A JISC-funded Managing Research Data project

Posts tagged Pivotal Tracker

Orbital v0.1 was released on 16 May 2012. Every two weeks, staff working on Orbital meet with Dr Bingo Wing-Kuen Ling and Dr Chunmei Qing to discuss their research and RDM practice. Until now these meetings have been all about requirements-gathering – today was the first opportunity for some real, hands-on user testing with the alpha release of Orbital.

The notes below have been turned into tasks on the Orbital project Pivotal Tracker site.

BL = Bingo Wing-Kuen Ling.

  1. BL successfully viewed Orbital v0.1 in Internet Explorer 7 on the UoL corporate desktop and was able to sign in and grant access to the application using his UoL credentials. BL was able to create and describe a new project.
  2. BL tried to upload a file from his desktop to Orbital using IE7 and received an error (this is a known bug with Orbital in Internet Explorer). He was then unable to delete this file.
  3. Switching to Firefox, BL uploaded multiple files from his desktop to his project in Orbital (it wasn’t clear from the page that this was possible). This completed successfully: but because the files sizes were small, he did not receive any feedback on his upload.
  4. Returning to the original file upload screen, BL had to manually refresh the page to view the changes made (files uploaded). Files scheduled for processing are marked as ‘queued’ however this status does not update automatically without refreshing.
  5. Joss Winn demonstrated the file and project metadata pages, citable URLs for files, and Google Analytics on projects. The display of file metadata needs to be more complete, and G.A. needs a better explanation and links to sources of help.
  6. The group discussed BL’s requirements around project calendars/timelines. BL wants to be able to view project events (meetings, deadlines, etc.) for each project (but not aggregated) and is not particularly concerned about notifications on activity/changes to files. The group discussed this and will explore ways of presenting timelines made up of three sorts of events (project events, activity stream, and comments) with each type of event suppressible in the timeline. A timeline overview will be displayed on the Orbital ‘front page’ once a user has logged in.
  7. BL also would like to be able to organise project and data files in all Orbital workspaces using folders/tags, and to allow bundled file download by organising files into collections.

You can read about Orbital v0.1 in this blog post, and about the roadmap for development and release of future versions, here.

Today I’ve been kicking around the ICT office with Alex, figuring out how to make Jenkins (our wonderful CI server) build and publish the latest version of the CWD with all the bells and whistles like compilation of CSS using LESS, minification, validation of code and so-on. As part of this we managed to fix a couple of bits and pieces which had been bugging me for a while, namely the fact that GitHub commit notifications weren’t working properly (fixed by changing the repository URI in the configuration) and the fact that Campfire integration wasn’t working (fixed by hitting it repeatedly with a hammer).

This brought me to thinking about how our various things tie in together, so I set about charting a few of them up. After a while I realised the chart had basically expanded into a complete flowchart of the various tools and processes that hang together to keep the code flowing in a steady stream from my brain – via my fingers – into an actual deployment on the development server. Since it may be of interest to some of you, here’s a pretty picture:

This is (approximately) the toolchain I currently use for Orbital, including rough details of what is being passed around

The beauty of this is that the vast majority of the lines happen completely by themselves — I get to spend my days living in the small bubble of my local development server and dipping in and out of Pivotal Tracker to update stories. The rest is magically happening as I work, and the constant feedback through all our monitoring and planning systems (take a look at SplendidBacon for an epic high-level overview) means that the rest of the project team and any project clients can see what’s going on at any time.

Did you know that you can watch our user requirements gathering and see how Orbital development is progressing by following our Github and Pivotal Tracker activity? Here are the key links:

Orbital Manager (the front end) (RSS)

Orbital Core (the back end) (RSS)

Pivotal Tracker (RSS)

Updates are also merged in a single stream of activity on Splendid Bacon.

Internally, we watch all of this activity through Campfire, thanks to Hubot and a bit of plumbing. Commits to Github, new stories and other activity on Pivotal Tracker, fire off API notifications which Hubot (‘Zakia’), delivers to Campfire. Here’s what this afternoon’s activity looked like.

Campfire
Watching Orbital progress on Campfire, using Hubot (Zakia)

Using a mixture of friendly APIs, asynchronous messaging and a chat bot provides us with a handy method of keeping track of what’s going on when we can’t all be in the same room.

As part of Orbital’s development we need to keep what we’re doing on track, and ensure that what is produced is actually what people are after. We’re building the project using agile development methods, which mean that instead of generating a load of documentation and exacting requirements up front and then building software, we generate a basic set of requirements, start developing and then return to look at new or changed requirements at regular intervals.

Keeping tabs on this kind of thing requires a management tool, and in our case we’re using the wonderful Pivotal Tracker, and here’s why.

Pivotal allows us to break down user requirements (gathered through a variety of means, including meetings, surveys, observation and so-on) into discreet bundles called ‘stories’, each of which represents something that a user needs (or wants) to be able to do with the final product. An example may be “project administrators must be able to assign roles to project users”, or “users must be able to manually add a data point”. By creating these stories it starts to become clearer what actually needs to be done.

From there we can start to fully analyse each of these stories, providing them with information such as a ‘score’ of how difficult to achieve each story will be, or including sub-tasks for actual development purposes. Stories can be assigned to various people based on who needs to be involved, and go through a clearly defined workflow of being started, being finished, being delivered in a product version and being approved by the customer.

On top of this management of user stories we can also pack out Pivotal with higher-level package deliverables and deadlines, along with bug reporting and general project chores. Once we’ve got all these things into the Tracker we’re able to re-order them as priorities shift, giving us an instant overview of what’s happening in the current iteration (a 2-week long development cycle) as well as what’s going to be happening in future iterations. At this point, Pivotal Tracker comes into its own with something called ‘emergent planning’.

Emergent planning takes a look at how we’re actually performing in terms of crunching through our list of user stories and dynamically adjusts which stories we’re going to be tackling in upcoming iterations. If we’re doing well we begin to see more points worth of development per iteration, and if we’re slipping then Tracker gives us fewer. Since we’ve told Pivotal what needs to happen before certain deadlines are met (when we ordered stories and tasks), and since Pivotal knows roughly how fast we’re working, it’s easy to see if we’re predicted to hit or miss development milestones.

Want to see what we’re up to? Our Pivotal Tracker project is open for you all to see.