Thursday, 15 April 2010

Bug Tracking For Business

Lets assume that telecommuting is desirable. Lets also assume that this is going to bring in a new raft of management issue (which is why the current generation are still dragging their feet on the way towards it). One of the biggest issues is visibility

At the moment, managers can manage by walking around, coming up behind you, suprising you and occasionally overhearig what you are doing. They get a good idea of what is going on from the office atmosphere. With everyone apart, communicating by a number of channels, both public and private, they will lose this sense of being in touch.

The IT indisutry is, however, already full of people who don't like to talk. Or see each other if at all possible. And we write tools to keep track of what we ought to be doing - one of the most used is the bug tracking system. Each software bug is entered into the database, passed around between people who take responsibility for it, and eventually it is closed. At the flick of a swithc a manager can see which bugs are still a problem and (by reading comments) exactly how near a programmer is to solving it.

And in the IT industry we have learned to abuse the bug tracking system. Almost everywhere managers add new features to the bug trackign system, as a way of assigning new tasks to programmers. And at one place I worked, an early bug was "We have run out of milk in the kitchen" which later became "we keep runing out of milk and need to find a way to stop this happening"

I was shocked when I heard that other white collar industries don't have anything similar. Sure they have their emails, their outlooks, their calendars and maybe their todo lists, but a simple Way of tracking how far they are on each problem, and of collecting all the information on each task, so that, if they need to hand it over to someone else they can do so trivially, all while being visible to anyone interested is missing.

The problem is we call bug tracking systems bug tracking systems, and orient them towards the sort of tasks programmers do.

While I was wondering about my ideal system for implementing something like Getting Things Done in my own life, it became clear that I wanted all the characteristics of a bug tracking system behind everything. I wanted to create dependencies and to be able to see all open tasks. I wanted to be able to categorise tasks and filter my searching appropriately. I wanted emails to tell me what I needed to do and when.

And I think this would be a superb addition to any office environment, especially one where telecommuting was considered desirable.

Not a bug tracking system (that's too IT oriented) but a Workflow Organisation System. Something which does to bug tracking what Facebook did to email, something that makes it all friendlier and simpler, with all the complexities hidden.

And with one feature that most bug tracking systems miss: the ability to create private tasks for your own use... because that allows you to use it for everything in your life (or your worklife) not just those things a manager wants visibility on. And that makes it something that can become generally useful to everyone.

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