We were amazed by the response from around the world: 87 entries ranging from polished products to midnight hack sessions. We wanted to share the secrets from the cream of the crop wallboards entrants. Here are their stories. Stay tuned for a few more posts as we work through the winning categories.
The Community Favorite Wallboard
Despite entering the contest late, Gert-Jan’s wallboard racked up 305 votes. His wallboard is definitely impressive, boasting a slick design for real-time stats and status across all teams and all projects. Data is
integrated from JIRA, GreenHopper and several other systems. The wallboard even features Arduino-powered LED backlighting to notify team members when issues come up and get resolved; thereby avoiding “wallboard blindness”.
After the contest we caught up with Gert-Jan to better understand the magic behind his wallboard and down-to-the-wire win against Matt Satorius. Read on for more details.
What does Avisi do?
We do custom software development, JAVA and J2EE. We’re a technical company that does a lot of integration work. That’s why we’re very happy with Atlassian products. So happy with them in fact, we became partners. We do a lot of dashboarding and mashups on Confluence using OpenSocial, gadgets, and plugins.
How did this wallboard come about? What were the sources of inspiration?
Well, we have a great graphic designer who’s really good with coming up with stuff like this. We thought about what we wanted to show and he looked at what was out there and then started placing the components on the screen and came up with this design. We’re all technicians here and know what we want to show, but not how I guess. Amazing how our designer makes it simple. People will only look at it if it’s clear and simple.
Tell us more about what the team is doing, what’s on the wallboard and why?
Our wallboard is a multi angle view for one client’s projects. Other clients get their own specific wallboard.
Perhaps the most important thing is that it ensures we meet our SLA’s. The top section of the wallboard shows the active support issues and server statuses. The wallboard is a great way to make the SLA status visible at all times so we don’t miss anything important going wrong. Missing problems might result in penalties for us, so obviously we wanted a way to avoid that by alerting everybody. That’s one of the main reasons we went ahead and built the wallboard. Also, before, we had to look at all kinds of systems and the data was spread out all over the place. Now we have a centralized view of the project. Not just for development but for the whole team.
Funny enough, one of the most important components for our day-to-day turned out to be the calendar. In terms of communication, it’s great to see the day’s events, who’s out of the office, working at home, on vacation, etc. One glance at the monitor, and you know where everyone is at and what’s happening. It’s really useful to see that information there, it really does have a big impact. Since our original submission we realized we had to make the calendar a lot more prominent. It’s impressive because it’s such a simple component, it was almost an afterthought actually, but it turned out to be one of the elements that make our wallboard really work.
Bottom left shows data from Jenkins, a quality index we introduced for all our projects a while back. The index translates all the quality data into a figure a customer can understand in a split second. It also makes our different teams compete to have the best scores, improving the quality of our projects even more.
Our internal wallboard shows the quality index for numbered headings, a Confluence plugin we made. The quality figure for that project is unbeaten until now and is the reference target for all teams.
Apart from that we totally redesigned the original timeline because it wasn’t really working for us as it was. But otherwise, the components in the middle mostly stayed the same. They give a complete status overview of our monthly releases, per project, for our development, testing and management teams and for the client.
The only thing that wasn’t functional when we launched was the coffee scale. But we finally received the hardware and it’s working like a charm now. When we’re running low, we have a guy coming in with fresh coffee and he fills up a big container. The scale it sits on sends out the data to the wallboard so we can measure it. Coffee is definitely a must here so this component gives us some level of security.
Is the data for the middle sections being pulled from JIRA?
Yes. The burndowns are pulled in from GreenHopper. We wish that GreenHopper had an API to expose it’s data, but we’ve recreated these manually. It’s a lot of effort to pull that data out currently. We can only show you 5 projects, so the team leads have to refer to GreenHopper if the right burndown isn’t displaying.
The section at the left might not seem too useful at first glance, but for specific customers, it’s important to know just how much new development is in each release. It’s important for them to have the overview of the planned bugs and new features along with their progress over the release. Our testers really like their component because they can see the amount of issues that are ready for them to test at any given time. But it’s our managers that really love it because they can see where the developers and testers are at right away. Most of these are maintenance projects.
What languages is it written in?
Is that all system status on up-time?
The top right component is our Nagios server monitoring component. The red and yellow dots are used to indicate server status. We are monitoring hardware, OS and software components. We show versions of the various components on the many staging servers and production systems.
What other iterations or other information sources do you plan to integrate?
Well, we’re currently looking into hooking up a Microsoft Kinect. This is a view for one client and we’d like to easily switch to other clients on the same monitor. Using the Kinect you could just stand in front of the wallboard and make left or right swipe motions to display another client’s wallboard. Too make it more pluggable and configurable we are also working on integrating the Atlassian plugin framework.
Another thing is that we want to get better at estimating and forward planning. We’re currently mostly looking backwards to see how we’re doing and use that for projections. But we want to find ways to actively estimate what our situation will be in 4 or 8 weeks from now, at all times. I’m not sure how to visualize it all on the wallboard yet. But basically, I want information on the different teams to measure how fast they can develop. Some teams work better in certain formations, so I want a way to see what effect my chosen formations will have on our planning to make sure we get optimal output.
Another reason for this is that I want to be able to show that our teams are working efficiently and that we are working efficiently as a company. We know that we’re efficient in terms of cost and time but I want a way to prove that to our customers who by nature, will always have that concern.
Avoiding “Wallboard Blindness”
Can you describe the backlight behind the TV some more?
The wallboard is really full of information and we noticed in the early stages that people stopped actively looking at it after a few days. That’s the reasons we installed the backlight, it really draws attention when you need it.
The LED backlight is triggered on SLA related events like support issue reaction times and Nagios production failures. It’s about drawing immediate attention – but we’re careful not to over do it because the last thing we want is to run into backlight blindness!
We’re using Arduino boards with a BlinkM board to drive a couple of LED strips. We pull data from all these systems into the central wallboard app, categorize it and then translate that into a hex color string. The arduino board uses an ethernet breakout board to read the status from the application and display the color. We can configure whatever data is relevant for the status.
Do your clients have access to the board?
The board is accessible via the web. They actually requested we setup a TV in their office. Our customers schedule bugs and feature requests for every release themselves, directly from Greenhopper. So it’s really great for them to have an overview on their projects and keep track of the progress.
What’s the biggest benefit of the wallboard?
Well of course, it gives us a bird’s eye view of all that matters for a particular client. That’s what makes it really useful. But an unexpected and really great benefit is that when a customer walks in, we can stand in front of the wallboard and let them see what it is we actually do. It’s amazing how efficiently it conveys the complexity of what we do, of all the things involved in software development and maintenance, of how it is several components that make up their projects, and so on. But more importantly, it shows them how good an overview we have of all that complexity. So in terms of marketing and sales it’s a great instrument that really helps us resume what we do and how we do it.
So we were really happy about winning another TV as community favorite winner! The 2nd monitor was installed in a room where customers walk in a lot, and it’s had a very positive effect, so we’re actually thinking of adding 3 or 4 in the near future.
What were some of the tactics you used to get the word out about your entry in the contest?
Mainly tweeting, and we reached out to a lot of our customers. Everybody at the company got involved. I had contact with the runner-up, Matt Satorius, he’s a great guy. It’s funny because it was looking really good when I went to bed the night before the deadline, but when I woke up in the morning, it didn’t look good at all. Matt really managed to get the vote out while we were sleeping and then we only had like an hour left. So everyone at our company really went for it, it was a really nice moment. I even told my kids that they had to tell their teachers to vote for the wallboard. That might just have been the votes that made the difference!
Did you get your TV?
We’ve got our TV prize all setup. Running the same wallboard but for a different team (Support crew).
Questions or ideas for Gert-Jan?
Have an idea on how to improve their wallboard? Curious about something we didn’t ask? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what’s on your wallboard.