Last year guys from SkuVault offered me an amazing opportunity to help the company manage a growing development team, create organized schedule, establish workflow that reflects the company goals .
For those who don’t know – SkuVault is a Warehouse Management System (WMS). Like a swiss army knife, SkuVault manages and syncs your inventory across e-Commerce platforms, POS, Logistics and Warehouses, providing accurate quantities in order to prevent out of stocks. Headquartered in Louisville, KY – SkuVault helps to manage the inventory for hundreds of clients all across the globe.
It’s time to list some of the achievements we accomplished during this year.
Observational Research and Optimization Scenarios
For the first 2 weeks, I was examining the flow within the project, and getting to know the team. Each couple of days I published blog posts on my findings with ideas on how to improve and optimize the workflow. Some things in my new team were completely different from my previous experience:
- No teamleads. That meant that developers split up into Code Review teams, and reviewed each other.
- Technology stack (.NET at SkuVault vs Scala / Riak / react.js at Storia). With all the pros and cons, .NET development teams don’t have that clear BE / FE differentiation: backend developers can work on frontend tasks via ASP.NET MVC, so our devs are more like (..universal soldiers).
- No UX / UI design step in the workflow. This particular part makes every decision much faster. The product itself (SkuVault Warehouse Management App) uses Bootstrap, and is very utilitarian from design perspective. Key factor here is ease of use (as much as it can relate to industrial application).
- Distributed team on both sides of the Atlantic, covering almost 24 hour period.
- SkuVault is used by hundreds of customers around the world, bugfixing happens daily, and there are different bug priorities. This particular moment doesn’t work well with typical “sprint->release” cycles (because the priorities may change quite fast, or something needs to be urgently released).
With all those differences in mind, I started to streamline the workflow in JIRA.
Statuses, Transitions, Workflow
I managed to decrease the number of statuses.
- Used to be: 23 (with any transitions allowed between any statuses)
- Became: 9 (with clear status sequence that reflects state of a bug / new feature).
Most statuses were redundant, I’ve changed some of them with combination of “labels + status”, some were eliminated and substituted by generalized statuses (for example statuses “Design Holds”, “Client Clarification” changed to status: Hold + label “IncompleteDescription”).
The Workflow is constantly being refactored and improved per developers’ suggestions and whole team feedback. Last week I’ve released the 7th version of the workflow in a year.
Flow in general, and for every team member (BA / PM / Dev / QA) is described in our wiki, as well as terminology, list of labels to apply (there is a special glossary for labels). I explain the workflow as a sequence of steps, so that there is an instruction in case of emergency, or a new person onboarding.
On Duty Teams
During the first week we started to ask developers to fill a small questionnaire to find out how often they are distracted from new feature development by urgent client requests or bugfixes requiring immediate attention. It turned out that significant time (up to 80%) had been taken by Urgent Tasks, which distracted devs and made their work less efficient.
So the management team (well, actually it’s more like PMs, CEO, CTO and Support Lead) decided to establish teams of on call devs. These teams (2 devs: Frontend and Backend) would work only on urgent tickets, which allowed the rest of the team to work on regular tasks, ideally, without distraction.
On duty team concept has been rethought a couple of times, and currently we’re aiming at having 3 devs on call each shift, as client base grew significantly, and so have the requests, tasks and points of attention. Some of developers still get pulled to urgent tasks, because SkuVault heavily relies on integrations with other SaaS / eCommerce / Shipping systems, that change their APIs, improve their products, and may occasionally alter the way they interact with our system. And on duty devs may have questions for the developer who built the integration originally.
However, the concept itself proved to be extremely helpful, and overall the issue is resolved.
It’s a common thing to establish, when you have senior and junior devs In order to clarify overall system architecture questions, seniors mentor other developers and code review.
Ticket Description Standards
Creating a clear guidance on filling out the fields and required info on a bug / new feature / or any other issue type is essential to streamline development.
Changing Kanban approach to Hybrid Scrumban
In a nutshell, a year ago development boards (one for planning, one for development) included lots of statuses, was extremely heavy (as you gotta display ~1k tickets), and hard to manage. Kudos to Tim Jannace and the team , who managed to bravely (and successfully) operate and maintain this board!
However, an agile board should focus on one goal: to show a piece of flow relevant for particular scenario / area. So those two boards were split up, so that each board reflects a single scenario:
- Development Board, where the tickets transition from ToDo to Ready to Release: Scrum Board;
- Urgent Board, which is used by on duty teams, and includes only Critical and Blocker tickets: Kanban Board;
- Quality Control Board, where developers and test managers can to see the scope of tickets they need to review: Kanban Board;
- Release Board, for the release manager to overview and manage the tickets that should be merged to master: Kanban Board.
There are boards for DevOps tasks, of course, as well as for other projects, but developers mostly have to check 2 boards maximum. And both of the boards are easy to use and lightweight.
On the other hand, pure sprint -> release cycles do not reflect how SkuVault operates, because of the Urgent bits that need to be released almost daily. So sprints are more like folders here, which allow us to forecast approximate or particular start / release dates for the tickets, and limit feature scope in a given time period. That’s why it’s called ScrumBan
Notifications, Due Dates, etc
I’ve also established automated email notifications on Pull Requests or Tasks are not Reviewed / Tested for more than 2 days.
We started to use labels trigger notifications for tickets that will soon miss due date, or for ones that shouldn’t be rescheduled.
There are a lot of other specifics, changes, undergoing improvements – over the year team grew significantly, as well as number of clients – and we adjust the company flows accordingly. Developers look motivated, and I couldn’t be happier to work in such an environment.
Key findings this year:
- Don’t make a release the goal itself. Quality product is the goal. So you can skip a release or two, but deliver something good. Even if there are lots of clients,they would understand the importance of stability, not the feature they want firsthand;
- Write up retrospectives on problematic moments, so that you solidify foundation of your experience for yourself and others. Try to gather additional data and opinions inside the team, in order to provide a broader angle to the problem;
- Make everything possible to have a good human relationship with developers and other team members. You are colleagues, and a good person will always try to do her best, if she’s motivated (see motivation reference article);
- Horizontal hierarchy and a little bit of dev anarchy is always good. Every team member should have his voice at least heard;
- Always update team feedback on how things are, this is essential to keep the flow up to date and address concerns that devs may have. Cause you know, in IT, team is what defines success, and good manager’s work is to facilitate work and motivate the people;
- Maintain comfortable release pace for the team and the clients;
- Read professional literature, but don’t forget to check how this works in reality
- There is always room for optimization. You just don’t have enough time! You can spend days micromanaging things, to extrapolate optimization on global flow later. Neverending exciting job.
- Maintain work/ life balance. Don’t let team overwork.
Aside of your professionalism, key things to stay motivated are team spirit and ability to apply and improve your skills. For the past year we became mature, overcame challenges, and continue to create awesome WMS for our clients. Looking forward for the next adventurous year at SkuVault
Thanks to Ksenia, Slav and Kim for the review, and SkuVault team for the support.