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Posts Tagged ‘axosoft’

Axosoft is Hiring! (10 Open Positions)

August 23, 2011 3 comments


On the heels of the OnTime 11 release last month, which has been exceptionally received in the marketplace, Axosoft (and our sister company Transfer Big Files) is getting much more aggressive about expanding its team. In fact, we have 10 open positions!

Last year, we purchased and built a custom 12,000 sq ft office space. We designed it ourselves, and we think we’ve created one of the best work environments in Arizona for software developers to thrive. Axosoft’s offices were featured in an Arizona@Work article highlighting our efforts to create a unique and productive work environment.

We’ve also made a short video giving you a glimpse of the Axosoft environment:

We’re having a lot of fun building world-class software and trying to make a dent in the universe!  If you want to do the same, check out our openings and see if you think you’re a right fit for our team:

View and Apply for Axosoft Jobs

NO RECRUITERS PLEASE!

Categories: Business, Team Tags: ,

Scrum on Demand – Getting Started with Scrum

October 6, 2009 6 comments

So you are sold on Scrum, but having a hard time getting started, right? There are a lot of questions on your mind:

  • How do I convince the team to use Scrum?
  • How long should our sprints be?
  • How should we handle bugs?
  • What if our estimates are not accurate?
  • How do we handle items with dependencies across sprints?
  • What tool should we use to track everything?
  • How do I get my team trained on Scrum?

We’ll tackle each of these questions in this article.

How do I convince my team to use Scrum?

Remember that “using Scrum” mostly means the following things:

  1. Making a list of things that you need to get done for the project (product backlog)
  2. Prioritizing that list
  3. Estimating how long each item in the list will take
  4. Meeting regularly to see the status of items and make small adjustments
  5. Keep track of how much work remains until the project is finished (burndown chart)

So if you are getting any push-back from your team, management or executives on using Scrum, then don’t refer to it as Scrum. Come in with a plan that says you want to do the 5 things listed above. The resistance will immediately dissipate because there will no longer be a fear of the unknown. It’s hard to argue that “making a list of things we need to get done” is a bad thing. You’ll know it as the product backlog, but who cares if others call it that?

How long should our sprints be?

As a general rule of thumb, most dev teams have a typical “release cycle”. My standard recommendation is that make sure you fit at least 4 sprints to as many as 12 sprints into your release cycles. So if your typical release cycle is once every 6 months, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have 6 sprints of 30-days each. On the other hand, if your release cycle is only 3 months, you still might want 6 sprints, but make them 2 weeks each.

How should we handle bugs?

There are two types of bugs. There are those that A) appear while you’re still working on a given feature PRIOR to the completion of the feature and B) bugs that are identified AFTER a feature is considered feature-complete. Bugs that are identified PRIOR to the feature being completed should be dealt with right away and the feature should never see the light of day without the bugs being addressed. However, the challenging part of bugs is how to deal with the bugs that are identified AFTER the feature is completed and released in the product.

There are two main schools of thought here. Neither is better than the other. Use the one that fits your team best. Here they are:

  1. Log bugs just like any other product backlog item and in each sprint, take a handful of bugs to address in each sprint. In this scenario, bugs and features are thrown into the same product backlog and prioritized, estimated and dealt with just like any other product backlog item.
  2. The other school of thought is to track bugs in a separate “Defects Backlog” and have dedicated sprints that focus on nothing but bugs to help everyone stay focused on creating the most stable product. The idea here is that with everyone in the team focused on fixed bugs, nobody is busy introducing new bugs by coding new features and as a result, the team will produce a more polished product.

How do we create more accurate estimates?

The first thing to remember is that nobody creates accurate estimates. The key is to create an accurate overall target release date that is manageable. So there are some best practice rules on creating better estimates. Here they are:

  1. Involve at least 2-3 of your most experience engineers on creating estimates, along with the person who will ultimately be responsible for coding it. Take the higher estimate value if the group doesn’t agree.
  2. Keep estimates at approximate values that are thrown into larger buckets. For example, your “estimate values” might be:
    • 1 Hour
    • 2 Hours
    • 4 Hours
    • 8 Hours
    • 2 Days
    • 3 Days
    • 5 Days
    • 2 Weeks
    • 3 Weeks
  3. If an item is estimated to take 10 minutes, that falls into the 1-hour bucket. If it’s estimated to take 3 or 4 hours, that probably falls into the 8 hour bucket. Being conservative with estimates will address some of the unavoidable down-time for estimations.
  4. Expect no more than 6 hours of productivity each day from each software engineer. That means the typical software engineer should plow through 30 hours of estimated work per week. Don’t expect more because they have overhead of meetings, checking email and Facebook!
  5. Lastly, be sure to leave room in your overall schedule for unforeseen items, changes that will inevitably be made and other things that you simply can not predict. Generally speaking, you’ll want about 1 week of padding for each month of development. So on a 4 month project, don’t take on more than 3 months worth of work.

How do we handle items with dependencies across sprints?

Dependent and complex items are essentially the high-risk items in software development projects. To minimize the risk, there are two things you can do:

  1. Use Proof-of-Concept prototypes as often as possible. These throw-away projects should help demonstrate the feasibility of high-risk items. These items include anything that the team does not have experience developing, which might include a new cool User Interface design, back end data storage, cool new web interface and so on.
  2. Tackle the tough tasks in your first few sprints. This will help you identify problems early. You don’t want to find out two weeks prior to your ship-date that a task that was expected to take a couple of weeks will in fact take a couple of months. Putting high-risk items first, will help you get project visibility early that will allow you to change things up to address your timeline.

What Scrum tool should we use to track everything?

It’s always surprising when I find software development teams that still use Excel or even sticky notes, paper and white boards to manage the development of a software project. After all, we are all in the business of creating software that makes some manual tasks easier. There are dozens of software applications out there that are far superior to using Excel or an offline solution.

One example of such a tool (my favorite, in fact :-), is my company’s product, Axosoft OnTime. OnTime is designed to stay out of the way of software developers so they can focus on writing code, which is what software developers do best. But it also provides project managers, scrum masters and executives with all of the project visibility tools that are instrumental in helping them make decisions about the direction of the project.

Here is how OnTime helps Scrum teams:

The Product Backlog

Scrum Product BacklogsOnTime allows for Scrum teams to manage their product backlog in either of two ways:

  • Single Backlog for Everything – The ability to see everything that relates to a given product, version or sprint in a single product backlog is a nice way to view project information. It allows teams to deal with bugs in the same way they deal with any other requirements.
  • Separate Backlogs for Defects (Bugs) and Features (Requirements) – OnTime also allows teams to separate defects, features and tasks into independent backlogs. This level of flexibility allows for each type of item to have a separate workflow, allowing defects to go through a different process than feature requests. For example, a defect might need to be verified, while a feature requests first needs approval.

Regardless of which way you decide to go with the product backlog, OnTime provides powerful backlog features that are useful for every user, including:

  • Ability to create public and private backlog filters with powerful AND/OR functionality for combining conditions
  • Ability to group backlog items to view them by assignee, status, workflow step or any other built-in or custom field
  • Ability to create saved public or private views which save everything from fields being displayed, the sizes of each column, filter conditions and more
  • Ability to set first, second and even third sort criteria so that you can view your backlog in the way that makes most sense
  • Ability to apply a change (such as status, workflow, date or other changes) to multiple items with the click of just 1 button

These features make OnTime one of the most powerful tools on the market for Scrum teams who need fine controls on their product backlog management.

Sprint Planning

Scrum Sprint PlanningSprint planning is one of the most important activities that Scrum-based teams perform. With OnTime, sprint planning takes form naturally from the product backlog. Assigning items to a sprint is as easy as dragging and dropping (in the OnTime Windows client) any number of items from your product backlog onto a planned sprint. Alternatively, you can use the multi-edit feature to assign a number of product backlog items to any given sprint.

To create the planned sprints, OnTime also makes the Scrum Master’s job easy. The OnTime Releases hierarchy breaks projects in the following way:

  • Products – You can manage any number of products in OnTime
    • Versions – Each Product can have any number of versions
      • Sprints – Each Version has numerous Sprints

OnTime also provide auto-calculators for sprint start and end dates. You simply tell the system how many days your typical sprint is and OnTime will automatically calculate the dates.

Daily Standups

All meetings are overhead. With that in mind, the goal of meetings should be to keep them as short as possible (and as Einstein might say, “but no shorter!”). OnTime facilitates meetings, such as the Scrum Daily Standup, by having all the information that’s needed to make decisions ready at hand. A typical meeting starts in a conference room with the main OnTime screen being projected on a screen with a “Daily Standup” Previously Saved View applied to the system to show only the items of focus for the given sprint.

The team has the ability to go through the items right there, make notes, change status and so on, allowing the meeting’s decisions to be captured in real-time without further work that would typically be assigned to the Scrum Master.

Tracking Progress (Burndown Charts)

OnTime Burndown ChartsIf you don’t track it, there is no way to improve it. Furthermore, project visibility is perhaps the most important factor for project success. That’s where Scrum burn-down charts play a pivotal role to making sure projects are on track and OnTime provides an extensive set of capabilities when it comes to Project Visibility and Burn-down charts, including:

  • View a mini burndown chart on the main OnTime page, giving everybody on the team the same sense of urgency to move the project in the right direction
  • Multiple burndown charts depicting one or more sprints, versions or products in a fully customizable Charts Dashboard
  • View rollups of burndown charts for multiple sprints for a given version of a product
  • Show trend (such as the burndown velocity) and project a ship-date for a given version or completion date of a sprint

The OnTime dashboard provides a number of other useful charts too, like the Treemap, or Trend Reports and even user workloads to make sure you are not overloading a particular team member with too much work.

It’s Scrum On-Demand

Scrum on DemandWith Axosoft’s OnTime Now! Scrum teams can actually signup for and start using a 30-day, 10-user trial of the OnTime system in seconds! Axosoft has done an incredible amount of work to make the OnTime Now! system exceptionally unique with the following features:

  • Choice of 6 Data Centers world-wide for maximum Hosted performance
  • Ability to use either a web client or the rich OnTime Windows client (this is unheard of in a hosted solution)
  • Ability to use OnTime Visual Studio or Eclipse plugins for developers so they never leave the IDE
  • Ability to use OnTime iPhone client, a full-featured app that provides dashboards, access to all items and much more – incredibly useful for every team member, especially the Scrum Master

The best part of the OnTime Now! hosted solution is that there is no compromise and there are no contracts. You get to use both Web, Windows, iPhone, Visual Studio and Eclipse OnTime clients and the entire thing is hosted in any of 6 different secure data centers that Axosoft manages around the globe.

Learn More About OnTime Now! >>

It’s Inside of Your IDE (Visual Studio & Eclipse)

OnTime Eclipse and Visual Studio PluginsDesigned to stay out of the way, OnTime provides the ability for developers to stay in the environment where they are most productive: The development IDE. OnTime supports both Visual Studio and Eclipse and allows developers to access the information they need right at their fingertips. The Visual Studio and Eclipse plugins allow users to:

  • Add, Edit and modify the workflow or status of items directly in the Eclipse and VS IDEs
  • Filter, sort and view items in a variety of ways
  • Add notes, attachments and work log entries for items
  • View items associated to a product, version or sprint

For developers, nothing is more productive than being able to stay in the IDE while modifying project management related tasks.

It’s Even in Your iPhone

Data was meant to be shared and viewed from everywhere. That’s why OnTime provides every team member with the ability to access their OnTime system from the convenience of their iPhone. The OnTime iPhone client provides some powerful features, including:

  • View and edit all item types (defects, features, tasks and incidents)
  • Filter and sort the product backlog(s)
  • View items by project, product, version or sprint
  • Add attachments, notes and comments to items
  • Log work done on a given item
  • View a number of built-in charts or create custom charts meeting any filter criteria

The OnTime iPhone client is intuitive and powerful. Exactly the type of features

How do I get my team trained on Scrum tools?

The last piece of the puzzle is how do you get your team trained on the tool that you select? Axosoft has a solution for that too. In fact, Axosoft offers a number of FREE Web-Based, Instructor-Lead classes on the following subjects:

  • Implementing Agile / Scrum Methods with OnTime (Class code OT-302) – This hour-long class walks you through how to setup an OnTime database to use Agile or Scrum terminology, setup product backlogs and get going with burndown charts.
  • OnTime End-User Essentials (Class Code OT-101) – This hour-long class walks typical users through the main OnTime interface covering the day-to-day operations of users, such as creating and applying filters and views, creating new items, comments, attachments and more.
  • OnTime Administrative Essentials (Class Code OT-102) – This hour-long class walks your OnTime administrator through the setup process, new user creation, customization of fields and field templates and other administrative tasks.

Did I mention these web classes are free? But they are only available on a first-come-first served basis as class attendance is limited to ensure each person has an opportunity to ask questions. Learn More >>

Project Management on Demand: OnTime Now!

September 24, 2009 3 comments

How do you make an already great project-management on demand system better than ever? How about improving the performance by as much as 500%?

Here is how we did it…

A Little Background

Ever since the introduction of OnTime V2.0, Axosoft has provided a hosted option.  This allows teams that want to get going with OnTime right away the option to do so without having to setup their own installations. We expected this option to be extremely popular, but to our surprise, over the past 6 years, relatively few of our customers have chosen to go the “Software as a Service” route.

Don’t get me wrong, “relatively few” still means hundreds of customers, but we were expecting thousands.

So a few months back, we decided to deep-dive into the numbers and figure out what was going on. What we found was that the closer customers were to Axosoft’s physical data center location, the more likely they were to choose the hosted service.

Hmmm…that seemed odd.

So we did a bit more digging with the help of some external resources to see what the OnTime Hosted user experience was like from different parts of the world.

The results were shocking!

Depending on customers’ locations and bandwidth (with respect to Axosoft’s Tempe, Arizona data center), the performance they experienced could vary by as much as 500% over optimum performance. This was especially true for our European and Australian customers. That meant that an OnTime page that might have taken 1 second to load under normal circumstances might take as much as 5 seconds to load for some customers.

Clearly unacceptable.

The problem, of course, is not an easy problem to solve. Because regardless of how well connected our data center is, we are also bound by customers’ connections — and all of the connections in between. The longer the distance and the more hops between a customer and OnTime Hosted, the worse the performance.

So we focused our entire IT and product engineering team on solving this problem.

Introducing ‘OnTime Now!’

OnTime Now! takes all of the great OnTime features, usability and innovation, and wraps it up in a hosted environment that allows customers to be up and running in no time flat. But it has a unique twist:

YOU get to choose the data center where your OnTime Now is installed from 6 world-wide locations:

OnTime Now! Data Center Locations

The OnTime Now! Data Center locations are:

  • Tempe, Arizona (this is where all OnTime hosted customers were until now)
  • San Jose, California
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Herndon, Virgina
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Brisbane, Australia

During the OnTime Now! signup process, you now get to choose the data center that will house your hosted account. To make the decision easier, we created a speed test, allowing you to choose the best performing site:

Bandwidth Tests
Bandwidth tests from Axosoft headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona

Once a data center is selected, OnTime Now! goes to work immediately creating the DNS entries for your chosen URL, a brand new OnTime database, your own OnTime Web Server, Customer Portal Server, Remote Server, iPhone Server, SDK and everything you need for your OnTime installation to go live. The entire process takes only seconds, and then you receive an email with instructions on how to get started. It’s pretty amazing.

So How Much Better is it?

While nearly every customer outside of Arizona will see a performance improvement, the most drastic performance increases will be seen by our East Coast (US), European and Australian customers. The chart below shows the relative performance that a typical European customer would experience. The Blue bars show the relative speed to our Tempe, Arizona data center while the Red bars show the performance those same customers can expect from our London, UK data center (shorter bars are better). As you can see, the difference is incredible:

OnTimeNowEuroPerf2
OnTime Now! Performance from European Countries to Arizona and UK Data Centers

We’ve made a ton of other improvements too, but all of them pale in comparison to this one major improvement with performance.

Existing OnTime Hosted customers can expect to be contacted soon regarding these changes so we can transition existing customers to OnTime Now! and the data centers of their choosing.

Learn More About OnTime Now! >>

Try OnTime Now! Free for 30-Days >>

Unprecedented Innovation

Our multiple data center strategy, which allows customers to choose the best performing data center is unprecedented in our industry. It required an enormous amount of effort to execute, not only in identifying and setting up servers in remote data centers across the globe, but also:

  • engineering new systems to manage these remote installations from a single location
  • allowing customers to seamlessly sign up and choose which data center to use for their OnTime installation
  • tying all this into Axosoft’s unique purchasing system (the Axosoft Online Store)
  • giving customer control of their system through the OnTime Now! Customer Dashboard

This was an awesome challenge!

Axosoft is truly blessed with some of the most incredibly talented people I know in this industry. No matter what challenges I throw at them, they seem to come up with solutions that shine.

Now, we’re back to the drawing board, coming up with the next big set of innovations that will move our industry forward. It’s fun doing unprecedented things. Stay tuned…

Axosoft Customer Survey Results

July 21, 2008 9 comments

Last week, we sent out a carefully crafted survey to our customer list hoping that we’d get about 40 or 50 responses to help us better understand what we’re doing right and what areas we could improve.

To our surprise, we received an overwhelming response from over 360 customers who completed a fairly lengthy, 20+ question survey. The results were absolutely awesome — surprising in many areas. They highlight a number of things where Axosoft can clearly do a better job and they also point to a number of things we are doing right. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the numbers visually, so I threw them into Keynote, charting and charted and graphed the responses.

Here are the results:

Q. Rate Axosoft in the Following Areas:

These results were very reassuring. My raw immediate reactions were as follows:

  • Holy cow, we have way too many “Never Used” responses. We need to do a much better job of getting users to know about the existence of the Axosoft Community siteVideo Tutorial Podcasts and OnTime Overview Videos, all of which are excellent resources and free!
  • Although I never want to see a survey result of “Unhelpful” or “Terrible”, it was good to see that we had fewer than 6 such responses total, combined for any question. Not bad when you consider more than 360 people responded. Now that we have a baseline, we’ll have a goal to reduce even further terrible and unhelpful responses.
  • It was great to see the Axosoft Sales Reps, the Axosoft Web site and the overview videos get such awesome responses from customers who used those services.

Q. Which version of OnTime do you use:

We were pleasantly surprised with the results of this question as we did not expect nearly 80% of our survey respondents to be using OnTime 2008. This told us we’ve done a couple of things right: a) OnTime 2008 was a compelling upgrade for the vast majority of users and b) We’ve done a better job of making upgrades easier than previous versions.

Q. Which OnTime Products Do You Use?

Here we got confirmation that OnTime Windows is by far the most popular client type we offer. The high use of the OnTime Customer Portal (41%) was a bit of a surprise as was the 13% usage of the OnTime SDK. If 13% of our customers use the SDK, it deserves to get a bump in priority for continued enhancements.

Q. Which OnTime Functionality Do You Use?

The findings to this question were in-line with our expectations. It was great to see adoption of OnTime as a HelpDesk tool has already reached 50% of survey respondents. HelpDesk functionality was introduced in V7, so having 50% of our customers using OnTime as a helpdesk solution was great to see. Similarly, Wiki usage is growing rapidly. Having just introduced Wiki functionality in V8 only a few months ago, it’s great to see more than 20% of our survey respondents using the team Wiki.

Q. What are Your Favorite OnTime Features?

OnTime’s ability to automate workflow and to enforce team processes was listed by the most people as one of their favorite features. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time making sure the workflow functionality in OnTime is extremely flexible and it was good to see that its being used and loved by such a large group of people.

To balance out the favorite features question, we also asked which features users felt were missing or needed more work. The information there was extremely interesting, but publishing those results publicly would be handing a little too much ammo to our competitors (sorry guys).

Q. Which Smart Phone Do You Use?

The results here were predictable. But far more interesting was which smart phone users planned to purchase:

In my opinion, this puts the iPhone debate to rest. More people plan to purchase iPhones (even this early in the game) than all other smart phones combined. iPhone has already won the mobile platform wars.

Q. Which Browser Version Do You Use?

Two things are very interesting here: 1) FireFox’s adoption rate is growing unbelievably fast with nearly 34% of our survey respondents using FireFox and 2) FireFox does a much better job than Microsoft in getting new version adoption as FF V3 has just barely been out for a few weeks and already more than half of the FF users are on the new version.

Q. Which Version of SQL Server Do You Use?

It was good to confirm that the vast majority of customers are on SQL Server 2005. However, due to a still large number using SQL 2000 (~24%), we need to continue backwards compatibility for these users.

Q. Do You Have Any Mac OS X OnTime Users?

Considering Axosoft’s focus has traditionally been on Microsoft development teams, having a 12% response that yes, there are OS X users of OnTime was a bit surprising to some, but confirms the trend that users are migrating away from Windows at alarming rates. Note: the exact wording of this question was not about Apple hardware, but specifically Mac OS X.

Q. How Do Your Mac OS X Users Run OnTime?

As suspected, the majority use browsers. But still, the number of users utilizing a local Windows virtual machine was interesting.

Q. What Development Methodology Do You Use?

This question confirmed that the majority of software development teams don’t follow a development methodology. But it also shows that of those who do, Scrum is one of the top methodologies getting adopted by teams. At Axosoft, we’ve been very intrigued with Scrum and the philosophy behind it. Scrum is very much inline with our own development philosophy, and we hope to improve OnTime even more so it addresses the needs of Scrum teams even better in the future.

Q. Would You Be Interested in an OnTime User Conference in Scottsdale, AZ?

We weren’t sure what to expect with this question. But it was nice to see that nearly 1/3 of survey respondents would be interested in an OnTime User Conference. Looks like our Marketing and Training Team have their work cut out for them. Stay tuned.

Q. Does OnTime Truly Help You Ship Software OnTime?

At first, I was a bit disappointed with the results to this question. Sure, OnTime is helping about 6 out of 7 teams that use it ship their software on-time, but what about the other 1 out of 7? Why are they even using OnTime, if it doesn’t help them ship software on-time?

Fortunately, we had a follow-up open ended question that asked users why OnTime isn’t helping them ship software on-time. The results were more reassuring. Some of the respondents indicated that they were relatively new to OnTime and hadn’t yet shipped a project since they started using OnTime. Some felt that OnTime did a great job, but their project completion issues were unrelated to OnTime (management, executives, customers – you know the drill). A small fraction of the 16% for whom OnTime was not yet hitting the mark gave the indication that OnTime is missing some important project visibility information that they find important to shipping software on-time.

Improved project visibility will be a major focus of the next major release of OnTime.

Countries of Origin:

We had users from more than 30 countries fill out the survey. With about 44% of survey respondents from abroad, this was an exceptionally balanced survey that represented a good sliver of our customer base.

Even More Information to Analyze

We have a lot more information to analyze. Several of our questions were open-ended questions where users could write their thoughts about Axosoft, OnTime and other related items. The responses to those questions were and will continue to be extremely useful to us as we plan for future versions of OnTime.

I wanted to also thank all of our customers and especially those who took the time to fill out the survey. The feedback we have received is instrumental to the continued success of Axosoft as a company and the  OnTime product line.

Now, let me know if this poll was helpful:

 

Taking the Plunge: Upgrading Dev Machines to Macs

June 19, 2008 11 comments

Taking some of my own advice, I have started the transition of developer machines at Axosoft. Our previous dev environment was:

  • Dell Latitude D630 Notebooks
    • 4GB RAM
    • 7200 RPM Drives
    • 2.1Ghz Core 2 Duo
  • 2 x 20″ Dell LCDs (1600×1200 resolution)
  • Docking station (to allow 2 monitors)

Here’s what a setup looked like:

There’s a great story behind the pink pony in the picture, but that’s for another blog :-)

So we just started a transition for our developers to a Mac Pro setup.

  • Mac Pro With:
    • 2 x 2.8Ghz quad-core Xeon (8-cores total)
    • 6GB RAM (buy memory upgrade elsewhere, much cheaper)
    • 500GB Drive
  • Apple 30″ Cinema Display (2560×1600 resolution)

So here’s what the new setup looks like:

These workstations are absolutely amazing. They are the world’s fastest workstations for running Windows, and of course, they are the world’s fastest for running OS X. The idea is that our developers now have the best of both worlds and they have the flexibility to meet changing Axosoft demands. With such blazingly fast machines, they could choose to run Windows in a virtual environment and still run it faster than their old setup.

One question you might have is why did we switch to desktops from laptops? We had initially gone with laptops to allow for easier portability of the machines in case of travel, meetings, etc. However, about 51 out of 52 weeks of the year, the laptops didn’t move from the desk. For the 1 week that they did, the developers determined it wasn’t worth giving up the performance boost that comes from a desktop.

Lets see what develops…

Categories: Development, Team, Tools Tags: , ,

Top 9 New Features in OnTime V8.1

May 29, 2008 11 comments

Axosoft’s flagship product, OnTime (which is a software project management tool: bug tracking, feature management, team wiki and helpdesk), is constantly being improved. It’s been less than six months since its last major release, and we’ve already made tremendous improvements that will surely please even its most demanding user (usually, me).

In this article, I’m excited to share some of my favorite new features.

New Management Console

Over it’s 8 major releases (and countless minor releases), OnTime has flourished into an unbelievably powerful product. It keeps tracking and managing more as it matures. It keeps acquiring more of the “nice touches” software development teams appreciate. If there is a cost to all of this, it’s the fact that the complexity of the product has increased, a bit, too.

To help address this problem, we created a visual map of managing the OnTime system. Take a look:

OnTime V8.1 Management Console
OnTime V8.1 Management Console Screenshot (Web & Windows)

The new Management Console allows most management functions to be accessed from a single location.

“Hey, the Tools > Manage menu was a single location, too!” you say?

Sure, but what’s great about this console is that it provides:

  • visual grouping of management categories, clustering related management features together (for example managing users and security roles are closely related);
  • visual workflow cues for which order to perform management tasks (for example, you probably want to work on custom fields before designing a field template);
  • detailed tool-tips that explain exactly what each management item is for.

The Management Console also trivializes another task: it effortlessly communicates what you can do with OnTime. With just a 10-second glance users can see that it’s possible to create custom fields, field templates, get email notifications or setup POP email accounts that will be automatically checked with OnTime.

With the new Management Console, I’m betting 90% of existing users will learn something new about OnTime, and 100% of new users will appreciate this feature for the instant crash course in functionality and for providing such a great place to get started.

New Color-Coded Items

Ever wish you could quickly see high priority, open items, items in a particular workflow step or items that are assigned to you without having to sort, filter or re-group your list? Well, now you can! OnTime V8.1 adds item color-coding so that items in various statuses, priorities, severities or workflow steps will naturally jump out at you. Additionally, items assigned to you can appear bold, so you won’t miss them.

This is an incredibly powerful feature that is guaranteed to enhance productivity. Take a look at this screenshot:

Demonstrating Color Coding in OnTime V8.1
OnTime V8.1 for Windows Color Coding Screenshot

OnTime V8.1 Color Coding in Web
OnTime V8.1 for Web Color Coding Screenshot

In this case, you can see that high priority items are highlighted in yellow, critical items are red and items assigned to me (administrator in this case) are bold. Users can decide what, if anything, gets highlighted and which colors to use.

New Email Tab

If you use OnTime to manage your support incidents via email, you’re going to absolutely LOVE the new Email tab. The new email tab allows users who regularly respond to incoming emails to use an interface that is optimized for managing emails rather than incidents.

The result is a huge improvement to productivity for customer support reps.

OnTime V8.1 Email Tab
OnTime V8.1 for Windows – New Email Tab

OnTime V8.1 Email Tab
OnTime V8.1 for Web – New Email Tab

Now support reps can respond to a email-related tickets from a central place designed to manage emails. Users can also search emails, group, filter and sort emails as one might expect from a email-focused work area. 

Wiki Pages Through Customer Portal

The new Wiki page feature in OnTime V8.0 has been tremendously popular. We have seen teams use Wiki pages to collaborate on everything from the creation of standard procedures to team directories to useful web-links to descriptions of major components in their projects (and everything in between). But one type of wiki page that teams couldn’t create, until now, was a page that was visible (and even editable) by their customers.

So, in OnTime V8.1, you can determine whether or not wiki pages are visible and editable in your OnTime Customer Portal. This is a great way to collaborate with customers, share common documents: installation instructions, FAQs and more. You can even permit customers to create and modify documents through the new Wiki tab in the OnTime Customer Portal.

OnTime V8.1 Customer Portal Wiki
OnTime V8.1 Customer Portal Wiki

Move and Easily Close Main Tabs

While the ability to rename OnTime’s main tabs has been in the product for a long time, the visibility of the tabs was controlled only by security privileges. If you had access to a tab, you saw the tab no matter what. The order of the tabs was also carved in stone. So if you’re a support engineer who basically lives in the Incidents tab (the 4th tab), you couldn’t put that tab in the first position and you couldn’t get rid of the other tabs you don’t use.

All that has changed with OnTime V8.1. You can rename tabs (as before), remove them and add them on the fly and determine the order too! Even better is that the settings are saved on a per-user basis, so each user can determine their own tab order or whether or not they want the icon or text to be visible. We think this new enhancement adds a nice finishing touch to the customization of the main OnTime tabs.

Here are two screenshots to illustrate:

Customization of OnTime Tabs

In the above screenshot, you can see the Incident tab being dragged to the first position and only 2 other tabs are visible (all other tabs have been turned off).

OnTime V8.1 Tab Customization

In the above screenshot, you can see 5 tabs turned on with only icons visible (the text has been turned off) and the default order of the tabs has been changed.

Big Notification & Alert Improvements

Alerts have been significantly improved with the following new features:

  • Filter alerts can now provide users with notifications on their own assigned items only, versus all items that meet the filter criteria.
  • Filter alerts can now remember the previous results each time the filter is triggered, and only notify a user if the results have changed since the last time it sent an alert notification.
  • Alerts can be set to recur at a specific time on a daily or weekly basis. You can even set up a scheduled alert to only happen on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9am if that’s what you want.
Here is a screenshot of the new Alert Schedule:

OnTime V8.1 Alert Schedule
OnTime V8.1 for Windows – New Alert Schedules

OnTime V8.1 for Web - Alert Schedules
OnTime V8.1 for Web – New Alert Schedules

Email notifications are getting an improvement too with the separation of edit notifications from item detail notifications. For example, it’s now possible to receive an email notification when an attachment is added or when a new SCM file is associated to an item or when a new email arrives about a particular item.

Big Performance Gains for OnTime Web

With each new release of OnTime, we have made it our mission to improve some area of performance, while still adding more functionality. With V8.1, the focus has been on Web performance improvements. Here are some of our accomplishments:

  • Add/Edit Pages now load more than 30% faster in IE and more than 50% faster in FireFox
  • Home page has received visual improvements, but still loads slightly faster than before
  • Changing from Projects tab to Customers and Users tabs is now noticeably faster
  • Switching main tabs (defects/features/incidents/etc.) is now noticeably faster
You’ll find that OnTime outperforms any existing product with a comparable feature-set. With that said, there’s always room for improvement and we’ll continuously be on it with each new release!

Support for Visual Studio 2008

We might not be able to keep up with Microsoft product names (Visual Studio, then Visual Studio.NET and back to Visual Studio again), but we keep up with their releases and OnTime V8.1’s Visual Studio[.NET] add-in now supports both VS.NET 2005 and VS 2008. In fact, it even supports Visual Fred 2008.

Lots of Nice Little Touches

There’s a lot more in V8.1. With all these new features, a .1 release is a little misleading. We should probably be calling it OnTime V8.5. Here are some minor improvements that you might find useful:

  • Ability to send SMTP emails through SSL (that means Gmail works now!)
  • Automatic update of actual time spent when work log entries are added
  • Incoming Emails about an existing item can now trigger a workflow change (such as re-open a closed incident)
  • Improvements to default security roles for new databases
  • A new User Resources screen that allows new users to get the most from OnTime
  • Improved item-lock management
  • OnTime Express now has unlimited security roles
  • Ability to search for customer and user email addresses when sending an email
  • Added “Not Like” operator for filters

And of course, we’ve fixed numerous “unadvertised features” (aka bugs).

We think everyone is going to love OnTime V8.1. If you’re currently an OnTime V8.0 user, a V8.1 upgrade is a must-have and if you’re the user of on an older version of OnTime, what are you waiting for?!?! The productivity improvements offered by the new wiki pages and the slew of other improvements in V8.0 and V8.1 are definitely worth the 10-minute upgrade time, so get to it!

The Release Candidate for OnTime V8.1 is available now and the final release will be available in June:

Updated:
OnTime V8.1 was released on June 11th: 

Get OnTime V8.1 Now

 

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