot of values in ways you won’t appreciate later — for example, why is the production label in “Problems” and not “Environment”? There’s likely information on a wiki page somewhere, explaining that you don’t choose anything from “Environment” when it’s a production issue, right?

This next example isn’t really an example at all, but a cautionary tale. Imagine walking into your first day with these guys:

This isn’t someone’s drug-addled fantasty project, either — it’s servo, a very active and popular project on Github.

Tools For Your Tools

In response to this widespread need, there are actually tools (like git-labelmaker) dedicated to helping Github users automate the creation and management of complex sets of labels, using different naming conventions, color schemes and labeling styles. Which is very cool — except that it seems like an awful lot of work to go through, doesn’t it? If someone has created a tool to help you use another tool, maybe it’s the wrong tool.

Tag/label functionality was never designed for complex values or workflow.

A Right-Sized Solution

Instead of a mashup of various labels, organized by a prefix word or a color scheme, consider this layout (with a few additions that are, IMO, obvious):

Separating these various concerns also allows you the flexibility to require some fields when a task is created, and wait for the right step in your workflow for others. Instead of manually enforcing your task management process, you can allow your tool to do it for you.

One last benefit — if you’re using separate fields instead of specific tag values, then changing the name of the field or the values over time won’t break old data. The new field name or value(s) will be reflected in older tasks automatically.

If your tools are preventing you from improving your process, maybe it’s time to improve your tools.

Come back soon for another sign that you might have outgrown Github — next time, we’ll talk about Github’s one-dimensional task tracking.

Come try GForge Next for simple, comprehensive and elegant collaboration.

How Many Project Tools Do You Really Need?

In my last post, I talked about some criteria for choosing between all-in-one or best-in-breed tools. Now, I’ll apply those criteria to our product space, and try to show why a unified team collaboration tool makes more sense than what you might be living with now.

So, let’s imagine that you’re looking to solve the following problem: How can we get everyone rowing in the same direction?

By “everyone,” we mean executives, product owner(s), designers, development staff, customer service, maybe even customers themselves.

And by “rowing,” we’re talking about all of the things it takes to get your product to the customer — things like planning, design, coding, marketing, testing and support.

The Accidental Integrator

The worst-case scenario is also the most common — each discipline area adopts whatever tools appeal to them.

NB: This is a simplified version of actual events from a previous job. The details have not been exaggerated, and the people involved were otherwise very capable, smart, and successful.

  • The Product Owners all decide to use Trello, and thus force it on the development staff.
  • The designers prefer Basecamp, where they can organize screenshots for the various user stories they’re working on. This means that the Product Owner has to look there as well, and so do the developers, and possibly also the customers.
  • The developers decide on Github, since it’s easy to start and Git is pretty awesome.
  • Customer Support starts a wiki, so they can get all of their procedures and help scripts in one place.
  • They already use FogBugz for tracking customer issues, and neither Trello nor Github has the features they need. This means that the Product Owner and developers have to look in FogBugz almost every day, as they respond to problems reported by customers.
  • The executive staff needs all of the above to keep a handle on what’s happening where. They also create and manage a couple of spreadsheets in Google Drive, to keep summary data for the various projects that are in process, and to prioritize upcoming work.

Here’s what that set of tools ends up looking like:

Pretty, pretty arrows.

Of course, some of these tools can be tied together with vendor-supplied integrations, web hooks, or some simple scripting. Adding these integration points might make things more convenient for users, but it doesn’t change the overall picture:

Now with 20% more arrows!

Inevitably, some amount of developer time each month (or week) will now be spent troubleshooting why x is no longer taking to y, and fixing it. People also regularly forget which password goes to which system, and need resets on a recurring basis. [Ed. This happens to me ALL THE TIME.]

Regardless of how good those integrations are, everyone still has to search across two or three or more tools to find what they’re looking for.

Each tool you add is another silo of data and process, and more friction in the overall workflow.

A (Kinda) Integrated Solution

Many teams opt for the Atlassian/Microsoft/IBM approach — buying a set of tools from the same company, with the promise of tighter integration. It’s sold as an all-in-one solution, in as much as you’re buying from one vendor. And for the most part, that’s true — until it’s not.

Tool suites like these do a much better job at tying related data together — build status can show up in the related tasks, support tickets can reference wiki pages, chat can become your company’s heartbeat. All of those capabilities help to decrease friction, distribute knowledge, and keep the entire organization plugged in to the right priorities.

Oh, that’s much simpler. (source: ClearVision)

But they’re still separate tools. You still have to flip from one app to another to search, get the details, or make updates. Each tool is still deployed and managed in separate software versions, which (sometimes) fall out of compatibility with each other. And don’t forget that you’re still going to pay licensing and maintenance for each tool. Even at a bundled rate, you’re probably getting soaked.

Half-way integrated is better than the patchwork quilt approach, but it still creates implicit silos of data, and introduces other hidden costs. It’s like being half-way delicious.

The Whole Enchilada

Speaking of delicious, what happens when you *actually* integrate tasks, wiki, chat, releases, documents, source code, support, and continuous delivery? If you could get all of these chunks of functionality in a single system, how would it affect your experience and productivity?

Isn’t that so much simpler?

There are some big benefits:

  • A seamless experience for managers, development staff, creatives, support and even customers to get involved in.
  • A single source of truth for what’s important, what’s done, and what’s next.
  • One place for your institutional knowledge to live on. On-boarding becomes easy. Hard-won company wisdom doesn’t disappear when someone leaves or changes roles.
  • One search box that is deeply connected to all of your projects, source code, documents, information, tasks and discussions. Find a specific key word or error code no matter where it’s hiding.

There are lots of situations where best-of-breed thinking makes sense. In areas where a specific tool improves your productivity, saves money, or just makes work more fun, it can be worth it. If the need you’re filling isn’t central to your business, then it’s not a huge risk to try (and maybe abandon) something new. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

The way your team organizes and works together is possibly the most important and valuable part of your entire business. Trying to run things using a patchwork quilt of point solutions might seem cool at first, but it’s probably not where you want your team spending their time.

That’s why we built GForge. Because we do what you do every day, and we think it should be easier.

Come try GForge Next, and let us know what you think.

Note: My editor wanted me to include email as part of this discussion, but it added way too much to the article. GForge does some great things with email, and I will publish something soon to show how and why.

The Weekly Forge: 10/07/2016

The biggest development this past week is work on GForge AS v6.4.3 has started and we anticipate having it available for current customers by the end of this year.  Obviously we’ll continue work on GForgeNEXT which is accurately reflected in the highlight from last week below:

  1. Git Server Side Merges – Right now server side merges work between any two branches except when the destination branch is master. Turns out the is a bug with Git itself and we already have a patch from the Git development team and we’ll continue testing that out.
  2. Continuous Integration – We’ve begun designing the mocks required for building a Continuous Integration dashboard for all GForgeNEXT projects using Jenkins. This will complete our vision of making the integration between GForgeNEXT and CI systems tighter which reflects how integral they are to software teams.
  3. GForgeNEXT iOS – The first view for the GForgeNEXT iOS app has been stubbed out and work will continue over the coming months.
  4. Dependency Management – When a ticket has predecessors (i.e. blocking dependents) when those tickets are taken care of GForgeNEXT will notify the assignee and submitter of the ticket that work can begin on that ticket.  Those notifications will happen with growls which are also sent via push notifications via Adroid/iOS application. This is a big step towards helping PMs and project leads with automated dependency management.
  5. Improved Link Handling in Docman – Currently in 6.4.2 and prior the links to documents in docman explicitly ping to the most current version (i.e. version 7). The problem is if you email that or include it in a ticket or wiki entry that version may eventually be replaced with newer ones.  We’ve made it so the links in docman will always give users the most current version.  Don’t worry you can still explicitly send the link to a specific version of a file if you want.
  6. A handful of bug fixes for v6.4.3 are being actively worked on.

GForgeNEXT Update for 9/30/2016

Beginning this month our team will be giving weekly updates on the GForgeNEXT development.  This won’t be the painful details just the good stuff boiled down to a few talking points. We should be clear that GForgeNEXT is in open beta at https://next.gforge.com so sign-up today! Before we give our first update we’d like to share what exactly where GForgeNEXT sits.

  1. Teams – You can invite new or existing GForgeNEXT users to your projects.  When you do so, you pick their role and once the invite accepted they can begin collaboration.
  2. Tickets – plan and distribute work across your team.  We honor existing workflow rules, however, administration of those rules doesn’t exist yet. Browsing and filtering of tickets works just fine.  In short while some admin function do exist yet the ticketing system is working well for day-to-day use.
  3. Stand-up Report – GForge provide each project with a stand-up report. See what each team member has accomplished, what they are working on and what they plan on working on.
  4. Git Support – Browse branches, tags and commits through the UI (merges and merge requests are under development).
  5. Continuous Integration – Our new Jenkins plugin uses the latest Jenkins release which will pave the road for new features. Right now the Jenkins plugin accurately reports build activity back to the GForgeNEXT project and this is fully tested and working. Future work will include building a CI dashboard in GForgeNEXT.
  6. Android Support – Access chatroom and tickets all while getting push notifications while you are on the go. (iOS application is under development).
  7. Language Support – GForgeNEXT will eventually support multiple languages.  Right now we support Spanish and English and the language is set based on browser preferences which is nice for new users.

Update for 9/30/2016

  1. Git – Server side merges is code complete and being tested internally. Once this is done we will move right into merge requests.
  2. Notification Center – this feature is similar to what you see on social media sites like Facebook. This week we are adding additional formatting to notifications (date of notification and project it was generated from).  The posts are also now navigable, taking the user to the proper artifact (i.e. ticket, chat, etc)
  3. iOS App – Development began last week.
  4. Responsive UI – We’ve been doing testing to ensure GForgeNEXT renders and functions properly using the small displays on mobile devices.  The only area giving us problems was the mega-menu (the main way to navigate projects on the device)
  5. Tickets – We’re making dependency management a key feature when working with tickets.  The search API for tickets in GForgeNEXT had to be expended to make this possible and we’ve updated the interface to make this as slick as possible.  We will be sure to call attention to any ticket you are viewing that has dependencies.

As always we welcome questions on any of the activity you see.

Join Us at HackISU this Weekend!

This weekend The GForge Group will, again, be sponsoring HackISU this weekend up in Ames.  This is a great opportunity for young developers and engineers to have fun and gain experience working with technology. For our part, we are awarding $750 per team member (up to $3,000) to the team that makes the best use of the GForgeNext API. This is similar to our award from last year but unlike last year we trying to encourage creativity by not giving specific ideas on how to use our API (nor how you might integrate it with other APIs).

So have a look at the GForgeNext API documentation, read our intro to the GForgeNEXT API and let your imagination roam.  Any questions you may have ahead of HackISU this weekend can be sent to feedback@gforgegroup.com.

Meet the GForge Team: Kyle Goranson

This is a big year for GForge Group — we have redesigned our flagship product, GForge As, and are relaunching it as GForgeNEXT. This Spring we announced that NEXT is now available in free, private beta. Behind the scenes our team of developers has been working many long hours to bring this new product to market. Over the rest of the summer, we will be posting a blog series entitled “Meet the GForge Team.” In this series will be spotlighting each member of our team, their backgrounds, roles, and unique perspectives, so you can get to know the faces behind the software at GForge.

Summer is in full swing and it’s apropos to kick off this summer series by highlighting our interns.


Kyle Goranson
Intern, GForge Group



Where do/did you go to college?
Coe College

What is/was your major?
Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics

When did you learn to code?
My first formal coding experience (also my first reasonable language) was my computer science 1 class in my Sophomore year of college in which I learned on C++. But my first coding experience was creating programs on my TI-84 calculator in high school, which I figured out myself, and looking back, programming in TI-basic was absolutely horrible.

What is your favorite project you have developed?
I’m going to have to go with a group project that spanned a full semester which was building a class registration system in C#. But it’s not the main part of the assignment that makes it my favorite. My group was fairly far ahead so I decided that our registration system would be better if it had a retro arcade hidden within it. So I wrote Pong, Snake, Space Invaders, and Pac Man. All of which I made as close to the original as possible. To get to the arcade, on our login screen you needed to enter your username and then enter the konami code instead of your password.

What are you doing at GForge?
I am primarily working on developing an Android app for GForgeNEXT, and I am also expanding test coverage.

What attracted you to work for GForge?
I worked with Michael Tutty during HackISU where I was building an app that was integrated with the GForgeNEXT REST API. I really enjoyed the interactions I had with him.

What is your typical day like at GForge?
The first thing I do is check to make sure my queue is up to date and then join the standup. When the standup is done, I will move on to working on whatever I have for the day. When I run into issues I will ask a question in chat and this will sometimes turn into a hangout where we figure out the problem. Somewhere in there I will take a break for lunch.

What is your dream job?
That is a good question. I have no idea. Definitely something involving programming though.

When you’re not working where can you usually be found where? Doing what?
I can usually be found at my computer even when I’m not working. I will often be playing an online game with friends, the most common of which is League of Legends.

The GForgeNEXT Beta Program Expands to Central & South America

We are happy to announce that the GForgeNEXT Beta Program now supports Spanish. This announcement reaffirms our investment in Central and South America by offering the following benefits:
  • Reduce project cost by eliminating the problems associated with unclear objectives.
  • Improve customer satisfaction by using tools that improve the quality of your software.
  • Eliminate communication gaps that often lead to lost time and money.
Participants in the GForgeNEXT beta program get these benefits:
  • Create and manage multiple projects
  • Easily change between English and Spanish
  • Maintain version control using Git, and view source code, commits and diffs online
  • Assign and track project tasks
  • Collaborate with the rest of your team your project’s chat room
  • Integrate GForgeNEXT with third party software using our [link]REST API[/link]
  • Manage todo lists across multiple projects
  • Improve GForgeNEXT by submitting your ideas directly to our product development team.
Organizations that are accepted into the Beta Program can use GForgeNEXT for free until it comes out of beta, after which Beta Program participants will qualify for discounted pricing. Are you interested? Sign-up now otherwise you can send questions to feedback@gforgegroup.com

Estamos orgullos de anunciar que la versión Beta de GforgeNEXT ha incorporado soporte para el idioma español. Este anuncio reafirma nuestro compromiso con América Central y Sudamérica ofreciendo los siguientes beneficios:

  • Reducción de los costos de su proyecto eliminando los problemas asociados con objetivos poco claros.
  • Aumento de la satisfacción de sus clientes utilizando herramientas que mejoran la calidad de su software.
  • Eliminación de brechas en la comunicación que a menudo llevan a pérdidas de tiempo y dinero.

Los participantes del programa Beta de GforgeNEXT obtendrán los siguientes beneficios:

  • Crear y administrar múltiples proyectos
  • Seguir la evolución de su código fuente utilizando Git. También podrá visualizar su código fuente online, sus commits y las diferencias entre commits.
  • Asignar y mantener un registro de las tareas de su proyecto.
  • Colaborar con el resto de su equipo en el salón de chat de su proyecto.
  • Administrar su lista de tareas personal a través de varios proyectos.
  • Cambiar fácilmente el idioma (Actualmente inglés y español).
  • Colaborar en el mejoramiento de GforgeNEXT enviando ideas y sugerencias directamente a nuestro equipo de desarrollo.

Las organizaciones que se incorporen al programa Beta podrán utilizar GforgeNEXT sin costo hasta el lanzamiento de la primer versión estable, pudiendo acceder a importantes descuentos una vez finalizada la etapa beta.

¿Está interesado? Regístrese ahora a https://next.gforge.com! Ante cualquier duda, por favor envíe su consulta a feedback@gforgegroup.com