Returing to Redmine: Suggestions for better workflows and productivity
After experimenting with a number of issue tracking methods (some I’d label antimethods) and products I’ve returned to Redmine for both team-oriented and solo projects. Out of the box, Redmine is a good fit for me in a number of ways:
- I can host it myself (there is a hosting service available; I’ve never tried it). And since it’s written in Ruby I can deploy it on existing hardware without worrying about a lot of new dependencies.
- Redmine doesn’t try to become my daily to-do list (in spite of my attempts to make it so in the past).
- It doesn’t enforce any ideology on me—Pivotal Tracker is great for capital-A Agile teams, but if you work in an environment that doesn’t quite do Agile by the letter you may get lost in the lingo. (And let the hate mail commence.)
- Redmine makes it easy to collect the good kinds of documentation—conversations, lessons learned, procedures to inevitably replicate. This is my chief complaint about upstart Asana, which unless I’m missing something isn’t much more than a glorified group to-do list. Its note-taking features are lacking.
That said, a fresh installation of Redmine is likely going to need some tweaks before it can help you effectively track issues and products. In my case, I wanted it to be as easy as possible to record an issue (more likely than not a feature request) and get back to whatever is the task at hand. As anyone who’s installed Redmine and poked around its settings can tell, the software itself is pretty flexible. The trick is knowing how to make those settings work with your workflow.
To do this, I strongly recommend Eric Davis’ e-book Redmine Tips. As both a core Redmine developer and daily user of the software, Eric does a good job walking through not just how to adjust Redmine’s settings, but also good reasons why to adjust them in certain ways.
After going through the tips in the book I did the following:
- Feature is the default tracker: As I mentioned, the bulk of what shows up in my inbox are feature requests. Some are good ideas, some not so much, some are intriguing but not feasible (at least for the moment). My other trackers are Bug, Support, and Technical Debt (more on that in a moment).
- Proposed is the default status: This makes more sense in my workflow than New. My other status options are Approved, In Progress, Resolved, Feedback, Closed, and Declined.
- Wish List is the default priority: Again, since most of what I get are feature requests, I don’t want to assign them a regular priority by default. Unless something is a bug it most likely goes in as a wish list feature. I also reduced the other priorities to Low, Normal, and High—everything beyond that was redundant.
- Remove unnecessary defaults: Current date as issue start date comes to mind. I prefer to have it blank until an issue gets approved and assigned. Note: If your Redmine installation is out of date you may not have the option to change this setting.
- Workflow setting adjustments: Don’t forget, if you make changes to Redmine’s default trackers and issue statuses you’ll need to update workflows accordingly.
A few more suggestions:
- I’ve implied this already, but don’t try to make Redmine (or any issue tracker) serve as a to-do list. It’s not intended for things like recurring tasks, for example, and breaking things down to GTD-level minutiae is a sure-fire way to an overwhelming issues list. Use Redmine for the big picture and your task list of choice for the details. (And managers, don’t try to dictate task list software on employees; as long as things are getting done people should use whatever system works for them. Again, hate mail welcome.)
- Make good use of Redmine’s other modules, when it makes sense to do so. Project wikis are an easy way to collect random scraps of information under one roof, for example.
- Turn off the modules your project doesn’t use. Otherwise they’re just interface noise. You can always activate them later.
- Be as open as possible. In our case, that means requiring login to access Redmine—but all projects are set to public, so non-project members can see what’s going on.
Redmine for non-technical projects?
My next step is to explore Redmine’s possibilities as a management tool for non-software projects—specifically, proposal writing and instructional design. If you have experience with using Redmine or a similar product outside of typical technical products I’d love to hear from you.