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2006Spring: MusExMachina: Cases: Team Productivity Practices: Group Scheduling
We used group scheduling software to help us determine availability of team members
- Schedules change. Without a centralized way to exchange information about each member's varying schedule, some of our team meetings would not have been possible. Any team can collect a list of personal availabilities, but using scheduling software is the only time effective way to manage group time. Personal availabilities change constantly, but keeping all this information stored in a centralized self service entity eliminates the need to rebroadcast and recompute the group availibility each time a change is made.
- Setting up the schedule information without scheduling software is a pain in the... We all have been through the experience of trying to collect possible meeting times via email, and it just ain't pretty. Have a centralized location to store this information forces all of us to be consistent and clear when we discuss our availability.
- The scheduling software that we actually used came from a little cgi script. While the actual software is little more than a colored table, having such a simplified interface was definitely and advantage for our 4 person team. Sometimes it's best to use software that doesn't have a learning curve, and we spent almost no time loading and reviewing our schedules. Here is a "thousand words" that best explain the simplified interface we used:
- The team availability boxes are labelled with colors so that we can quickly see which timeslots are unavailable (the gray ones), which time slots have some people available (the light green boxes), and which time slots have everybody available (the dark green). If you don't like colors, each box is also labeled with percentage and fraction of people available.
- The scheduling software is also useful for when you need to meet with only one person. If I needed to do some pair programming on the XML with William, for example, I could select William's name from the drop down box and click view to isolate William's schedule on the grid. In this way, we can easily access everyone's availability without having to dig thru 4 seperate lists or charts.
- We had each person self input their schedule on the following web page. Although the list box interface is far from perfect, the instructions are very clear on how to quickly input your availability. You can also update your availability whenever you want by just overwriting your old one with a new availability that you input here. It took less than a minute per a person for our entire team to compute our available times.
- We obtained the Group Scheduler script from Smarter Scripts. After a little tweaking, we had their little script running perfectly in our browsers. The script is available at http://www.smarterscripts.com/gs/.
- In practice, this software might be most useful in avoiding the infamous excuse of "let me check my schedule." In a group environment, you can waste a surprisingly large amount of time waiting for people to check their schedules and can also loose time when someone is late for a meeting because "it wasn't on their schedule." Although we didn't need much accountablity, you never know when you might have a group member who tries to avoid group meetings.
- The way we saved most of our scheduling time is by having our group meetings optimistically scheduled by one group member, and then simply confirmed by the remaining group members. When we had to schedule a time to review a milestone with the TA, for example, one of our members was able to use the online schedule to quickly grab a time slot. If we had coordinated by email, all the good time slots might have been gone by the time everyone got around to emailing their availabilites.
It is important to note that the use of scheduling software does not in any way garuantee efficent use of group time. It just makes it easier to "find" more time to meet as group. I know for a fact, that a couple of our meetings were little more than excuses to kick back and complain about squeak. But at the very least, we were able to easily schedule enough meetings to make up for any such lost time.
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