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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Work Flow Software: Clear the Fog of Tech Support with Fogbugz



Julie Lindsay and I have been testing a really cool automation tool for the back end of all of the Flat Classroom projects. From the book The 4-Hour Workweek, (a great book - not geared towards education, but many ideas for efficiency in there), I heard of FogBugz and I must say I'm smitten.

This is a program that Timothy Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour work week, uses to track email from his companies and interface with his virtual assistant. Scalability is the key and we're working to become scalable and efficient so that our projects can be run as lean as possible while also providing the highest level of engagement and interaction between students and responsiveness to the teachers.

Screenshot of Fogbugz showing some of the current cases with our projects
Work Flow Software
Thus far, it has been run through google groups and email. However, we've not included work flow software to allow for tracking. (Funny as we study work flow software in our projects!)  So, what we have now, is a tracking system. So, for example, if you submit an inquiry form on one of our projects (say Flat Classroom for example) then you'll receive an email back with a case number and a link that is updated live as we respond and handle your email.  This way, no matter who is awake, one of us can respond and work with things. We can also assign work for one another.

My question to you is -- do you have work flow software to manage the tasks between you and your colleagues if each of you are responsible for different tasks? If not, why not?  Research this! We need to become more efficient and less stressed!

How am I using Fogbugz?

I'm setting this up for my own work and also for the school technical support system.

Now, Fogbugz is free if you only have two users (they know you'll upgrade) and for me personally I'll just keep one - however, likely at the school I may upgrade once we scale up.

I highly recommend this software for those who have a technical support type operation and for tracking cases, etc. (or tickets - whatever you call them).

This is how we're set up:

1- Project Set Up
We have all of our projects set up in the system along with the designated person leading the project.

2 - MileStones
We've spelled out all of our project milestones. You can see a sample on our Digiteen timeline Page.  Milestones make things clear where you are. We're working to break down documentation by milestone so we can be scalable.

3 -  Use Custom Email Addresses
We've created custom emails for each project through our mail server (not Fogbugz) (i.e. Flat Classroom is fcp@flatclassroom.org Digiteen is digiteen@flatclassroom.org , Eracism is eracism@flatclassroom.org and NetGenEd is netgened@flatclassroom.org )  You can email those addresses with a question or issue and it will generate a case number and tracking on the back end for us.  (Go ahead, try it if you have a legitimate question or are a teacher on our projects and want back end access to the technical support wiki we're building at http://flatclassroom.fogbugz.com

Certainly, you can have many more addresses. I'm going to have several for the school -- powerschool to hardware work so that I can automate and outsource what is possible to the appropriate person. I'm spending way to much time as a list clearinhouse.

4- Automate Incoming Email and Assignments
We've gone into Fogbugz and set up the system to CHECK those email accounts and automatically import them to the system and assign them to the person leading that project. The person leading the project gets an email that a case has been assigned and they know to log into the system.

5 - Set up of triggers
We've set up custom responses and are scouring our email to determine our most common responses for inquiries so that any of us can do this. This is awesome because if I get five emails about one topic, I can check all five, type the trigger in the email and it will fill out the standard information that needs to be replied to the person!

6 - Community Wiki and Trouble Ticket Submission -
This is going to result in a wiki community to be able to contribute to our tech support wiki (now residing at http://projecthelp.wikispaces.com will move to http://flatclassroom.fogbugz.com ) and also to be able to submit technical support trouble tickets directly into our system that are trackable and linked to their email.  They will be able  to go to a private trouble ticket page to track what is going on with that issue. (This is going to save a lot of time with my teachers who want updates and maybe haven't checked their email!)

7 - Screenshot
This handy tool has a screenshot add in that lets you send screenshots to the software! If you are deploying a new website, this is the tool for you! You can screenshot it and open a case all at the same time!

What does it Cost?
There are a lot of other features in there -- if you go over 2 users it is $25 a person per month or you can pay $999 to put it on your server. If you have only 2 users, you can set it up for free.  I will say that for FCP it is worth it and as we are working to determine our costs for this year and how we're going to fund the projects, it is something we're building in. If you're going to work with a virtual assistant or have an increasingly complex system to track - this is the system!

What Work Flow Software Do You Use?
We must ask ourselves: how can we let computers do what they do best?
Would love to hear what others are using, but I'll tell you again, I'm moving tech support for the school, automation for Cool Cat Teacher and all that is going on here, and also all tech support for Flat Classroom projects to Fogbugz. It may take some time to set up and a bit of working with it - but when the light dawns you'll see a new day of more simple support and also massively useful reports to show how you and those who work with you are actually spending their time.

I just haven't heard a lot of conversation about work flow software.  Honestly, right now, in education it is more like silos of information and a heck of lot of work for the teachers.  How do you automate and allow the work to flow?

Yes, Fogbugz is for software design, but perhaps we need to be automating other things as well. Let's build on solid programs to help our increasingly technical work flow!





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