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Team Tools and Jedi Mind Tricks

30 September 2016

By Craig McNicholas

Software Development Manager, I am. Experiences to share, I have. Over the last 6 years I have seen Yotta’s development team change from a traditional waterfall driven, desktop client focused sweatshop, to a sleek and sophisticated service and web based software provider for infrastructure asset management (managed to fit all the buzzwords in that powerhouse of a sentence). The transition has at times felt akin to flying into the wind, luckily we have picked up some tools along the way so you can avoid the metaphorical chapped lips and wind struck appearance.

The first thing we need to understand is why? Never leave home without this powerful ally of a word. The old adage of “Change for Change’s Sake” holds true here, in short if it isn’t broken then don’t attempt a cardiovascular bypass. Take the time to understand the problem or why something will improve an existing process.

Talk the Talk

For quite a while the Yotta development team stuck to the tried and tested “talk to each other in person” approach. This requires you to both be in the same geographic location and running on coordinated universal time. As our team has expanded to take on some of the best and brightest it is a fact that people are generally busy, away from their desk or remote working to boot. To add to the complexity, we do now have another set of lovely offices in Gloucester. For a time we used Skype but in my throes of agony one evening whilst trying to locate previous conversations I searched for a better solution, in steps Slack.

slack

It is a truly brilliant bit of kit for chatting in real time within our team. It includes fully searchable history, channels to group discussions, support for code snippets, attachments, documented posts as well as being cross platform and having a web based app. For us it keeps all our comms in one place and simply works, there are both paid and free versions so you can scale its usage for any team size. There is a reason why in March 2015 it was valued at $2.76 billion and you would crazy not to jump aboard this (well deserved) hype train.

Walk the Walk

Everyone uses source control right? Of course we do. We have traditionally been fans of SVN, it’s simple and just does what it says on the tin. However having our team grow and become spread across multiple offices doesn’t work well with how heavy SVN can be, so we have begun our transition to ‘Git’. This is when GitLab popped up on my radar.

gitlab

I am a long time user of GitHub and wanted something internally that would act as a central point for documentation, code reviews, issue tracking and all round visual awesomeness. GitLab has blown me away with how solid the product is and how much of a feature footprint it takes from GitHub, even better the community edition is free! Code reviews have snuck their way into our development lifecycle now and GitLab has only made that task a breeze. A brilliant tool for getting on top of your codebase and managing those project issues.

Do the Stuff?

Every great team needs great project management… In steps Taiga. After switching to more agile development practices it was apparent we needed a tool that was flexible but powerful enough to keep our things in order. We use the SCRUM template but it also supports Kanban style for those interested. It is a lovely lightweight web application which manages the whole process from user stories, point distribution, sprint organisation, task assignment and more. It was voted amongst the top 11 project management tools for 2016 by Opensource and for us it’s here to stay. Switching our lifecycle practices was a hard enough task on its own, Taiga really made the transition simple and helped provide structure to what can be for some a vague methodology.

taiga

So there we have it, three of the best (not necessarily just development) tools you can get your mitts on at the moment. Undoubtedly if you ask me again in 3 years I’ll simply say “these are not the tools you are looking for,” the market moves so quickly but having the right tools for the moment is as good as it gets, unless I resort to reading tea leaves or tarot cards, maybe I can even use the force.

 

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