Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Busy Day at the Office

What does a busy day look like?
Ten years ago it was reading and writing e-mails. Today, it's bouncing between Slack, Trello, Basecamp, and Facebook.

More tools seems more complicated, but it actually allows for better filtering of information while establishing well defined boundaries. 

I recently started working as the CTO at It's Borrowed, which is like Airbnb for your stuff. Why not earn money renting out that camping equipment, golf clubs, power tools, or wheel chair that's sitting around in your garage? Looking to borrow a ladder or ice chest? Check the It's Borrowed app.

Since It's Borrowed is a small team of five, I'm also the product manager for our API servers and mobile apps. When I last worked in this capacity at Wyndham we only used e-mail and SharePoint, which was marginal. What made it worse, at Wyndham, was that I had to manually sort and archive e-mails in Outlook, my key communications tool. Otherwise, when my e-mail storage grew to more than about 4 GB, Outlook would stop working reliably. Allow me to digress by pointing out that Outlook's horribly engineered to stuff every single e-mail and attachment into a single file which grows and grows until it eventually collapses in an unpredictable way. Compare that to macOS which organizes your e-mail boxes into an elegant hierarchy of folders; each e-mail (body and attachment), is then stored as a separate file. File systems are much better at managing (CRUD) ten-million 1K sized files than two 5GB sized files.

Workflow Filters

Today's workflow, with Basecamp, Slack, Trello, etc., simplifies my life by managing filters. A ding of an incoming e-mail is an interruption; and a message could be from my manager or my mother, each having a unique sense of urgency and importance.

Here's my workflow when using Slack, Trello, and Basecamp...

When I meet with the business (marketing), we put high level tasks into Basecamp such as "Create an e-commerce shopping cart so people can buy our stuff." Think of the tasks in Basecamp as the business's vision – a high level goal.

Since I'm the two-way bridge between the business and engineering, I take the vision of the business and break it down into a single engineering task that can fit into a Sprint since we're closely following Agile/Scrum. In Trello, our tech lead has organized boards for each Sprint and the backlog. Each column has a card which is akin to an electronic Post-it note. Inside each Sprint board, we have columns such as Blocked, To Do, In Progress, Review, Done, etc. The blocked column are impediments that I take for action, while the tech lead focuses on the other columns.

Each Sprint begins with the engineers reviewing the backlog along with the CEO and me. The engineers get to pick, from our prioritized list, each task (card) they'll do in the upcoming Sprint. Only the engineer picking the task can assign a weight to a task – a weight, meaning how long it'll take a task to be completed. That part is sometimes a hard pill for management to swallow. But, over time, as engineering delivers on all they promise, management will gain confidence even though they can't interrupt a Sprint with new requirements.

I think of Slack as Twitter on steroids, across different teams and channels. The key Slack teams are the ones that I have with the engineering department and each individual engineer. Since the engineers fall under the tech lead, I rarely communicate directly with an engineer so as to not interrupt them. This is harder than is sounds when the CEO asks me a pressing question which I could simply have answered by interrupting an engineer. A couple of our channels are automated and tied in to third party services so, at any time, I can see code check-ins or deployments to production in real-time.

The beauty of slack is I can see the history of a channel conversation without having to search through e-mail looking for specific threads.

Discipline is key. As long as the team has the motivation to follow this format then the information will quickly and effectively flow, increasing productivity. It really does work well.