I'm developing software and most of the time I'm working by myself. This does not mean that I don't need to organize my work. As we all know, setting goals and staying focused is crucial. That is a challenge for me - I'm usually bursting with ideas for features and enhancements. I need to prioritize and keep tabs on what I'm doing. Still, I don't want to lose any good ideas for the future.
This is where OmniFocus comes to the rescue. OmniFocus, is, IMHO, the best task management software I've used. It is Mac only and it is based on the well known Getting Things Done method, aka GTD. I'm not a strict GTD follower, yet, I still get everything I need from OmniFocus. In this post, I'll show you how to turn OmniFocus into a development management system for tracking development tasks and bugs. For teams of developers, it cannot replace a full blown system like Bugzilla. However, if you're like me, working in a one man team (no sharing option in OmniFocus) this could be a great solution. Before we start, I recommend reading a bit about GTD if you're not familiar with its' basic concepts.
- Product versions are shown as Folders (for grouping projects)
- Each version will have the following projects:
- Active Projects - Bugs and Enhancements
- On Hold Projects - Waiting tasks - organized into 3 projects according to priority
- On Hold Task List - Ideas for the future
- Complete Task List - I drop finished tasks here to clear the clutter
- I have contexts according to the product modules:
- Main Context is called 'Dev' - to distinguish from my personal tasks
- Under 'Dev' I have a hierarchy of modules like Front End and Back End, under Front End I'll have all the flows, etc.
- Tasks usually have tags: when entering a task, I'll usually start with a tag, like [bug], [check], [idea], etc. This helps categorizing tasks later, but not a necessity.
I usually use the Quick Entry window to enter new tasks. The great thing about it is that I can invoke at any given time, jot down an idea, bug or just something that I need to check later, and immediately get it out of my head. I usually add a task note which contains as many details as I think I'll need to understand my original idea. I also enter a context (see hereunder), but not a project - so it will remain in my inbox for review.
If you want to include screen shots, you can just add it as a note to the task. I find that Skitch is the perfect companion for that, since it provides simple tools for easy annotations. You don't need to save the file, either, you can just drag it from Skitch to your OmniFocus item.
I use either the Planning view or the Context View for that. I find the Planning View more natural for that. At the early days of the version you can decide to focus on Enhancements and proceed to bug fixes. That's why I find the separation to projects helpful. If I have a of lower priority, which I'm not interested in working on, I just push it to one of the Waiting projects according to its' priority.
When fixing bugs, the separation to Enhancements and Bugs becomes even more helpful as I usually have the tendency to get carried away and work on enhancements instead of fixing bugs. I have one super-task inside the Bugs project which I call "Can't Reproduce". Here I drop bug that I can't reproduce for some reason. You can also have a separate task list for that.
The organization for contexts is critical here. When entering the context for a task I try to find the one that best fits. However, if I have a task for fixing something across the system, it will have a more general context, maybe even the top 'Dev' context.
One of the major benefits of this system is the ability to work by context. Clearly, if you have a large system, you cannot keep it all "in your head". This means that, when you're starting to work on some module, weather it is on an enhancement or a bug fix, you're going to spend some time to reacquaint yourself with the code.
When working by context, you can group tasks dealing with the same module and perform them together. Conceptually, it's the basic reason for having contexts like "@home" or "@supermarket" in GTD. You want to gather all the tasks which are relevant to your current context. That's exactly why module is the same: since I'm here, let's be productive and do everything which is in the vicinity, which is in the same context.
From this point forward, it's basic GTD stuff. I have a daily review of my current tasks and I set up goals in terms of due dates. I have weekly reviews for reviewing all (hopefully) my tasks, promoting, demoting and eliminating the tasks no longer relevant.
I presented a way for turning OmniFocus into an effective development management system. What I like the most about this system:
- The ability to quickly get things off my mind, knowing they won't be lost.
- Gathering work by modules, i.e. contexts.
- The outlining ability - breaking tasks into smaller and smaller sub-tasks. I think this is the main selling point of OmniFocus specially.
Hope this works for you, too. Good luck.