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3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation

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We have more than 30 people in our team.We develop scalable solutions for the web. We live in Tomsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow. We used task-tracker to organize joint work on tasks. During the projects valuable work was created and it was necessary to organize knowledge work. We tried different wiki systems. It turned out that most of our knowledge is created by solving current tasks. We encountered problems with :

  • It’s inconvenient to enter and maintain all tasks in the task tracker, and so employees keep switching to messenger communication.
  • A lot of knowledge is deposited in e-mail and messengers. Transferring knowledge from correspondence to task-tracker and wiki takes a lot of effort and time.
  • If the whole concept of the project was written in the wiki when planning the project, then every day the differences between the information in the wiki and the actual state of affairs become more and more, and maintaining the knowledge base becomes unnecessarily time-consuming.
  • Solving these problems, we developed our own methodology and collaborative environment. So a new project was born. In this article we want to tell about it. First, let’s look at how the teamwork is organized.

    Knowledge is out of stock

    The information flow model is best considered on simplified business processes. Consider a small appliance store. The store employs 11 people, has a pavilion and a warehouse.
    Let’s depict the business process of order processing, which includes procedures: order placement, picking and delivery to the customer. There are 3 people involved in the process, the actions of the process are recorded in a specialized information system and take place regularly.
    3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    Business process in simplified form
    Other tasks in the organization are handled by 8 other people, and they communicate verbally, via email, messengers, and other specialized information systems. 3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    Communications diagram in an appliance store
    The environment: competitors, suppliers, government agencies, weather, etc. is constantly changing. Store managers need to identify these changes and make decisions quickly. These decisions are discussed and made verbally, by e-mail and messengers. It is these decisions that allow the store to survive, remain profitable in the long run, and essentially create business value. Most of the valuable knowledge is in the manager’s head. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the knowledge needs of the company are small and as long as the employee stays with the company.
    What kind of knowledge can be of value? In our example, after solving a problem with a bad odor coming from the basement in the warehouse, you can write down information about where to call, what to ask, etc.

    Air tax

    Consider another situation : a distributed IT team develops and implements accounting software. A new law "On Air Tax" comes out. Accordingly, changes need to be made to the software. The solution can take place in the following order :
    1. The project manager writes a letter to the programmer describing the situation.
    2. The programmer starts a task in the task tracker and writes to the architect: "The request is unusual, we need to clarify the details.
    The architect writes to the manager with a list of questions to be clarified.
    4. The manager sends an email with a detailed description of what is needed.
    5. The architect adds the letter to the task tracker.
    6. The programmer writes the result of the task to the task tracker.
    7. The programmer makes architecture changes to the corporate wiki.
    Depict the communications : 3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    Information flows when solving a problem in the IT team
    In this example, we consider the ideal case where all information was transferred without loss or distortion, and the result was immediately accepted by the project manager.
    In practice, clarifications are often necessary, and it is likely that all three will be communicating on the task in messenger. These clarifications contain knowledge. As a result, much of it is lost to the company, remaining in the employees’ personal archives.
    We offer a collaborative and problem-solving approach to contextual communication In this case, the main interactions within the company will live in a new environment in which discussions are held, and tasks are also set here. This model combines email, task, and wiki systems. 3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    Volna replaces the knowledge base, mail, and task system
    After the tasks are done, some of the correspondence is deleted and only the important stuff is left. Sections are labeled with headings and documentation sections are created that way.
    A team working on such a system gets :

    • The ability to set tasks faster because there are fewer descriptions to do;
    • knowledge extracted in the process of solving a task is not lost, but is documented;

    It is also worth noting the psychological aspect. There is no rigid attachment of each cue to a task or goal. It’s easier for people to start communicating and asking questions in a messenger-like environment.

    How we set goals

    Now we don’t separate knowledge systems, messages, and task statements. To set a task, we simply write the word "task" in brackets in the context, the system processes the expression and notifies the executor.
    Let’s tell an example from the history of writing this article. We sketched illustrations for the "Air Tax" situation, 3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    Thoughts on future illustration on paper
    made a small text description and set the designer a task: "make a sketch (task sasha). After that, we continued working. 3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    problem statement interface in context
    Sasha : "When I took on the task, the guys had already decided on other pictures, and I started thinking about their overall design. I drew and pasted the illustration into the article. My colleagues continued writing in the meantime and then gave me the task to improve it. This time we did it in two iterations :)".
    We do the work with tasks in TaskGadget:
    3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    TaskGadget for contextual tasks
    Each task in the list contains a link to the context transition.
    Now the solution is based on the Google Wave (GW) platform, for which we have written an extension and robots. In the future, we plan to migrate all our tools to WiaB, the platform being developed by the Apache consortium and the future successor of GW.
    Upd: A lot of questions about the fate and closing date of GW. Google representatives say that we are betting on a dead horse. But in spite of this, they promise that GW will work until Until alternative sites are available ready to accommodate users.

    Discussions and documentation work

    In the process of working on the packaging, we were left with this kind of documentation ,
    which, in the future, you can reread from the headings, and gradually dive into the right context.
    We call this Zoom reading.
    3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    zoom-reading
    This is a concept we have attempted to implement based on the Google Chrome extension And in the future we will develop it on other platforms.
    I should add that this article appeared largely thanks to the people who believe in our project and help us :
    3 in 1: Discussions,Tasks, Documentation
    list of article editors
    Offer to try our methodology

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