ChatOps in Project Management
Some years ago, Jesse Newland presented “ChatOps at Github” — an open source chat bot Hubot for automating deployment, graphing, monitoring, provisioning, and many other things to enhance the culture of remote work. That was a beginning of ChatOps history, a new way to manage operations through a chat. Today it is not only about DevOps and deployment. Project managers and whoever else working in a software development team can also find use of it, and many of them already do.
What is ChatOps?
ChatOps is a “collaboration model that helps to connect people, process, tools, and automation into a transparent workflow”. Instead of doing some work in a background, you move an execution of all tasks into a general chat room, making them visible to everyone in a team.
While staying in your usual chat app, you type user-friendly commands which a chatbot will match with certain scripts and plugins. Along with chatbots, there’re also server-side apps listening for these commands and doing jobs. After you type a necessary command, certain actions will be executed without your further participation. These can include quite a wide range of tasks such as deploying application, configurations, backups, notifications, logging, running tests, etc. In fact, you’re able to use ChatOps for anything you can think to script.
ChatOps implements a conversation-driven collaboration which is not new indeed. However, ChatOps brings it to a new level, combining the oldest ways of collaboration with the newest technologies. As a result, ChatOps turned into a powerful tool applied in different spheres of business, technology, science, and beyond.
ChatOps for project managers
Project management and software development is not an exception. With ChatOps, you can integrate your chat app with any third-party software such as your project management tool, time tracking system, billing app, different collaboration software, etc. Rather than switching between numerous apps, your teammates will be able to perform all commands directly in their chat rooms, while a corresponding bot will do the rest of the job.
Today, advanced software development teams already use such or similar solutions in practice to drive organizational activity in chat rooms and avoid constant meetings and extra questions which only distract employees from their work. Some of examples could be HipChat, Flowdock, Campfire, and Slack add-ons. Slack provides its own built-in Slackbot, but there are many third-party solutions as well. For example, StackStorm, Deploybot, and Blockspring bots can be integrated with other chat apps like Atlassian’s HipChat or IRC. For instance, chatbots can be used to create new tickets, add milestone, close tasks, commit time spent on them, attach files to tasks and so on.
In fact, chatbots use cases will be limited by your imagination and team needs only. Teams with technical background usually try to automate as many routine tasks as possible with advanced bots. Most repetitive tasks which you do manually can be done by bots. As a result, we can find a lot of open source advanced custom bots, deep integrations with third-party software, attempts to use AI and ML to boost bots capabilities. Non-technical teams usually use existing chatbots which already implement most common tasks.
Why should you use it
ChatOps provides you with an alternative way of collaboration which has obvious advantages:
- “Communication by doing”. No more questions like “Will you create a ticket or shall I?” Everybody knows what part of a job is already done and which should be done yet. All actions are performed in common chat rooms so that most questions become irrelevant. A number of meetings can also be reduced due to general awareness and transparency of the workflow.
“Teaching by doing, by making things visible”. ChatOps allows to increase the speed at which new team members learn common practices, tightens the feedback loop, collaboration, and improves knowledge sharing.
Automatization of routine tasks. Tasks that used to be done manually (that is often accompanied by human error) are now automated with chatbots. Also, all commands in chat rooms are visible to everyone, that makes it easier to find and reproduce them by anybody else in the future.
Instant collaboration. We usually don’t like to keep many apps open while working on tasks, while a chat app is open mostly all the time. As a result, when somebody uses chatbots to perform a task, all updates become instantly seen by all teammates. With ChatOps, we bring our tools into conversations and can collaborate in real time. It becomes easier to notice mistakes, suggest help timely, respond to changes and requests, reduce time spent on project management and cooperation. Not to say about benefits for remote working teams.
History and audit. With ChatOps, you get a full history of all commands executed by all teammates even if your project management tool and other used software do not provide a possibility to track the history of changes. Along with higher visibility and transparency, you get an up-to-date state of the project and a clearer understanding of the recent teammates’ activities.
Humanization of work. As a rule, chatbots support user-friendly commands and NLP. Somebody may complain about the need to memorize commands, however, such problem is now a thing of the past. Today, ChatOps provides user-specific commands that feel intuitive, so that people can send commands to chatbots like they would address them to any of their teammate. Also, the ability to convey the same idea in different words, provided by many modern bots, helps to smooth out communication issues and makes chatbots more interactive. As a result, today’s ChatOps allows to get things done with even a more human way of working.
Cheaper and faster. While you’re still using all your favorite tools, you can reduce time spent on context switching since most tasks can be done from a chat room. And that’s not a secret how much time is wasted on managing the workspace and other administrative stuff.
Where to begin?
So ChatOps is a good way to automate tasks, encourage teams to be transparent, learn from each other, work faster and cheaper, keep and manage everything from one place.
According to the last researches, in the nearest years the market of project management software will change a lot, as well as process management in companies. The main trends in project management will be more remote teams, a great impact of artificial intelligence with maximum automation of the workplace and large-scale integration of various fields of activity. The role of chat rooms in the workflow will continue to increase, while the need for a structured way of task planning will remain in force.
Most companies working on project management tools try to consider these changes already now. For example, at Riter, we focus on its extensive integration with third-party services with help of connected plugins. Full-featured GraphQL API and Webhook support allow to implement chatbots of any complexity and automate any specific tasks. Over time, any self-respecting project management tool with provide you with a wide range of plugins, and even more people will be involved in writing custom open source bots.
There are already enough powerful ChatOps tools available for project management and related needs. Moreover, you will definitely need to spend much time to find out what works best for your company. Just try various bots and add-ons in your team chat room to choose favorite ones. Share your experience with colleagues, track updates since many excellent solutions are appearing right now. Or engage your team of software developers to write your own bots for your workflow.