Marc Hughes

I am a developer from a bit west of Boston. - another shot at project management

24 Mar 2010

I'm always looking for new ways to manage projects.  Last time I searched high and low for a solution, I ended up writing AgileAgenda after having been disappointed in other offerings.  That's a great tool, and I use it all the time.  But it's a very specific type of tool for planning a large body of work before you start.

I've grown to love using task boards at work to help plan and track an immediate set of tasks.  I'm sure you've seen them before, those white-board like things with sticky notes all over them.

But they have one big problem, the next project I'm working on will be distributed across a few geographic locations.  That task board is a physical board in one room.  It doesn't scale well.

Luckily, in the office, we've got these great interactive whiteboards in a few of the conference rooms.  If you haven't seen one of these, they're essentially a projector + touch screen.  A software version of a task board combined with that would rock.  So that's been my latest pet project.

Lets take a look at why I like the task board.

  1. Everyone can understand it.  Engineers, QA, Project Managers, the random executive walking by my office.
  2. It helps to focus work on what's most important.
  3. It helps you to chunk out work in manageable sizes.
  4. It's a collaborative exercise to make and maintain the board.
  5. It's flexible.
But as soon as we move from physical to digital, some of the key benefits of the task board go away.
  1. Turns from a "us doing this" to a person using a computer to do it.  Sure everyone can watch and comment, but giving everyone a stack of stickies, and a marker really adds something.
  2. It's not ever-present in a room somewhere.
  3. Software like this can often be tedious to use.
Some things that my current physical task board can't do that this one should
  1. Import things directly from other systems (We use Quality Center to track requirements, I'd like to hook up AgileAgenda, Basecamp,  Rally, Trac, and whatever other service I can)
  2. Automatically reconfigure the notes based on a series of views.  Sometimes you want to see that 4 column todo, doing, reviewing, done, but sometimes you want to organize by person, or tag, or search.
  3. Get this thing on my phone.  More and more people at work are getting Android powered phones (they outnumber iPhones at least 2 to 1 in the office).  I'd love to do some android development, so this looks like a prime candidate.
Some features I'm working on to try and keep the best parts of my task board:


One interesting feature I'm working on is the ability to tag tasks with #hashtags, and those tags can affect the appearance of the task.  You can make up tags on the fly as you type, and later go into the tag definitions and set what the tags should do.  They can apply a few canned effects, change the color of the note, or add an icon.

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Just like #hash tags, you can assign tasks to people on the fly as you type.  You can even make up resources on the fly and later go in and edit the details about them.

Board Views

Looking at your tasks in the columns of "Todo", "Doing", "Reviewing", and "Done" is great and what most people want to do a lot of the time.  But wouldn't it be nice if you could reconfigure your board at will?  Without losing your current cofiguration?  Board Views do that for you.  You can create a new view, set up a new organizational scheme, and then jump back and forth between your views.  You can even define tags that are specific to a view.  So, for instance, you could swap between a view showing the state of tasks, to a view that shows assignments.

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While you're in a meeting organizing your board, other people in the meeting can be typing in new notes on their laptops or (eventually) on their cell phones.  Those notes then become available for you to drag onto your board, thus bringing the multi-user collaborative experience in.


I want to make this so it can become ubiquitous in an organization.  Embed the board on your Intranet, throw it on your facebook, email a copy to someone, get reminder emails, set it up in Kiosk mode somewhere, subscribe to the the RSS feed, and follow your board's tweets.

And thus TodoBoard was born.  As of right now the basic tag and view functionality is all working.  Next is fleshing out some of the more auxiliary features, and it should be ready for some early testers.  I should be starting to give out beta accounts within the next two weeks, sign up now to get into that first batch of people.