Making Project Management Not Suck

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Itโ€™s time for project management not to suck anymore. That’s why I’ve brought in Zach Ozer, the VP of Engineering at Clubhouse.io to talk about how the new partnership between LinearBโ€™s and Clubhouse is helping dev teams eliminate the need for status update meetings, and automate the manual tasks so many project management tools require from developers. 

Scaling a company is a challenge when everything is working great, but when your data is fragmented across multiple systems and your engineering team struggles to see the full picture of product and engineering life cycles, it can be nearly impossible. Itโ€™s time for us to start consolidating the data between project management tools and the actual development progress being made in your git system. 

In this episode of Dev Interrupted we discuss:

  • What’s broken with software development project management today
  • How engineering organizations can eliminate status update meetings
  • What a dev-first project management tool does different
  • Why LinearB and Clubhouse.io are partnering and what it means for you

“You can look at a lot of good examples of ways that project and production management have made life better for everyone. The most famous example is probably being like Toyota’s infamous production line, Kanban.”

Dan Lines: Zach, thanks for joining us.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, of course. Dan, thanks. Thanks for inviting me to do this. I’m really excited.

Dan Lines: I wanted to kick us off with something that I’ve been hearing kind of heard my whole career from the development community. And it sounds something like this. I’m a developer and I don’t really get value from my project management tool. Or even worse, my project management tool puts more pain onto me than I receive, you know, goodness from it. So I have to ask you, is project management broken or is this just the reality?

Zach Ozer: Yeah, I mean, way to ask the hard questions, right up front. I mean, you really, you’re not holding any punches. You know, I don’t think project management itself as a field of study or as a field of things that one needs to do is fundamentally broken. Right. Like I think you can look at a lot of good examples of of ways that project and production management have made life better for everyone. The most famous example is probably being like Toyota’s infamous, production line, Kanban, you know, infinite improvement type of things. But as cars that like, you know, it used to be you got in your car and it broke down every day, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to say, hey, like, I’m going to be late to work. Like my car broke down and now you just don’t hear that anymore. Right? I think it’s no different from where we are. That’s no different from where we are today with development teams. Right. Today, you go in. A lot of teams struggle with their processes. Right. Projects are late. Quality is unreliable. You know, you see all sorts of things happening where, you know, the the software that gets shipped is not what people want.

Toyota’s Kanban Project Management System

Zach Ozer: And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that people are still learning to work with the tools and learning to build their processes out. And obviously, at Clubhouse, we’re trying to change how people do that. I won’t name any any competitors or other tools. I’m not big into badmouthing others. Part of what we strive for a Clubhouse is to make the process easier for developers to integrate with the tools that you’re already using so that your product manager doesn’t come over to you and tap you on the shoulder and say, hey, where can I see this ticket? What’s the status? The idea is you committed code. You push it up for review. Your peers reviewed it, it got merged. It got the point. It should all happen behind the scenes like you’re doing the work that you need to do. And and no one should should be bugging you for four status updates that you know, where the status already exists in some other system.

Dan Lines: Well, maybe that’s what it is, right. Without mentioning another competitor or any competitors, a lot of us who have been in the industry for many years, you know, 20 plus years, we’re kind of used to those status update meetings. Right. OK, a project manager comes to you as a developer, as a developer team and says, all right, let me get the up the ticket, a, b, c, d, e, f, g and an hour goes by and you’re kind of as a developer, like, what am I doing here? I just wasted an hour of my life and it seems like a lot of what you’re doing at Clubhouse and certainly what we’re doing at LinearB is kind of, you know, completely solving that that problem for the community.

And so, you know, what I’ve been really excited about this week is about announcing our new partnership between LinearB and Clubhouse. So I wanted to chat. You know, why this partnership is so important for the development community?

Zach Ozer: Yeah, I mean, I think the way that the I’m just to be I’m tongue tied here because I’m actually so excited about this partnership. Also, I’m struggling for words. But no, no, seriously, this is super exciting. Like LinearB is a fantastic product. And obviously, like we’ve been using it now at Clubhouse for a little while and are really enjoying it. And one of the things that that we find is, you know, like I was talking about before, you know, you’re any project that you’re working on has a lifecycle that extends outside of engineering. Right. Starts with your product team, your customers, your design team goes goes through engineering, gets to your you know, your QA Testing team, you know, and down to marketing and everyone else. And so, you know, Clubhouse is really meant to provide to provide transparency and break down those barriers and give you the full picture of what’s going on and to end in your whole, you know, software development lifecycle or SDLC. Right. But the amazing thing is, like for most companies, you know, the engineering part of that is in many ways the most expensive engineers are, you know, high cost. You need a lot of them to to do work because they’re doing the implementation of a lot of these things. And LinearB really gives you much more insight into the normal development process itself and what’s happening in and out based on what you’re what these engineers are doing every day anyway, which is committing code and, you know, going through their normal development processes and really helped you analyze and fix process problems. And so that’s why we’ve really found it to be helpful and transformational for us.

Dan Lines: Yeah, you know, what I found is that our communities, the users of Clubhouse, the users of LinearB and now, you know, kind of that joint user, they have a lot in common. A lot of them are kind of these, you know, maybe I’d say cutting edge or, you know, the development organization is very, very strategic and important to the business. And they kind of have that passion to improve. Right. And what we’ve kind of seen, you know, throughout the industry is data has been fragmented. You might have some, you know, great information. And Clubhouse is an amazing tool. So amazing information right in the Clubhouse project management tool. But you also have really important information coming from get you have really important information coming from CI/CD. People, you know, in the QA space might need those their own information. And there’s not really like a single place where I can get everything that I need as a team leader and as a developer or even as a VP of engineering. And what I kind of see between our partnership is now we’re kind of bringing that to the community and we can do things like deliver software on time. We can make better decisions. We can see what’s happening in the get lifecycle. What are the other things that I’ve kind of seen also is around kind of improving team interactions. Now, you hit on that a little bit. You know, maybe that’s between product owners and developers. I think you even mentioned marketing, but how could you see maybe like some of those team interactions improving when you kind of have this data coming together from the disparate systems?

Zach Ozer: Yeah, I mean, I think a bunch of different Clubhouse is fundamentally a tool that’s about collaboration. Right. Like we want and the way that we use it and we encourage other teams to use it, obviously. I mean, maybe it’s not obvious. We use the product ourselves to build, Clubhouse is built with Clubhouse. So we user ourselves every day and we encourage everyone to put everything into Clubhouse. Right. Our marketing team is putting in their releases and the activities that go into it. Our team is putting in all of the automation work that they’re doing. You know, even our finance team is using it for things like recurring, recurring financial tasks. So and we try and put that all into the same workspace. So everyone has visibility into what everyone else in the company is is doing. And one of the things that I that I think is so important is also giving people insights. Right. Like you have the raw data. I can see how tickets, you know, we call them stories are moving from one step to another. But that doesn’t give you an aggregate view and say, OK, here’s where we’re breaking down as a team. Right. Like you want to sit down and go to your retro with, like, actionable metrics that say, hey, this is where we’re getting bottleneck, this is where there’s a problem. And to facilitate like changes to your process to improve that communication, like what I was talking about with Toyota before you. Really? To take a hard look at your processes, bring in that data and say, hey, this is where we can be doing better, better as a team and talk about that and try and improve both the product that you’re shipping when you’re shipping it and how much you how much value you can bring to users, right?

Dan Lines: Yeah, I think, you know, one thing that that kind of happens is let’s say that you’re just able to detect bottlenecks within your, you know, get flow. So, you know, kind of where LinearB started out was, OK, you know, this is waiting for a review or maybe this PR, you know, is merged with out of the review. So we could have a quality issue or, you know, here’s how long your deployments taking a part of your your cycle time. And that’s a good start. But it’s not it’s not amazing. And kind of what makes it amazing is when you bring the context from the project. And so, you know, because I think, you know, most developers and most team leaders would say, you know, my mission is to deliver a great project or product, you know, to customers. So what I’ve seen now kind of with our integration together is since you have that project context, all your other data becomes way more meaningful total. So, yeah, go ahead.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, no, I was going to say, like, I, you know, I was using the pulse for you just the other day and you know, the ability to go in and see it and see the project laid out and say oh like hey like I know that this ticket isn’t in review. Right. Like like it’s not going to make it out this this iteration. Right. This for this sprint, like, who do I need to talk to about that? Like, did we make the right are we working on the right things.

Dan Lines: Why is it important.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Are we working on the right thing. Who do I need to communicate with to let them know that, by the way, this thing is going to be late? Right. And what like why did we make that choice? And so, like, that’s the other amazing thing, is that to be able to go into LinearB and see, the pulse view and check out a project and Clubhouse and see sort of like what have we been working on this week. Right. Like why did we like what are the choices that we made? Who do we need to communicate those choices to and do we make the right ones right? So I think it provides like a lot of content, like integrating the two together really gives you a lot of context and helps facilitate that communication in your org so that everyone knows what’s going on.

Dan Lines: Yeah, exactly. And then you kind of have, you know, different I will call them, I guess, personas or roles within an organization. Right. And engineering. Typically, you’d obviously have developers who might have an engineering team leader. You might have a product manager or project manager or a product owner. You might have, you know, QA people if you’re in a more traditional model or some dev ops type, people in all of them kind of need different data in order to get let’s call it their own status update or a status update. That’s interesting for them. And kind of when I open the segment, kind of that old school mindset, at least that I heard from developers was like, I hate getting asked for that, that status update. Right. And I think when you bring in kind of the visibility from these different systems, you know, that that need for a status update decreases right in actually even more. So now that we’re all working from home, we’re kind of in this, you know, most of us in this remote environment situation, if you don’t have a tool like Clubhouse or Clubhouse plus LinearB, you might find yourself kind of being asked to be in those meetings even more often, which is even worse. So, you know, kind of just point blank for you, you know how our project management tools, you know, like Clubhouse or Clubhouse itself, helping engineering teams decrease the number of these status update meetings.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, and I mean, I think that this goes I’ll talk about this in context of like I think values that in terms of values. But I think it’s values that both you you is LinearB have and we as a Clubhouse have, which is in terms of transparency. Right. And and also like a certain sense of like humanity and the product that you’re building. And I say both of those because a you want to make sure that the data is there for everyone, meaning like in Clubhouse we we create a very open model for for when you’re working in a workspace, everyone is able to know what everyone else is working on. And we want that right. We want you to have visibility into what folks are doing. And so there’s update meetings tend to disappear because you can track down you know, you can go and look at a project. You can try to track down what anyone is working on at any point in time. So my project manager doesn’t need to come to me and ask for a status update. They just you know, they’ll see it’s been updated and Clubhouse because as I’ve been working on a ticket, it’ll just move through its workflow because of our GitHub BitBucket. Gitlab integration’s, right, so they’ll be getting the real time status and similarly, like, I can go and see everything that my product manager is working on and see what she what she’s moved from one step to another and get notified of it via slack, via email.

Zach Ozer: So you get information kind of from everywhere. And we’re actually like working a lot to surface. Like, what is the most relevant information, because I think it’s really easy to get overwhelmed, sort of like by the firehose. So we’ve got a feature in beta not to not to tease too much, but we’ve got a feature in beta called teams, and it’s meant to orient around around the team that you work with every day. And it’s really great because you can actually subscribe to a slack feed of what’s going on with your team and you can get that Real-Time update from everyone at your team at all times. And so you just follow along with that. It’s very human scale, very digestible. You get all that info. I think LinearB does the same thing. Meaning like I think that you all bring a lot of transparency where anyone in my org can go in and see these statistics, see this information, you know, try and understand what’s going on with our workflows and bring that to the team that they’re working with. And also to try and humanize that, to say like, OK, like we’ve got a process here, like let’s understand where we’ve got the bottlenecks in the process and present the data so that we can we can all sit down and talk about it and do something about it.

Dan Lines: So, yeah, that’s one of the reasons that I’m really proud about the LinearB Clubhouse partnership. It’s kind of that we have those same values. We’re aligned on the value that we want to bring to the product delivery, you know, lifecycle and to developers and to product owners and kind of what what I’ve seen, you know, with modern software teams is no longer does engineering have to, like, hide what they’re working on or hide, you know, maybe where there’s some issues happening, you know, bottleneck wise and getting a feature or a bug out, the more visibility that you bring to all team members, there’s kind of that natural trust that happens and then problem solving can happen. Right. So I’ve even seen kind of within our community even early on here is you know, you can actually, as an engineering leader, come to a product owner and say, look, here’s exactly what the engineering team is looking at working on. You have that same visibility as I do. We have an issue, you know, moving some code through the delivery pipeline. And I’d like to move these people that are working on this story over here to this non-functional piece of work so we can actually get more value out to our customers faster. What do you think about that? That’s a very, like, educated, you know, team work type conversations. And I just kind of think like our partnership together is going to emphasize that even more, which I love.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, totally. I think going in, you know, I’ll use the term like dev ostriching. Right? Like, if you go and you bury your head in the sand and you ignore the problem, like there’s no way to fix it. Right. You’re Dev your dev velocity does not go up by ignoring the problems that you have. Right. It goes up by going and doing something about it. And so this idea that engineers are hiding problems or that, you know, they don’t feel like they can talk about the problems that they’re facing or product managers similarly. Right. Like if anyone in your organization can’t have a conversation about it and have been working off the same set of facts and looking at the same data, it makes it really hard to actually go and do something about it. It’s just setting yourself up for for a catastrophic failure to some degree. So, you know, I you know, I appreciate you saying it’s an enlightened point of view, but, you know, I you know, we definitely hear horror stories from people and, you know, we definitely encourage them, like, yeah, put the data in front of everyone. That’s how you fix the problem.

Dan Lines: Right. Right. You know, I’ve kind of read a lot of the Clubhouse material, let’s say, and our manifesto, your man, you know, a lot of exactly. A lot of what you talk about is kind of being a dev-first project management tool and stuff. You know, you’ve got some other ones out there. They’re kind of like generic project management tools, right? You’re a dev-first project management tool, which we love at LinearB, of course. And so, you know, can you talk about what it means to be a dev first project management tool versus, let’s just say, a regular project management tool?

Zach Ozer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the big thing about being Dev focused is like, you know, first and foremost, like performance. Right. Like we’re totally focused on making the product fast. Right. Making making it useful via from an API perspective. Right. Like one thing you Clubhouse is like we have an open API. Anyone can use it at any level of subscription or plan. Right. We try and build great integrations with version control systems. Right. And other tools where devs are like bug bug reporting like centry, bugzilla. Whatever, so that you’ve got that bug data flowing in at all times, you know, so we’ve got a bunch of different integrations there for devs. And, you know, another thing is we’ve got some great community of developers that we’ve built around this. So like we have an awesome CLI that’s like a third party has built. And so if you want to go in, you know, and you never want to leave your terminal because you’re, you know, you’re a developer. Well, the API supports that. And you can just go and, you know, use the CLI built on top of the API that we ourselves use every day, day in and day out. And, you know, you start working on a story, it’ll move your branch over. Right. You do a commit pushes it up. It sends a notification. Right. Does the whole nine yards. So at least for us, like what it means to be dev focused is really is really those things which is building the tooling in the place where we’re developers want it.

Dan Lines: Yeah. That’s again, you know, kind of aligning our culture and values together. That’s another thing that we have to be love about you. You folks at at Clubhouse. Right. You got to meet developers where they live. You know, do they really want to live in another tool? No, they live on the command line. They might live in an IED. But one of the integrations that I really like that we’ve done together is will actually now send Clubhouse information to developers over slack or whatever chat, you know, protocol they’re using. So, for example, now, you know, if we do see the express stop or we’re detecting, for example, high code on a branch that they’re working on, we’ll send, you know, a notification into the development team channel and link it to the story or chore or bug that is associated in Clubhouse. And that’s, I think, away kind of like we’ve done it together, that we’re kind of being that first and meeting them where they live. At the end of the day, our podcast, This Pod, Dev Interrupted, is really about helping Dev team leaders improve the way they work. You know, that’s kind of what we’re all about on this pod. So I wanted to chat about some of the interesting guidelines that you may have in place at Clubhouse and how you track them. So could you give me an example of maybe like one or two of the engineering workflow guidelines you’ve put in place for your team and why?

Zach Ozer: This is the question you should have started with then. Like, you know, like everyone has their, like, pet, you know, like, you know, you can just ask everyone, like, what’s your pet metric? Like, what’s the thing? You know, like I have a channel for all of our energy managers and it puts like a set of links every morning at nine o’clock in the morning for us to all like go and check status on things for. And so, like, you know, at the top of my list is, is our performance dashboard for the application. Like, make sure everything for the past 24 hours have been, you know, meeting its SLA is right. The second one is our compliance tool, like making sure that, like, you know, we’re not we’re not going to have some Nic on our audit from our our compliance auditor. Right. And and the third one on that list these days has been has been LinearB and the reason is that, like, we go in and we’re taking a look at a couple of things. Right. So so the guidelines that we give to people is like we want most we don’t want effectively one hour cycle time to be under twenty four hours.

Zach Ozer: And that’s a little bit aspirational. We have outliers that go like longer than that. Right. But we tell most people like every day you want to get you want to get at least one emerged every day. Right. And hopefully you’re doing more than that. But you know, it’s always good. I always found it when I was spending more time hands on keyboard. I always found, like, OK, I like to keep my own momentum. Like, let me just make sure that today I get an even if it’s a color change, a text change, you know, updating like fixing one small bug like that momentum was always really important. So that’s always that’s always a good one. Right. Like try and keep cycle time under twenty four hours. And so we really push people to keep their review sizes down, break it up into smaller comets, make it reviewable. Think about your authors. So like I think I keep a big eye on and LinearB is like is everything below one hundred lines. Like where is our line of code lines of code per commit evening out because it makes such a big difference in the review time.

Dan Lines: Yeah. Well thank you so much for sharing all of those, you know, metrics plus the guidelines. And that’s really the thing that we heard from our community. Every team works a little bit different. Right. You might have a goal to start with to get, you know, under 24 hours for a cycle, you know, your cycle time. But that might be difficult for a team that, you know, starts at a ten day cycle time. And so what we actually came out with just recently here is a feature where every team within LinearB can actually set their own thresholds, their own workflow. So, you know what happens if the PR is between one to 10? Well, I could do something different. If it’s between, you know, 10 to 100, maybe I want to ensure that a review happens. Maybe I want to ensure that there’s multiple reviewers there. So really happy that you kind of brought up your guidelines there. And it just so happens that that’s actually the feature that we most recently released.

Dan Lines: So, yeah, awesome.

Dan Lines: So, yeah, this has been a great conversation. Like I was saying in the beginning, I looked forward to it for the entire week. And so I wanted to thank you again for coming on the pod today. If listeners want to connect with you or maybe learn more about Clubhouse work that they go to do, that they

Zach Ozer: Can go to Clubhouse studio and scope out the product. We’re free for under 10 users. So sign up and give it a whirl. You know, if you ever want to grab a virtual coffee or a drink and talk, talk shop and development processes and things like that, we shoot me, shoot me an email. I’m Zach Clubhouse that I am always happy to chat. Yeah. You know, and and really, you know, just looking to be a resource to folks. And, you know, we’re we’re hiring if if we’ve got any folks who are looking for to for front end roles, back roles, ops management, the whole nine yards Clubhouse is growing at a fast clip. And definitely you want to want to encourage any folks out there looking for a role to to drop me a line also.

Dan Lines: Also, so, you know, for our listeners, definitely check out Clubhouse that I know you can sign up for free and of course, you can also get the LinearB integration there. And if you’re in search for a new opportunity, it seems like, you know, you could find a great home is with Zach at Clubhouse. Also, everyone be sure to join the Dev Interrupted Discord community. That’s where we keep the conversation like this going all day long, especially check out our enemies on Fridays and you can find all of the information, the links, what we’ve been talking about on this spot in the description below. Thanks, everyone, and have a great weekend. And same to you, Zach.

Zach Ozer: Yeah, great talking to you. Thanks so much.

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