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Twitter for Real-Time Notifications

Posted by Adam Feber on Thu, Jul 07, 2011
  
  

Just the other day I saw a tweet from an Assembla user that said, “Just linked my new twitter account to my Assembla account. Viewers can now see commits I post on Assembla.”

If you are an Assembla user, you already know that Assembla tools are tightly integrated with an activity stream to provide real-time updates of activity within a workspace. You can customize email notifications to allow you to get real-time, hourly, or daily summaries of activity right to your inbox.

But did you know that Assembla’s Twitter Tool provides the ability to post real-time notifications of code commits, code reviews, and ticket, file, message, team, and wiki activity to Twitter? This may be a useful tool for some projects for the following reasons.

Private Projects: Post activity for team members and clients to follow.

Why not allow tech-savvy team members and developers to track project activity through Twitter? Create a Twitter account for the project that you are working on and optionally set it as protected (private) so you can approve who has access to the tweets. Then tell your client or team members that they can follow @projectname for real-time updates on project activity.

Open Source Projects: Post activity to increase awareness of your project and its progress.

If you are a part of an open source project, you have probably promoted it in though some form of social media, because social media is an ideal medium to increase participation and build a community. When you post activity such as code commits and new and updated tickets, followers can get real-time visibility into project activity. This increase in awareness can lead to more active participation from your project community. 

The Twitter Tool is optional and can be set up in seconds. Watch the video below to learn how to install and configure it in your project's space. 


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May 26 upgrades – Email alerts, Ticket comments, Search, Cardwall

Posted by Andy Singleton on Fri, May 27, 2011
  
  

This week's release contains enhancements to email alert controls, comments, search, cardwall, code review,API and Mercurial, and more.

Sorting on the Cardwall

You can now sort tickets inside a cardwall column.  Just drag the ticket to a new position.  If you are a “sorter" who likes to put tasks in a specific order, this is for you.  It sounds like a simple feature, but we actually wrote a lot of javascript, and tried a number of ways of making the sort intuitive, while keeping the sorting simple for the majority of our users who are happy with the high/normal/low priority sort.  When you drag from one status column to the next, the ticket will drop into a position that is automatically calculated from its date and priority.  This makes it easy to drop into a column with a lot of cards.  You  can then drag a ticket up and down in the column.  It will stay exactly where you drop it.  If you move it to a new Priority area, it changes priority to match the place where you dropped it.

This feature helps you run an XP or Kanban process where you sort the tickets in the “New” column, and then pull the top ticket into a working status.

Better control over default email alerts

Before this release, new team members got a fixed set of email alerts, and immediately started receiving email about tickets, commits, etc.  For many teams, this is too much email, and it was a deterrent to adding new team members.   Now, you can control the email alerts that new team members get, and even turn them off completely.

-- Space owners can set the default alert settings for new team members.  You will see a new link on the Space/Admin page for “Email Alert Settings”.

-- When you create a space, email alert settings are inherited from the template configuration.  So, we can tune the alert settings for our configurations, and if you make your own project templates, you can set the default alerts on those.

-- As always, users can edit these email alerts preferences.   We moved the preference form to an “email settings” subtab on the Stream page.

-- We improved the alert formats in the hourly summaries to make that option more useful.

-- Now, the space Stream page shows all events by default.   You can use the sidebar filter to find specific events.  Previously, Stream was showing only the events that you selected for email alerts, which usually did not include “My own changes”.   People were confused when they went to the Stream page and didn’t see something that they were sure they just did.

Search upgrades

We completely rebuilt the search interface  so that it actually useful.  Now when you search, you get results in an improved format with a sidebar that helps you refine your search

-- Search for recently updated items – today, this week, this month.  This is the most useful improvement.

-- Search specific objects (Tickets, Wiki, Files, Space names)

-- Search in a Portfolio, as well as in a space, your spaces, or public spaces

Edit ticket comments

You can now edit your own ticket comments by using the “edit” link in the comment list.  It’s very satisfying.  Users have been complaining that they could not edit these comments and fix spelling errors.  I argued that it would be strange to edit comments and leave them different from their email alerts, but I was wrong.

And More

New Wiki editor:  We installed an upgraded WYSIWIG Wiki  editor.  It works better with IE9.  We also fixed other IE9 rendering bugs.

Mercurial Code Browser:  We applied fixes for the Mercurial code browser to eliminate cases where file and diff views were hanging.

API enhancement:  GET a list of available custom status values

Improved Changeset commenting:  See the blog article

Reliability: Commits are now replicated in real time across multiple EC2 regions, so no repositories will be stuck offline because of a failure in one datacenter.

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5 Reasons IntelliSites Loves Assembla

Posted by Jeff Carl on Tue, May 03, 2011
  
  

intellisiteslogo

In the summer of 2010 we met IntelliSites, Albany New York’s largest pure web development firm. Working with clients on web design, SEO, and other web marketing tactics, IntelliSites has a lot of different kinds of projects to run.

IntelliSites came to us frustrated with their project management software. While they enjoyed a good relationship with their vendor, the product simply didn’t have the flexibility to keep up with the evolving world of the web.

Here are 5 (of the many) things IntelliSites loves about Assembla:

  1. Projects Launched FAST  “Since switching to Assembla, we’re able to put together a team and a new project quick” says Mike McKasty, project manager and technical lead at IntelliSites. “It takes the dread out of getting a project running.”

  2. Seamless, Collaborative Communication  Assembla allows IntelliSites to bring developers, designers, management, and even the client, into a common space where everyone can keep tabs on the project. “Clients just don’t call for updates as often.” Says Alex Vasilakos, Senior PM at IntelliSites. “Which leaves me more time to actually run the project.”

  3. Tickets, Please  Assembla's Tickets and Support Tickets have helped to quell client anxiety as well. Which, in turn, calms the nerves of staff. When clients can see that all their requests have been recorded and assigned, they don’t get worried that things are being forgotten. And since client’s don’t need to have an account on assembla to see what’s happening on the project, it’s easy to bring even the least tech-savvy client into the fold and give them the ability to participate.

  4. Will the Real Developers Please Stand Up?  Using the daily Stand-Up feature of Assembla has helped keep the team on task and motivated. “Our team works hard” says McKasty. “Reviewing priorities daily helps keep our IntelliPeeps from feeling buried and losing motivation.”

  5. Sharing is Caring  The Files tool and Repositories in Assembla help the IntelliSites team collaborate efficiently with each other and with clients. It’s easy to share logos, design concepts and conversations with everyone involved in a project. That means less wasted time, and a greater sense of involvement from all the project stakeholders.

Assembla’s feature set is a natural fit for IntelliSites. Want to try Assembla in your company?  Set up a workspace, and choose the Manual Billing option after selecting a pricing plan to get a free 30-day trial with no credit card info required.

Oh - and if you’re looking for great web design in Albany, check out IntelliSites at http://www.intellisites.com.


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Client Spotlight: Wake Forest Law Review

Posted by Jeff Carl on Mon, Feb 28, 2011
  
  

wflr

The Wake Forest Law Review is a student-run organization that publishes articles, notes, comments, and empirical legal studies.  A satisfied user of Assembla, the Managing Editor Adam Burks provided us with the following feedback to share with you.  While software development teams are our core customer base, Adam explains that virtually any team can benefit from Assembla's SaaS tools that help teams improve efficiency, task tracking, and communication.  We thank him for the glowing review.

As an academic journal, my organization falls outside the software development framework in which Assembla specializes. However, despite its technical foundation, Assembla shows great promise to many nontraditional organizations that have routines, deadlines, staff-member-specific tasks, and oversight requirements. In our case, Assembla has helped the Wake Forest University Law Review move from paper trails and email chains to a coherent, centralized task management system.

The Law Review’s old system worked, but we saw room for improvement. We never had huge problems with getting our issues edited and ready for publication, but, in retrospect, using Assembla has emphasized the fundamental inefficiency in the way we did business. Our business is taking an author’s article through the editorial process, which entails five rounds of editing by different teams. Before, when I had to give assignments or the staff submitted their work, I only used email. Unfortunately, because most of the assignments were pieces of a single article, managing each staff member’s submission was piecemeal and disorganized. Furthermore, the stages of an article’s development were kept in folders and files with different names to keep track of which stage the file corresponded. We kept these files in different folders in a tree with many, many branches. In short, the managing editor had to spend a lot of time keeping the pieces together and organized, and the risk of human error for replacing or deleting a needed file was nontrivial.

However, over the past year, using Assembla has transformed our management process. Now, instead of emailing out assignments, I can create a ticket for each staff member.  Each staff member has a membership to our Assembla spaces (these spaces correspond with each issue of our journal, which is a handy way to keep files and content discrete and organized). Now, they can find their assignments and then upload their completed work.

Assembla also does a great job of monitoring team activities, which is especially important to me given our hard deadlines and my duty to enforce them - every time someone is late turning something in, it causes the entire editorial process to be pushed back. Assembla lets me know who has submitted their final product and when it was submitted, in case I need to contact that individual to find out why his or her work is late. Not the most pleasant task, but an important one nonetheless.

As suggested by the image below, we have multiple articles and issues at different stages in the editorial process at any one time. In the past, determining when assignments were due and who had submitted what and when took considerable time and coordination. For a law student who already has a sizeable docket of school and clinic work, this overhead cost of management was very taxing.  But now, with Assembla I can create the assignments, create the deadlines, and monitor workflow without having to do any read work. All I have to do is check the website, which saves considerable time and effort.

wflr1 resized 600

What I cannot emphasize enough is how great the Assembla website works with SVN repositories for keeping track of what stage of the process each article is in. Instead of having multiple copies of an article, each with a different name to indicate its step in the process, all I need is one folder with one file. I can use TortoiseSVN to check the change log and even compare the latest version with an earlier version to see if something was changed when it should not have been. Assembla and SVN have really cut down the clutter.

Initially, the staff was uncertain about Assembla’s usefulness because of the small technical learning curve, but after they had a couple opportunities to use the software they became fans. I sent around a survey to get feedback, and I got the impression that having all of their assignments and materials in a single location on Assembla was convenient and helpful in organizing their workflow. While I have been very impressed with Assembla from the beginning, the true test of Assembla’s effectiveness was in the staff’s positive responses.

Despite our “off-label” use of Assembla to support the editorial process of an academic journal, Assembla has been a great tool making our work easier and more organized.

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Configure the Support tool, and connect with customers

Posted by Andy Singleton on Sun, Feb 20, 2011
  
  
Chat Udell explains why he uses the Assembla Support tool - “We love the power and flexibility of the Assembla Support tool. With the API, we can create custom forms and front ends for the Support system and not even have to train users on how to use a ticketing system. This save us time and money and ultimately gives us better user input as well.” Chad Udell, Iona Group

describe the image

With the Assembla support tool you can take bug reports, feature requests, or orders for pizza. It gives your customers a place to post and review their own tickets, or email tickets.  Then your team handles them normal tickets view.  It's a simple concept that can be very powerful IF you can figure out how to configure it.

Finally, we have unlocked the secrets of its configuration.  Go here to discover the five steps to configuring the support tool.

  1. Adding the Support Tool
  2. Configuring the Tickets tool fields and default values
  3. Configuring the message and fields that you want your customers to see
  4. Setting Permissions
  5. Receiving email, and sending email responses

Run the video below to see the Support tool in action.

describe the image

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Today's release - Google docs, improved start page, more coming

Posted by Andy Singleton on Wed, Jan 05, 2011
  
  

Today's zero-downtime release is the beginning of a flood of improvements that we will unveil during the next six weeks.  This first post describes some obvious changes that you see today, including the new Google Docs integration.

The user start page has a new layout with the Stream of events from your spaces on the right side.  We took out my random blog notes and replaced them with the activity that you care about.

new start layout

You will notice that the Stream does not appear instantly.  It takes a while to sort through millions of events and get your stream view.  So, we display the start page quickly, and then display the Stream panel later with an ajax call.

Google Docs

Google docs integration was our third most requested feature, with 300 votes.  People like to write requirements in Google docs and see them evolve in real time, or keep a real-time list in a Google spreadsheet.  However, they get frustrated because new team members cannot see their work  In this release, you can add Google docs to the Files list for a project, or as a ticket attachments, and they will be available for all present and future team members.

Here is a picture of the Files tab, with the Google Docs button.  You can also find this button on the Attachments bar for tickets.
Assembla Page Google docs

How it works:

The first time you add a Google Doc, you will need to log in with a Google account, and Google will ask for permission to share your docs.  Then, you can select one of your Docs and attach it to the Assembla project.

When a team member goes to view the Doc, they will click on a link in our app.  We will send them to login to Google (if they have not logged in).  Then, we will do "on demand" permissioning.  If they do not already share the document, we will add them to the share list, and then make them wait 8 seconds while the change propagates through Google's vast server farm.

Why this is cool:

1) We are responsible for making sure that current and future team members have access to all of the information that they need.  They get this with on-demand permissions.

2) Google docs are fun to use.

3) This architecture is the beginning of a powerful cloud filesystem.  In the future we can add plugins to attach Windows Live files or Creately diagrams.  Or, you could upload a local file and then edit it with Pixlr or comment on it with Crocodoc.  You can send us your ideas.

Faster Ticket Edits

You can edit tickets directly from the ticket list with a right-click on the ticket.  Sometimes people do not know this, and if they use a Macintosh, they don't have right-click.  So, we added an icon to pop up the in-place editing menu, after the Summary field.  See it below:

Breakout

 

Coming attractions

In the screen shot on top, you will see "Portfolios you collaborate with."  This will be our new packaging for private, on-demand portals with branding, management reporting and centralized user management.  If you are in the private beta, you can now get this directly on the production servers.

We are also testing new code review and code contribution workflows, ticket workflows, and localization.  Thanks for your patience.

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Hidden feature - email to messages

Posted by Andy Singleton on Tue, Dec 28, 2010
  
  
Yesterday I got an email from a customer, with an attachment, containing various improvement suggestions.  I was trying to figure out the easiest way to post it for the team.  One of our developers reminded me that I can just email to <url_name>@alerts.assembla.com, and it will appear in the project workspace, as a message, with the attachment.

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Skype down, switching our teams to Assembla chat

Posted by Andy Singleton on Wed, Dec 22, 2010
  
  
Tags: 

Skype is having problems today.  Clients are crashing, or logging out, or refusing to log in.  We use Skype chat a lot.  The persistent chat streams are great for running multiple conversations at one time.  For today, we switched our teams to the Assembla chat tool.  This is better for keeping the team focused on one task and on project activity, so it has a different effect.  You can add a chat tool from the space Admin tab.

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SAP continuous integration, with Assembla Webhooks

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Dec 20, 2010
  
  

Gregor Wolf, a hyper-active SAP developer and community member, reports that "The concept of a ABAP Continuous Inegration Server powered by ZAKE from SAP Innovation Weekend Berlin 2010 is now reality. I've extended ZAKE's functionality to be triggered from the Assembla Webhooks. The whole process is shown in a Screencast: http://screencast.com/t/QAGJncHLFeI."

Systems that are built with SAP's ABAP programming language usually do code management and builds inside the SAP application.  They store code in the database, and they have rules and "transports" for moving code changes into deployed versions of the software.  This usually works inside one enterprise SAP system.  Gregor has started several projects to open up ABAP code sharing between enterprises, using XML export/import (SAPlink) and subversion (ZAKE - "the ABAP make").

zake continous integration

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Learn to Work Across Time Zones

Posted by Andy Singleton on Fri, Dec 17, 2010
  
  

Some people demand that their workers be in a narrow time band like North America, or Europe. They feel that it is important to be able to communicate with colleagues during working hours. However, time waits for no man. You might not have a choice. The same forces that are spreading people out into distributed teams are also spreading them out across time zones. And, your time zone will limit the talent that you can bring to your team. You might want someone outstanding from an alien time zone. When people in America and Asia work together, the time difference is often at the worst case of 10 to 12 hours. So, it's important to understand how to work together across time zones.

I don't recommend that you ask people to work abnormal hours – for example, a night shift in India to match the American day, or early morning for a hard-core night owl. Sometimes this works in reverse and the manager gets up at 4:00am to talk to workers. It's bad for health and family life, and it's going to hurt productivity and retention. If you follow my recommendations below, it's not necessary. You should set specific requirements for communication, with minimal rules for working time overlap, availability to respond to calls, and working hours per day. If someone meets those requirements, they should be free to schedule the rest of their life.

Here is the easy recommendation: Use a team workspace like Assembla that helps you track everything in writing. Write your tasks and comments in tickets, not email. Watch the activity stream of edits and commits.

You will want to do a chat. Use a persistent chat like Skype conference chat, or Assembla chat, so that team members can see what is happening at any time. You will need to decide if you want a scheduled daily chat, or an unscheduled conversation that people join when they are available. Typically, we start a project with a scheduled chat, and optionally move to an unscheduled conversation if the team members are having trouble meeting at the same time, and have experience working together.

Do NOT change the time of the chat. Set one time that approximately works for most team members, and stick with it, and people will adapt to that time. At various presentations I have heard Johanna Rothman and Scott Ambler recommend moving the time of the chat or daily meeting to “share the pain” of times that are inconvenient for one side or the other. They are supposed to be experts in distributed agile, but I suspect that they have never actually worked on a fully distributed team. If you move the time, you will lose people, and people will not be able to adapt.

I recommend that you do NOT schedule daily conference calls. People hate them. It's difficult to get everyone on the call. And, for some reason, conference calls are associated with low productivity. I have yet to hear anyone say “I worked on a project with a lot of conference calls, and it was great!” When I see a project that is scheduling daily calls, it is almost always a project that is in trouble. Typically, a project manager asks for these calls in order to share his problems, rather than to solve problems for the team.

When you make an appointment or schedule a chat, specify all times in UTC, 24 hour time. So, 9:00 AM in my US Eastern time zone would be “14:00 UTC”, since my time zone is UTC-5. Each person will only need to know his own local time, and the UTC translation.

Set your servers to UTC time also, so everyone can read the logs.

Use a tool that correctly displays activity in your local time. The Assembla app will display all times in the preferred time zone that you set in your user profile. So, if I see that someone wrote a ticket at 9:30, I know that was 9:30 eastern time, even if it was 16:30 where he did the work. Skype and many calendaring tools also do this correctly.

If you have more than four people working together, use the Assembla standup reporting tool. It's the easiest way to figure out who is working on what. I recommend that you ask people to submit their reports when they start work each day. However, if you have a scheduled chat, you can ask them to write the standup report before the chat. This gives you a traditional standup meeting – a short report, followed by a chat about priorities and obstacles.

If you have any other management tips, please share them.

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