My Personal Kanban version 0.7.0 released

Kanban columnI’ve released a new version of My Personal Kanban. My Personal Kanban is a very simple in-browser Kanban Board application. It is designed to work with no Internet connection, persisting content in a modern browser’s data store. MPK can also store your Kanban encrypted in the Cloud with full data privacy.

New features follow closely previously delivered functionality extending into the specific requests by some MPK users raised on GitHub.

New features in the latest 0.7.0 release include:
• Importing previously exported Kanban from text (JSON) file. It’s a follow up on Export functionality from previous version.
• Change colour of a Column. This functionality comes with a new Column settings button.
• Possibility to select existing Kanban as a Template for New Kanban. If there is a specific structure, column names and colours that you like, you can reuse the setup when creating new Kanban.
• Each Kanban has a unique URL in the Browser address bar, which makes it possible to open or bookmark specific Kanban (this change forced me to introduce Angular.js router, a bit of info for devs).

As well as changes in the latest 0.7.0 release, there are also:
• Updates of libraries to latest versions
• Bugs fixes

As I’m getting closer to release of version 1.0.0, My Personal Kanban is getting future complete. Some of the new functionality that will come before final release includes:
• Pomodoro timer
• Blocked section in the columns
• Import/Export to CSV file

I’m also planning a Mobile version to follow on both iOS and Android platforms.

I would love to hear from you if you are using My Personal Kanban, in what way and what functionality is missing.

Greg

Do Less to Do More – My Personal Kanban in the Clouds

Kanban columnAs you might already know I did a small application called My Personal Kanban, that serves as offline Kanban board. It’s HTML application which stores your Personal Kanban on your device. It free to use and Open Source.

I just released a new feature and service for My Personal Kanban that allows you to Upload and Download your Personal Kanban Boards to Cloud.

The service and functionality is in Beta phase but it would be great if you could give it a try and provide me with some feedback.

Heres a video of how the Cloud features work.

Here is the link to the previous post with Themes.

If you want to help me and contribute a Theme or some code, please do get in touch.

Greg

New features in My Personal Kanban, Kanban Themes and new Card details dialog

I did spent some time adding new feature requested by my Wife. Links, in card details field, are now supported as real HTTP links, which could be opened. I did remodel slightly the Kanban Card dialog to support that.

The other new feature is the possibility of changing look of Kanban.  The feature comes with easy way of adding own styles.

You can get a copy of the software here: http://greggigon.github.io/my-personal-kanban/

The video bellow is a quick overview of the new features.

How to update My Personal Kanban with your own styles

  1. You need to create a css file with styles and copy it into: my-personal-kanban-folder/styles/themes/ folder.  Name doesn’t matter, however you will need to use this name in last step. The default-bright.css and default-dark.css can be used as a starting point for your own styles.
  2. Prepare image capture for the new style and place it in my-personal-kanban-folder/img/themes/ folder. It should be a jpg no bigger than 150px in width with the same name as the css file (you can see that there are default-bright.jpg and default-dark.jpg in that folder already).
  3. Last step is to open the themes.js file from my-personal-kanban-folder/scripts/ folder (it will have a funny name like 5ebce75f.themes.js ) and add entry for your new theme. Name is the property that will be displayed in the Drop down. css is the property that will be used to find the css and jpg file prepared in steps 1 and 2.

If you want me to make the style a permanent member of My Personal Kanban, just make a pull request on GitHub. https://github.com/greggigon/my-personal-kanban

Greg

My Personal Kanban, offline Kanban board for personal use

I’ve just released new version of My Personal Kanban. You can check it out at http://greggigon.github.io/my-personal-kanban/ .

My Personal Kanban is offline Kanban Board that runs within web browser.

My Personal Kanban sample board
My Personal Kanban sample board

Why Kanban for personal stuff?

Kanban is lightweight enough to bend to my personal lifestyle and to the way I do things outside work. I used a simple TODO list but I wasn’t happy with it.

Kanban gives me clear overview of things that need to be done, things I’m working on and stuff I finished. It also provides way of prioritizing the work (by color coding or bubbling the most important tasks to the top of the columns) and clear visual aid for reviewing tasks.

By limiting Work in Progress I can make sure I stay focused on task and finish it. By looking at the last column with things done I can give myself a tap on the back for achieving task completion.

Have a go and try it. Greg

Inbox Zero – 3 years of happy email

Today is roughly 3 years since I’ve decided to sort out my email. Both, my personal email and my work email. I’ve decided to go 100% Inbox Zero. No exceptions.

Inbox zero

Why?

I had a massive inbox full of stuff. I’m using Gmail for my personal mail and the Exchange and MS Outlook at work. Thanks to Google’s never ending storage I never removed a single mail from my inbox. It was the same at work. It started to bother me at some point for number of reasons.

  1. I took me a moment to find things I was looking for
  2. I was annoyed with the mess and the number of things in my inbox
  3. I couldn’t organise myself based on my email inbox. Couldn’t decide what to do next.

About the same time I started to think of my problem I stumbled upon the concept of Inbox Zero.

How I’ve done it?

First thing was to actually reduce the amount of received emails.
Unsubscribing from useless marketing stuff and newsletters I never read and was never interested in.

I’ve created Labels in GMail and filters in Outlook to put less important informative things (like interesting newsletters, Bank statements, some billing info) into folders. This information is there, separately from the other stuff and I can easily get to it by navigating to a folder.

Last step was to archive everything else. This left my Inbox totally empty.

Ongoing maintenance?

Quite simple.
When I received something I was not interested I either tried to unsubscribe or mark it for my spam filter.

All the filters took care of putting interesting but unimportant mails into folders.

Every email I received become immediately my TODO email. I either answered it immediately or as soon as I could. As soon as I took an action I could archive the email and forget about it.

Summary

I find few advantages of having no emails in inbox.
The fact that my inbox is empty when I navigate to it leaves me with the peace of mind. I know that all the necessary actions I should be taking, I’ve done and I don’t need to worry about it.

Email is no longer only a way of communicating, it’s also a way for organising myself. I do actually send myself an email as a reminder of things I need to do. After three years of doing Inbox Zero, I know I will make sure that I will get to it as soon as I can so the inbox could stay empty again.

Lastly, the fact that there is nothing in the inbox and the fact that my Email TODO list is clear makes me feel good, gives me a motivational sense of accomplishment. That alone is an incentive for the Inbox Zero.

Automated software release in complex environments

Automating software release might seem like an impossible task in a complex environment. I would like to give you, my dear reader handy tips and tricks for achieving it.

breaking chain

Software journey

Either you know it or not, the piece of software that enables you to read this article went a long journey. It was invented, thought through, designed, developed, tested, fixed and then delivered to you. Software continues to evolve. New functionality is invented, designed, developed, tested, fixed and delivered to you again. This cycle happens over and over again. If it doesn’t the software is dead, and I wouldn’t use it if I were you J

Note the last cycle in the software journey: delivery. I like to call this process Software Release or Unleashing the Software. Release depends on many factors. One of them is software purpose. It is enough to make desktop application available (via web site download for example) so the user can get it and install it on a desktop. Web applications are delivered to a web server.

Release process

Software Release process could be simple or could be very complicated. Lets examine three examples:

  1. Desktop application release could involve copying (perhaps extracting) number of files into known location and perhaps making some changes to saved files (for example user files with configuration and settings in user directory).
  2. Web application release could involve pushing new version of the application to web servers, restarting them, migrating the data stored in database.
  3. Multi tiered enterprise applications could involve stopping a number of services, waiting for suitable services state (for example empty EMS service), migrating the data schemas (for example database migration), re-starting multiple applications, restoring application state, etc.

As you can see complexity of the process could be great. Some steps in the process could depend on another. Other steps could take great amount of time. Sometimes it is impossible to stop part of the application or a service for required release.

Whatever the problematic, time consuming and fragile steps of the release process are, you can be sure that sooner or later, someone will make a mistake during the release, causing downtime or even damage to a system.

That is why it is important to have automated release.

Automated release

My favorite form of automated release is One-Click-Deploy. A tool (script most likely) that will perform all the hard work, with a single user interaction.

Some of the benefits of release automation like this are:

  • Reduced mistakes when performing manual steps
  • No time wasted by a poor soul who have to go through manual process
  • Reusability and simplicity of using the same tool to release into different environments
  • A tool that verifies the release process itself (if something went wrong, it probably means that process needs updating)

Complex environments

Automating in complex environment is even more important then anywhere else. This is due to the fact that it is much simpler to make a mistake while releasing and cause problems. It also reduced the great amount of time consumed by manual steps.

It might be hard to automate release in complex systems. Consider the system I work on my current project.

Large distributed cache makes it difficult to stop the application, as data will be lost. EMS topics are read by database persistence application and fail-safe environment, so we need to wait for the topics to be read entirely. Once everything is stopped we need to roll the new code base to 20 – 40 physical hosts and apply all necessary configurations changes. Persistence layer needs to be migrated to represent Domain correctly. When we restart applications we need to reload it to the previous, valid state (load 300 GB worth of data into distributed cache). That is only a tip of the Iceberg that represents how difficult it could be to automate the release.

There are things that you can do or adopt on a project that would make it much easier for the automation to happen.

Tips and tricks

Tools and deployment environments

Use tools and deployment environments that have accessible API for management.

The environment or the containers that you deploy to should have open API for the management. If you are deploying into web server, you would like to be able to programmatically stop the server deploy new code, perform configuration changes, start it again and validate.

Most of the cloud services contain this kind of API. Typical Java Web containers are manageable via a public API.

If there is no public API but there is a web console for management it is possible to automate via typical Web Testing tool (eg: Selenium, Geb).

If you are starting the project and still have a chance to select appropriate environment, then you are lucky. You can make your life easier by selecting environment with public management API. If you are deep into the project and it is too late, there are always a ways to hack the system. Give it a try.

Use a tool that will be flexible and won’t enforce specific way of working.

Number of times I was on a project where the tool used for a release was enforcing a specific way of working. Instead of being productive in automating release process I was forced to fight it and hack it.

There are better things to automate your release with than XML.

If the tool doesn’t entirely do what you need, wrap it, enhance it or dump it in favor of other.

Many tools that are typically used for deployment are quite flexible and have build in mechanism for extending it. I found that writing a plugin or simply wrapping the tool in another process that controls it’s startup, makes it simpler to use and produces repeatable pattern.

If you are having more trouble with the tool itself or simply can’t get result required, don’t be afraid and dump it. There are always other tools. In a worse scenario you can write something simple and tailored for your specific needs.

Application design

Build your application in a way that will support state persistence and restoration.

It is not only the process and tools that you are creating or going to use that should support the automation; it should be the Application itself.

In the example of a complex environment I provided, I mentioned the distributed cache. If the cache is full of data, releasing new version of application could potentially cause the data to be lost. You need to think of a way to get it back to the previous state. The release process should accommodate for restoring the state from some king of storage (eg. Disk, database, replicated cluster, etc.).

Process

Keep your configuration with your source code.

Having environment configurations collocated with the source code in the source version control system has number of benefits:

  • It could be unit tested.
  • Provides a history of configuration changes. It is always possible to revert to a previous configuration that was working.
  • Configuration lives close to developers, who usually know the most on subject of required configuration changes.
  • Configuration ships with the deployable.
  • It contains a name of a person that modified it, so whenever configuration changes are not clear you can always ask the person who made a change.

Automate every step.

Don’t leave a chance of error creeping into your process by allowing manual steps. It might take some extra effort to automate those simple, little steps but the award is saved time and reliably released software.

Make sure to have everything that application needs to live contained within the release.

Don’t leave anything out: extra libraries, additional software installed, new versions, etc. Ship it all as a part of the release. It doesn’t have to be collocated with a source code (however it is quite beneficial sometimes). Make sure it is accessible from every point you are deploying your software into.

Keep logs, summary and history of releases.

Having release log helps to track the progress of release, identify issues and even test the release itself.  It is also handy when release takes long time and nursing it needs to be handed over to another person.

Summary page helps quickly identify the version of the software released into environment.

Famous last words

I know that sometimes automation might seem impossible but I also believe that impossible doesn’t exist. There is only easy and less easy to do. Automate your release and make your and your comrades life more enjoyable.

Many happy automated releases.

Greg

When done is DONE (or not)

Not too long ago I had a conversation with one of the senior member of the management team of project I’m working on. I had some ideas on how can we do things faster by improving our testing (not developer testing but end-to-end, QA and regression testing). After few minutes of conversation I was asked a very basic question: “What is the definition of DONE on our project?” I was just going to open my mouth and jump out with an answer like: “Well, it takes us usually 3 days to develop piece of functionality”, but I stopped. I actually wasn’t sure. We spend few more minutes discussing some other issues but when I left I felt that this question is still on the back of my mind, trying to desperately find the answer.

After number of attempts I decided to rephrase the question. What is the Goal of the project? Couldn’t find a simple answer. So I asked even more general question. What is the goal of the company? I recalled books by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, “The Goal” and “The Race”. “The goal of the company is to make money in the present as well as in the future”. The goal is to win the race for customers.

My team works on creating and maintaining the software that produces the data for other systems within the company. Those systems are used to deal with clients, to provide them with reports, to sell them information, to protect client interests. This means that our project indirectly contributes towards company’s goal.

All the other teams and projects that are receiving data from us are our customers. We should make all the effort to deliver the necessary features to the consumers in a timely manner as they will be use to generate the revenue.

That’s it. This is my understanding of DONE.

In other words:

  • It’s NOT DONE when BA finalizes the requirements and forms them as stories that got accepted by all stakeholders
  • It’s NOT DONE when developer finishes coding the solution and fixes all the bugs
  • It’s NOT DONE when QAs, BAs finish testing and approve the deliverables
  • It’s NOT DONE when Downstream systems receive the data and confirm it’s quality
  • It’s DONE when client receives the service that he or she requested thanks to the piece of software my team delivered. That’s when it’s DONE!

I think there is an important aspect to touch on. It is the effort of the entire team before DONE could be announced. No one should silo himself into a specific role and take responsibility for the specified area only. Developers should help with delivery of tools for release and testing automation, BAs should help with testing, QAs should help to form requirements, etc.

So, next time when you think you’re DONE, think again. Perhaps you are not really there yet but you could help someone else to make it happen.

Wish you all many happy DONEs in the future. Greg