An Assembla "space" keeps everything in one place. In this case “everything” means all of the code, tickets, comments, messages, files, wiki entries and chat sessions related to a project, and "one place" is the workspace for that project.
When I joined Assembla my reaction to that characteristic was: “That’s nice, but how important is it really? These days everything is on somebody’s hard drive, or stored in the cloud. Nothing is going to get lost.”
But I’ve come to realize that “everything in one place” is a big deal, on three different levels.
1. On the personal level, it saves me a lot of time. Sure, all of my work files are on a hard drive somewhere. But then someone asks for a paragraph I wrote three months ago. Which directory did I put that in? Is it in a Word file, or was it on a PowerPoint slide? Or in an email in my gmail account, or my Exchange mailbox? No, maybe it was from a Skype chat? And there goes an hour of my life searching all those places.
With Assembla, if the paragraph is related to project XYZ, then I can look in the activity stream for that project, or go right to the one or two tools where it must have been entered.
2. On the team level. Now I don’t have to worry that Jeff or Nadia's hard drive has a crucial file that I need right now, at 1:00 in the morning. And when someone new joins our team, they can come up to speed quickly without a lot of handholding. They can see everything, not just the code in the repository, but all of the tickets completed and opened, and all of the ideas that went into planning and managing the project. Those factors can have a measurable effect on getting the project done faster.
3. On the business level.
(A). Companies are now shifting staff around between projects all the time, so being able to bring new members up to speed quickly is not just nice to have, it is a facilitator for the whole business model.
(B) What happens when somebody gets sick suddenly, goes on vacation, or quits? If a crucial document or piece of code is on their hard drive, or in their desk drawer, the company misses deadlines or loses money duplicating work.
(C) “Everything in one place” offers a kind of insurance policy for customers (external or internal). If the team can’t complete the work for some reason, the entire project can be handed off to another development group, specifications, code, task list, test plans, documentation, and all. That dramatically changes the risk profile. The risk is no longer losing an entire six or twelve months' work. The worst case is now needing a few days or weeks for new people to look at all of the documents and code and come up to speed.
Some custom development shops have turned this attribute into a major selling point with their customers (see our blog post “Can Agile work with client projects? Gravity Jack’s Way”). But the same principle applies to enterprise IT environments as well.
So “everything in one place” can be a pretty big deal after all.Now if only I could figure out where I put that paragraph they asked me for...