Running to stand still - resource management in IT
May 2, 2008 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Scheduling and work-request software for an IT team.

Imagine a team of 6 programmers, within a large organisation. The organisation raises a variety of work-types for the programmers:

Project tasks
Project bugs
Work-requests (up to 10 days' work)
Bugs within live software
Other support tasks

These work-types are raised in a variety of ways:

Bug report within tracking software
Project bug within separate tracking software
Tasks in project plans
Change requests (any change to a test or production system)
Phone call
In person

Already this is messy. It seems to be almost ungovernable for anyone trying to manage resource. Certain procedural changes need to be enforced (i.e. "don't phone direct, raise a bug with the Help Desk") but one major problem is keeping the workload of the programmers up-to-date, so people can request programming resource.

MS Project is too heavy for this. Each programmer may get through one to five or so tasks per day. A spreadsheet is okay, but cumbersome, and requires one person to keep it up to date. (Unless someone has a nifty template to share).

Ideally, software that could help this situation would:

(a) Present a graphical illustration of the available resource -- i.e. a list of who is working on what. Preferably with red/amber/green colours and that sort of stuff.
(b) Have a web-based GUI.
(c) Allow people with relevant permissions to request resource (although not named individuals) and provide details on work required.
(d) Provide some simple workflow, allowing certain individuals to accept or reject work requests.
(d) Do nothing else -- email, forums, calendars, blah blah blah, totally not needed. Maybe it could generate fancy reports, that might be nice.

I'm sure something like this exists, but I haven't found it yet.

Thanks for any suggestions.
posted by ajp to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
FogBUGZ? Yet another great application with a horrible name. :)
posted by unixrat at 8:17 AM on May 2, 2008

I haven't tried it yet, bit Trac may suit your needs.
posted by WizKid at 8:21 AM on May 2, 2008

Ohh and forgot to mention that its free and open source
posted by WizKid at 8:22 AM on May 2, 2008

I have worked to design/implement systems like this in about ten different places over the years, sometimes for a fee, sometimes for my own sanity if it was a place in which I had to work later. My area of expertise is in the communication of information (the "graphical illustration of the available resources" you mention), but I've been through the technical steps too.

In every case each organization had such convoluted processes and exceptions and rules that it was easier to make a new application each time than to jerry rig one of the available options. (Each time, there were sixty and seventy-percent solutions, but they never fit the organization.)

It starts with a white board, a flow-chart, and lots of paper forms. A good system will work on paper first, with manual processes that can be automated/computerized discretely. The worst systems are "all or nothing" implementations.
posted by rokusan at 8:37 AM on May 2, 2008

We use JIRA in my office...
posted by bastionofsanity at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2008

seconding JIRA
posted by phil at 8:59 AM on May 2, 2008

I use Trac in a number of projects and it should meet your requirements rather well. It's a bear to setup well, but once you do, it's pretty nice. Be sure to add a few plugins including TracAccountManger and TracWebAdmin, although, I think those aren't as necessary with the newest version of Trac.
posted by advicepig at 9:25 AM on May 2, 2008

Response by poster: FogBUGZ, Trac and JIRA are all very nice, but I don't think they're quite what I'm after. I'm not looking for project management, bug tracking, etc.

I'm looking for a tool that will allow people who request or channel work (project manager, software user, helpdesk admin, team leader) to drop it into a queue for allocation to a programmer. The detail displayed in the queue should be different depending who you are: a programmer should see their tasks plus any unassigned tasks; their manager should see similar, but with an emphasis on resource availability and timelines; work requesters should see all their own tasks but not necessarily named individuals who are doing the work; etc.

The programmers' manager should be able to allocate tasks, close them, move them, delete them, etc.

Projects, bugs, and many other similar things may *generate* work, but I'm not looking for something that's so specific as to *only* deal with projects or bugs. It has to be able to deal with resourcing any type of work.

I'm beginning to think this might be most easily achieved as a group calendar.
posted by ajp at 10:17 AM on May 2, 2008

If you don't need a tracking system specific to software development, Request Tracker may be what you're looking for. Multiple queues, assignment between resources, different accounts are able to look at different aspects of different people's tasklists with "saved searched" and customized dashboards, ticket dependencies, approval, tickets generated from e-mail or on the web, RTx::Statistics to show little graphs of things, etc. No red/green/amber status display, though, but if you're good with your perl and mysql, you can hack that sort of thing out.

The thing is, a bare RT install doesn't quite look like it does anything, even though it's rather powerful out of the box. The key with any tracker is to get people to start submitting/logging tickets or bugs and having someone assign those and tweak for your idiosyncratic workflow.
posted by eschatfische at 10:48 AM on May 2, 2008

We use Dot Project at work, it's pretty alright. The interface is sort of ugly, but it makes Gannt charts nicely, I'm told.
posted by tracert at 10:55 AM on May 2, 2008

We use Dot Project at work achieve similar functionality, I meant. Damn you, after lunch sleepiness!
posted by tracert at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2008

google spreadsheets has some interesting features that might make a spreadsheet-based solution work

yes - collaboration is the point - "A spreadsheet is okay, but cumbersome, and requires one person to keep it up to date. (Unless someone has a nifty template to share)."
yes - (a) Present a graphical illustration
yes - (b) Have a web-based GUI.
permissions are pretty broad, whole org or named individuals, no fancy way to submit a request (c) Allow people with relevant permissions to request resource required.
no - (d) Provide some simple workflow, allowing certain individuals to accept or reject work requests.
yes to nothing else, reports are fancy as you like - (d) Do nothing else ... fancy reports, that might be nice.
posted by maulik at 2:06 PM on May 2, 2008

rokusan is right. It's the process that needs to be ironed out rather than what software you use.

You have a classic Issue Management problem and the solution is to have the process managed, ideally by one person, who has the authority to make the necessary decisions and an clear escalation process for when politics wants to interfere.

The software, paper, white board etc are just tools to record the issues and make them available for review.
posted by w.fugawe at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2008

Response by poster: Hi all.

Yes, a w.fugawe and rokusan have pointed out, the problem is the process.

However, the main problem with our existing process is simply the time it takes for me to stay on top of the resource scheduling, plus any other work I'm required to do. Other team managers within my business suffer with the same problem.

Consequently I wonder if there is a suitable tool for quickly and effectively recording requests for resource. This would free-up my time considerably.

Existing tools handle bugs or project tasks. These are generally different from "work requests". A bug has a fixed priority; a project task has a fixed deadline (I'm generalising).

Instead, I'd like a public queue where people can drop tentative work requests; see the estimates my team provides; accept the timescales or modify the request; then track progress after the work is assigned within my team. It would also be very useful to produce meaningful data on this, as mentioned.

I appreciate that focusing on a software solution isn't sensible, but software generally solves issues that "hard copy" solutions cannot easily address. For example, a whiteboard or paper-based queue would need me to be updating it constantly, and is "published" in one place. A web-based system, for instance, shouldn't have these problems.

If there's a hard-copy solution that works well then I'm all ears.
posted by ajp at 2:46 AM on May 6, 2008

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