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Developing for Developers: A Look Behind the Scenes as We Build
Published:Oct 29, 2020

Developing for Developers: A Look Behind the Scenes as We Build 7pace for GitHub

Since starting 7pace in 2012, we’ve learned a lot about what makes time tracking such a pain for many software teams.

Aside from the fact that teams often hobble together time tracking solutions using generic tools, spreadsheets, scribbles on scrap paper, napkins, and guesstimates; we knew that time tracking could be about more than just logging minutes and hours spent at work. By using insights gathered from tracking their time, software teams can become smarter, more efficient, and more productive.

We know it worked, because more than 1,500 companies now use 7pace Timetracker, including enterprises like HP, Orange, Microsoft, Accenture, and Caterpillar. Our product served a need for developers who work within Azure DevOps. But what about teams that use different platforms?

That’s why we decided to build “Emerald,” which is the nickname we’ve been using for our newest offering: A time tracking integration that brings all the elegance and value of 7pace Timetracker to the GitHub universe.

We’ve been working on Emerald since late 2019, and we’ve overcome some challenges and roadblocks along the way. On our way to create a tool that helps developers, we think we’ve learned some lessons ourselves — and that other teams can learn from them, too.

So let’s take a look behind the scenes at the team building 7pace’s new “Emerald” tool, and what we can all learn from their work so far.

Meet Sascha Zierfuss

Sascha is a Product Manager who was hired in April to help guide short- and long-term vision for the team developing emerald. He works alongside six developers and a designer, with support from the rest of the 7pace team at large.

“What we want to do is we want to meet developers where they are,” Sascha explained. “We’re building a time tracking tool. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not the most exciting thing in the world. 

“However, we believe that we can make it in such a way that’s not intrusive into your normal day-to-day work, but also easy to use and to actually get some benefit out of it as well. That’s what we want to bring with this new product. We’re taking time tracking from a chore to a system that helps you get useful insights that can help you become a better developer and better plan your time.”

“Drinking Our Own Champagne”

One of the most unique things about the process of building Emerald, Sascha said, is how much the team believes in the value of what they’re making.

“We firmly believe in drinking our own champagne,” he said. “Which means that we use our own product. Tracking time at 7pace is optional, but when we do, we use our own Timetracker. And it’s actually proven useful for various reasons. You’re more familiar with how the product works. We’re more familiar with what sucks about it and what doesn’t, and therefore, we can adjust and make it better.”

Sascha also pointed to the high levels of autonomy at 7pace as a way the company practices what it preaches.

“Our developers have a lot of decision power into what they’re working on and how they work on it, which is really nice,” he explained. “And also a lot of flexibility as to how they can organize themselves, you know, as long as we achieve the goal that we set together, how we get there doesn’t really matter.”

Using our own 7pace Timetracker has helped identify pain points and insights for our teams that ultimately led to changes that help them better manage their time and productivity. For one example, Sascha pointed to 7pace’s commitment to customer support.

“When somebody calls we want to help them as quickly as possible. We want to solve your issue. We want to make sure they have a good experience,” he explained. “But once we started digging into our timesheet data, that’s when we realized that we were actually spending maybe too much time on that aspect. Or at the very least, it highlighted the fact that maybe we should have some additional help there because we were spending more time doing support calls than actual development and feature development work for customers.”

Being able to look at historical time data and see how developers were spending their time pointed to the problem: 7pace needed more help for customer support, so developers could be freed up to do the work they do best.

“The Knowledge We Had No Longer Applies”

The teams at 7pace are experts in what developers need from a time tracker. And when it came to building an integration for GitHub, it was as simple as copying the work they’d already done for Azure DevOps into a new universe, right? Well, that’s what the team thought, until they started running into problems they hadn’t considered.

“Although we know exactly what we’re doing, we understand how customers are using our Timetracker and all that, the new product is in a different realm,” Sascha explained. “So a lot of the assumptions and the knowledge that we had no longer applies. There were things that we thought would be super easy, but as we were working, we realized things we thought would be similar to work done in the past were completely different now.”

For example, one unexpected challenge came with the ability to manage users. That’s something that the Azure DevOps system took care of, so it didn’t need to be built into 7pace’s time tracking extension, Sascha said. That’s not true for GitHub — something that worked automatically for the old tool needed to be built from scratch for the new tool, which threw off the team’s timeline a little.

So how did Sascha and his team overcome these sorts of challenges? Better planning at the outset of sprints, he said.

“Now we take a bit more time to dive a bit more deeply — to think about it a bit more before coming up with an answer as to how complex or how easy something is,” he explained. “Because we know that we know we’ve hit that wall in the past. So we take a bit more time upfront. That has made our two week sprints a lot more successful and helped with the planning as well.”

“Don’t Silo Your Teams”

It might sound like advice that every software team has heard time and time again, but Sascha brought  it up as another lesson the teams at 7pace have had to work hard to keep in mind as they’ve worked on Emerald and other projects: Teams can’t work in silos.

“When you spin off a team to work on a special project, or just have the teams working on multiple things at once, it’s important to not silo these teams,” he said. It often happens organically in the sense that you start working on your thing, you have your blinders on, and you eat and sleep and think only about your project, right? But you mustn’t lose track of what others are doing.”

This has been especially true, Sascha said, while working on Emerald. Because the new tool is so similar to what 7pace has built before, the team working on it has a lot to learn from 7pace’s veterans and other teams. By communicating with one another, they can avoid repeating mistakes, or try tools or methods that were successful for the other team.

“That connection is even harder when it’s remote teams like ours, because it’s not like you meet in the cafeteria everyday,” he said. “So it makes that a bit more difficult. But you definitely want to maintain this cross team collaboration as much as possible. It’s the first thing to go out the window, especially in larger companies. Everybody has their goals and their projects and they’re focused on what it is they’re doing, but then you can miss some very valuable information or insights if you don’t share.”

He added, “Yes, we are two teams, but we’re one 7pace. We ultimately all have the same goal. It’s not like one team is making coffee machines and the other team is making cars. We should all be going in the same direction and helping each other as much as possible.”

Want to Learn More About 7pace for GitHub?

Sascha and the rest of the team at 7pace are hard at work building Emerald so GitHub users can experience the same simplicity, autonomy, mastery, and purpose we’ve been bringing to Azure DevOps teams since 2012. Want to learn more? Check out our plans for Emerald, and check back to our blog for more news and announcements coming soon.

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