Category: Business

Combining the Eisenhower Matrix and Kanban on Trello

I like the Eisenhower Matrix a lot: In everyday life, the simple concepts often tend to be the most practical ones, and in the end, usually also the most useful and powerful ones. Remember: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” (although that’s also a reminder to not over-simplify things).

Here’s an idea how to combine the concept of 2-dimensional triage (Eisenhower Matrix) with the idea of JIT workflows (JIT processes from supply chain to production to delivery) in Kanban / Kanban in software development, using Trello:

eisenhower_matrix_combined_with_kanban_on_trello

The top Kanban workflow would thus be:

1. INBOX: If urgent & important: DO!

2. If urgent & not important: DELEGATE!

3. If not urgent & important: DECIDE+PLAN!

4. Rest: Not urgent & not important: ELIMINATE!

(& := logical AND)

This would guarantee, that first, all incoming tasks/requests (e-mails, phone calls, mail, visitors, time-triggered events, other events, ..) would get proper (highest) attention and get collected in the INBOX list. They would then be triaged (qualified) and, if appropriate, distributed/moved to the other lists accordingly. If nothing else matches, they would end up in the low priority box (not urgent AND not important), i.e. the equivalent of a “trash”.

In this order, it’s a failsafe workflow, where all incoming tasks are treated as highest priority tasks at first by default. In some seldomn special cases, usually just temporarily, one could also imagine that reversing the workflow would make more sense (e.g. in a situation of a foreseeable flood of low-prio incoming requests, when you only have time to pick the high-priority ones out of these and leave almost all tasks in the “trash” by default -> this is not failsafe, of course!)

Integrating a particular product’s Kanban workflow would require adding further “sub-lists” for each of the steps of the product lifecycle. Or one could also think of using a separate board for each of the 4 states of the Eisenhower matrix, with lists representing the Kanban states/stages connected through Kanban JIT processes.

Note that each team member can (and should) have her/his own Eisenhower sub-matrix in addition, also combined with her/his own Kanban sub-workflow.


Side note: One could also extend the above board and make it more fine-grained by subdividing each list into the following 5 GTD (Getting Things Done) sub-workflows:

capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage

These would ideally be represented by sub-lists, which don’t exist in Trello (yet?). Currently, one would thus have to improvise a bit and e.g. use cards for them, using comments as “sub-cards” – or add further lists, e.g. “1.1 capture”, “1.2 clarify”, “1.3 organize”, “1.4 reflect”, “1.5. engage”.

One could also treat the above combination of the Eisenhower Matrix and Kanban as an application of the 5 GTD workflows and do without making those explicit. At the moment, I favor this view and, for simplicity, don’t recommend visualizing these GTD “meta-workflows”.


 

Disclaimer: The ideas proposed here are “work in progress”, likewise this post. This is just one example of many imaginable ones. I’ll probably edit this post or clarify, correct or extend it in follow-up posts.

Kimai – Open Source Time Tracking Tool

So far, I’ve always used “good old” spreadsheets for time tracking on projects. Custom ones I pimped up with some nifty formulae, but still just spreadsheets. Advantage: I can easily adjust them to any special needs anytime – be it the inclusion or exclusion of specific work or just a customization of the sheet’s design or layout. The price for this flexibility is the generally higher effort to track the time “manually” rather than using a specialized time tracking tool – which makes time tracking a tedious task.

Of course I’ve evaluated many proprietary and open source time tracking tools over the years, but so far, none of them managed to fully convince me.

Today, I’ve just stumbled over Kimai – an open source, web-based time tracking tool written in PHP. And so far, Kimai looks promising. Installation is dead easy – just make sure you’ve compiled PDO support into PHP (Gentooers: enable the PDO flag for dev-lang/php and remerge php), else the nice web-based installation wizard will abort without printing any error message.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented a very clean, intuitive GUI where you can setup customers, projects and tasks. On the top-right there’s a big push-button to start/stop/pause the time tracking.

During my quick evaluation, I haven’t found the functionality yet to export the timesheets, but as far as I know, such functionality will be provided by extensions that can be installed. Let’s see. [Addition 20091009: There’s a stats extension quick-hack for Kimai 0.8.x that can be used to list and print selected reports. To use it, simply download it, extract it in the extensions folder and navigate to {Kimai install folder}/extensions/stats/]

Here’s a screenshot of Kimai 0.8.1.890:

Kimai 0.8.1.890 Screenshot
Kimai 0.8.1.890 Screenshot

With the currently still very limited feature-set, Kimai doesn’t compete with full-grown project management solutions (I’ve recently seen a quick demo of a very sophisticated and cool, Django-based project management solution I’m not allowed to tell any details about yet). But it looks like a promising start. I hope the Kimai project will gain momentum, grow and mature as there’s definitely a need for open source time tracking tools – particularly web-based ones.

P.S. I haven’t had the time yet to audit Kimai’s source code, but if the orderly, clean GUI is any indication, it can’t be too bad.

Django custom model field for an unsigned BIGINT data type

Web 2.0 social media platforms tend to think “big”. They hence often use big integers (8 bytes / 64 bits long instead of just 4 bytes / 32 bits like a normal integer) for user IDs (or sometimes message IDs) to be prepared for even the most extreme potential future growth of their user base. Usually, these big integers are unsigned, allowing for up to 18’446’744’073’709’551’615 UIDs to be stored (which is probably enough to register the inhabitants of quite a few other blue planets too ;).

Facebook, with currently more than 300 million active users, also uses  a 64 bit unsigned integer for storing user IDs and expects Facebook applications to be able to handle this. Of course, 300 M user IDs would still easily fit into a 32 bit unsigned integer, but Facebook already goes beyond the 32 bit limit by issuing 15 digit UIDs like 100’000’xxx’xxx’xxx to registered test users (which allows Facebook to better distinguish between test accounts and real accounts).

Now if you happen to use Django to build your Facebook application, this fact needs special attention as Django doesn’t support 64 bit integer field types for its ORM models by default. As a Django developer, you could thus resort to using a CharField for storing Facebook UIDs (which would be odd) or, better, define a custom model field you can use in your models instead of IntegerField. Fortunately, Django offers an elegant way to define custom model fields. You can write your custom PositiveBigIntegerField by simply subclassing (extending, inheriting from) models.PositiveIntegerField:

So, in your models.py add the following code:

from django.db import models
from django.db.models.fields import PositiveIntegerField

class PositiveBigIntegerField(PositiveIntegerField):
    """Represents MySQL's unsigned BIGINT data type (works with MySQL only!)"""
    empty_strings_allowed = False

    def get_internal_type(self):
        return "PositiveBigIntegerField"

    def db_type(self):
        # This is how MySQL defines 64 bit unsigned integer data types
        return "bigint UNSIGNED"

class Mytest(models.Model):
    """Just a test model"""

    huge_id = PositiveBigIntegerField()

    def __unicode__(self):
        return u'id: %s, huge_id: %s' % (self.id, self.huge_id)

(NB: The “Mytest” class is just for testing the PositiveIntegerField definition, it’s not part of the PositiveIntegerField definition.)

Note that this solution only works for MySQL as a database backend (as MySQL supports the “bigint UNSIGNED” data type for columns which isn’t defined in the SQL standard).

For testing, define a “Mytest” model as shown above and execute “python manager.py syncdb” to create a new myapp_mytest table with an unsigned bigint(20) column named huge_id. Register this new model “Mytest” in admin.py, restart runserver and you’ll be able to enter 64 bit integer values through Django’s admin application.

The only minor “issue” is that Django admin’s CSS class (.vIntegerField) used for HTML form input fields representing integer values defines the width as “5em” which is a bit too narrow to display the entire 64 bit integer. This can be adjusted however (e.g. by writing your own ModelForm and telling ModelAdmin to use that, see the Django admin documentation and the Widget.attrs documentation).

P.S. Note that for Django to be able to access and use a “bigint UNSIGNED” data type, you don’t necessarily need to define a PositiveBigIntegerField and adjust your models. Instead, you could simply adjust the column type in MySQL accordingly as a quick-fix. If you use syncdb (like most Django devs) and want it to create your tables and columns correctly however, defining a custom model type as described is the way to go and strongly recommended for consistency and QA.

Gentoo ebuild for Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1

Finally, I’ve created Gentoo ebuilds for Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1 and its dependencies. Lx-Office is a fork of the server-based open source accounting solution SQL-Ledger and customized for the German market (and to some extent, the Swiss and Austrian markets).

A screenshot of Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1 showing the XUL menu:

Screenshot of Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1 using the XUL menu

And here’s a flash video of Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1 showing the XUL menu in action.

Lx-System (the company backing Lx-Office ERP) and LINET Services host a public demo of Lx-Office ERP 2.4.3 (user: demo, password: demo).

To install Lx-Office ERP 2.6.0 beta 1 on Gentoo, follow these steps:

1) Set up a local portage overlay (e.g. at /usr/local/portage), if you haven’t done so already.

# mkdir -p /usr/local/portage

In /etc/make.conf, set

PORTDIR_OVERLAY=/usr/local/portage

2) Download lx-office-erp-2.6.0_beta_p1-r1_plus_dependencies.tgz and extract it to your local portage overlay

# cd /usr/local/portage
# tar xzvf lx-office-erp-2.6.0_beta_p1-r1_plus_dependencies.tgz

3) In /etc/portage/package.keywords, add the line

www-apps/lx-office-erp ~amd64

(or ‘www-apps/lx-office-erp ~x86‘, depending on the architecture of your machine)

4) In /etc/portage/package.use, add the line

www-apps/lx-office-erp vhosts

5) Install Lx-Office ERP on your system by executing

# emerge -av lx-office-erp

Depending on your current portage settings and installed ebuilds, you may need to unmask additional ebuilds.

6) Use webapp-config to link your Lx-Office ERP installation to a specific host, e.g. by executing

# webapp-config -I -h localhost -d lx-erp lx-office-erp 2.6.0_beta_p1-r1

7) Follow the steps displayed on the screen to setup and configure Lx-Office ERP. Some of these steps might be automated in a later release of the ebuild.

8) Have fun using Lx-Office ERP on Gentoo! :)

(These ebuilds are sponsored by my company Printscreen GmbH, dedicated to the developers of Lx-Office ERP and Gentoo and released for free use under the terms and conditions of the GNU GPLv2 license.)

Google Chrome from a business and “techie” view

If Google will really deliver what it promises with its new Chrome browser plans (Google blog) (personally, I have no doubts about this), the line between web applications and standalone applications will further blur and hereby enable a better, seamless user experience and probably a whole new class of powerful applications.

Some thoughts:

  • From a technical point of view, Google’s Chrome will be the WebOS others have been dreaming about for a long time already. It basically offers memory management, process management, markup renderers, a GUI and a VM with a JIT compiler (V8).
  • It will finally unify the ideas behind the WebOS, “The network is the computer”, cloud computing, SaaSRIA and virtualization.
  • Actually, it’s astonishing it took so long for someone to come up with something like this. The concepts as such are not new at all, but the combination of all these different concepts is what makes the thing cool. It’s typical for a good idea that, once you’ve heard of it, you almost can’t imagine living without it anymore, as it seems all so natural.
  • Detachable tabs on top: Not a new idea either. For example, I remember that the Fluxbox window manager actually offered the same feature back in 2001/2002 (or even earlier) already. I remember it as I used it myself too (and I liked it a lot, despite of its “suboptimal” scalability), as illustrated in these animations:
    Fluxbox Window Grouping Feature (2002) 1/2 (small animated GIF screenshot)
    Fluxbox Window Grouping Feature (2002) 2/2 (large animated GIF screenshot)  

    I guess there were other window managers and GUIs that had the same features even before fluxbox had them.

  • With this move, Google will be gradually taking control and power away from traditional Desktop OS manufacturers such as Microsoft and Apple. Being open source, Chrome and its components like V8 will be the “Linux of the web” and thus a big threat particularly to Microsoft that still generates most of its revenue with Windows and standalone applications like Office.
  • The ongoing process, that (desktop) operating systems are becoming commodities more and more, will further be accelerated. Will there be an “unsacred” alliance between Apple and Microsoft to fight these tendencies or will they shift their businesses further into the “web” application (SaaS), content (music, videos, TV, e-books, multimedia etc.) and lifestyle (design, hardware, ethics) spaces?
  • Of course that’s in the best interest of Google (as their business is data/content and webapps/SaaS). I wouldn’t call this move an evil move, but it’s definitely not a friendly move in the eyes of the competition.
  • From a “techie” point of view, this move will enable many interesting applications in the future. As the framework will be open source, the dev community will potentially be as vital and dynamic as in other high-profile OSS projects (like Mozilla, Linux)
  • What about the Mozilla, Safari, IE, Opera camps? They will have to adapt themselves to the concept and try to top it. IE (and perhaps also Safari) might try to take the “embrace and extend” route.
  • With the birth of the WebOS, there will probably be a need of an open, standardized webapp GUI toolkit and webapp GUI guidelines soon (and there’s a big potential for conflicts here). Who will provide these? What will be the roles of the current big players? Also, standardized, open specs for user authentication and user data exchange will be required – here, there’s already some progress with OpenID, OAuth etc.
  • I like that Google communicates its plans using an easy-to-follow cartoon and that they give credit to individual internal and external contributors and players (though I assume there were much more people involved in the process than those mentioned)
  • The thing that disappoints me a bit is that when talking about V8, they only talk about targeting JavaScript. I’d prefer a more generic approach providing a VM and JIT for various languages (similarly to a CLI VM – why not re-use/extend Mono, for example?). Maybe that’s what V8 actually provides and they just don’t emphasize it at this point in order to not confuse or upset end-users, devs, big players etc..
  • Taking a look at the big picture, it seems that there’s a very pragmatic driver behind this whole development: It’s the laziness of us end-users (just as a fact, not meant in a negative sense – being “lazy” is usually quite rational). Or in other words: The information takes the line of the least resistance. And so far, that line for the “Network OS” happens to be the web, i.e. basically HTTP, despite of its known shortcomings.

[UPDATE 20080902: Corrected a typo. And here’s a statement regarding the Google Chrome news by John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla Corp.]

Ready, steady, go!

Refreshing. Innovative. New. Creative. The sky is the limit. Startup fever. Brian Haven:

This new job is ambiguous. I don’t have a job title. The company doesn’t have a name. At the moment, there are only three of us. We don’t know what this will become, we only have a general direction. My office will be at my house… in Austin… and in cyberspace on IM, Twitter, Facebook… To many, this recipe might spell fear. To me, it’s comfortable. I thrive in the unknown–no rules, no baggage, no momentum to pull us into mediocrity. We get to build this from scratch in a thoughtful and disciplined manner. It’s my opportunity to bring my engagement ideas to life and the perfect time to leverage my background to apply a design thinking approach to the way we, and our clients, do business.

I had the joy to experience the reviving entrepreneurial spirit at yesterday’s public beta launch party at the Wuala office in Zurich. And I experience it daily when working for my own company – Printscreen GmbH. A great feeling indeed, and inspiring others, too.

Global version of Xero expected by early 2009!

Wow, that’s what I call modern corporate communications and a quick reaction to feedback (see my earlier blog post)! Nice to see that Xero sets a new standard in this area, too.

Rod Drury, CEO and co-founder of Xero, just announced on the Xero company blog that there will be an international edition of the Xero online accounting system soon:

As you’d imagine, designing and building a proper yet fun-to-use accounting system that scales globally is no small task. Our approach has been to evolve Xero with the feedback of customers and partners in our initial markets, while building up our internal systems to scale internationally.

The plan is to have a global version ready by early 2009.

And there’s no doubt Xero will celebrate a huge success in Switzerland and all over the world!

Xero: The ideal online accounting solution for startups/SMBs?

When going through Jakob Nielsen’s list of the 10 Best Application UIs of 2008 [1], I’ve noticed there’s also an online(!) accounting(!) system for SMBs among the winners:

Xero – The world’s easiest accounting system.

This is a big surprise, as I’ve already tested quite many accounting systems for SMBs/SMEs, both standalone and web applications, but none of them was particularly easy to use. The point isn’t that I couldn’t use a complex accounting system [2], the point is that I don’t want to if it isn’t necessary. In other words, every hour I can save on accounting and invoicing, I can spend on business development and software development. Which obviously makes sense.

Considering this, the price of 49 NZD (34 USD) per month for Xero is a fair deal. The only thing that isn’t customer-friendly at all, is that they decided to go with an opt-out free trial model (i.e. if you don’t cancel the trial within 30 days, you’ll be charged). Definitely worth a try, though.

[UPDATE 20080813: Note that Xero is not available for purchase in Switzerland yet (hopefully soon). You can still try the demo though.]

[UPDATE 20080814: I’ve quickly tested Xero. Conclusion so far: I like it a lot! It delivers, what most startup companies need in regard to accounting and it makes things as easy as possible. In fact, I’ve never seen a more intuitive accounting system before! It will definitely set the new benchmark in its class. Let’s hope there will be a Swiss edition soon. Kudos to the makers of Xero in NZ: You rock!]

[UPDATE 20080815: Xero’s plans are to have a global version of Xero ready by early 2009, see my follow-up blog post]

[1] Also noteworthy: CMSBox, a very user-friendly CMS made in Switzerland.

[2] Among others, two of my majors at the University of Zurich were Management Accounting and Managerial Accounting.

[3] Of course, you could also outsource all your accounting duties, but particularly for a new startup with a minimal headcount, the outsourcing efforts generally outweigh the benefits.

Aug 29, 2008: BlogCamp Switzerland 3.0 in Zurich

Note that this year’s Swiss BlogCamp, the BlogCamp Switzerland 3.0, will take place on the same date (August 29, 2008) as the Tag der Informatik (informatica08) and the tweakGrill, and at the same location (Technopark in Zurich), too! Of course, this is no coincidence :) No matter whether you’re a blogger or not (or plan to be, have been, are interested in the Swiss blogging scene, the web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, whatever etc. ;): Be there, I’m sure it will be an interesting event, again! (And attending the “Tag der Informatik” is a point of honor anyway :)

(Bloggy Friday will start at 8 PM, guess where ;)

BlogCamp Switzerland 3.0

[UPDATE 20080802: I probably can’t be there due to military service :( At rather short notice as they managed to send the march order to an address that doesn’t exist. No comment.]