Around this time last year I remember sitting down to write our “2019 Year in Review” and thinking about all the things 2020 might have in store for us as a company. While I’ve always prided myself in having a vivid imagination, I could have never anticipated that this year would bring so many changes. From our physical environments to our social interactions, 2020 forced us to rethink almost every aspect of our personal and working lives.
And while it’s abundantly apparent that this past year brought a number of new challenges and hurdles to overcome, as I reflect back, it was also a year of incredible milestones for us as a business. In 2020 we shipped more new features and functionality to our users than ever before. In addition to these improvements to our core product, we also made some (frankly) much needed investments into our performance and overall reliability of our application.
As I sat down to think about the best way to summarize this past year with our community, the one thing that I kept on coming back to was our team. It might be cliche to say, but our team at ZenHub truly epitomizes the phrase “more than the sum of its parts” and as I thought about all the highlights from this past year, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to bring to light the team members whose tireless work and relentless optimism made it all possible.
Our journey to make ZenHub fast
When we hacked together the first version of ZenHub back in November of 2014, our primary goal was to improve the way that we managed our own internal software projects and to bring our process closer to the code. We never imagined that more than five years later ZenHub would be a solution that nearly 2500 teams and more than 150,000 developers, project managers, and product owners would come to rely upon on a daily basis.
As the number of teams using ZenHub grew and our product evolved, we soon realized that the technical choices we made in the early days wouldn’t be sustainable. In particular, the piecemeal nature of our back-end meant that much of the heavy lifting was being done by our front-end, negatively impacting performance for our users. As a result, we set out on an ambitious mission to re-write our back-end and make ZenHub fast.
Ev Haus, ZenHub’s Head of Technology, played a leading role in this project, first establishing metrics on which we could improve and then coordinating our efforts to rewrite our backend in a more modern and scalable framework.
Understanding progress, at a glance
Nat Friedman said it best when he called software development, the “ultimate team sport”. As ZenHub grew, we quickly realized the truth in this statement and that teams needed more than a simple task board to be able to visualize and track their key projects. As a result, in November of 2019 we launched the first ever roadmapping solution built entirely in GitHub. Today, ZenHub Roadmaps remains one of the most frequently used features of our product.
While our first version of ZenHub Roadmaps unlocked a new ability for teams to visualize their key projects in a timeline view, it wasn’t always easy to understand progress. More importantly, it wasn’t easy for teams to identify whether projects were ahead or behind schedule. To solve that problem for our users, we introduced a new and improved version of roadmaps that included Red, Yellow, Green project status as well as the ability to view a predicted end date for Epics.
To better understand the impact that this feature has had for our users, I reached out to Julie Garrah from our Customer Success team who works with some of our largest customers to help setup and build their roadmaps.
Bringing automation to ZenHub Workspaces
ZenHub Workspaces introduced the ability to create multiple boards using the same underlying set of GitHub repositories. As we worked with larger and larger organizations, we often saw key differences between how individual teams worked but a common set of repositories that these teams worked out of. In the best of cases, this forced teams to compromise their way of working in order to accommodate for the needs of the wider organization.
When we launched ZenHub Workspaces, we put an end to teams having to find compromise when it came to their workflows. At the same time however, we introduced a new challenge for teams to keep their Issues and work in sync between their different workspaces. This year we set out to solve that challenge and shipped Automated Workflows: a way to automate the movement of issues across workspaces based on a series of rules created by the team.
Jonny Kalambay led the development efforts for the front-end of Automated Workflows and talked about what it was like to work on the feature from the initial MVP through to the final finished product and the time savings this feature created for our users.
Our marketing team was looking for a scalable way to efficiently manage the marketing website without having to rely on the development team for every change. Up until now, ZenHub’s marketing website had been built in-house and every page was hardcoded. If we wanted to make even a simple copy or graphic change, it required us to create an Issue in GitHub and wait for that work to be prioritized into an upcoming sprint cycle.
This past quarter we set out to eliminate that dependency and sourced an external agency to help us rebuild our website and select a CMS that was powerful but flexible enough to allow our marketing and design team to take full control.
While this project was truly a team effort, our Visual Designer, Theresa Chong, played a major role in coordinating the project and defining elements of our newly refreshed brand.
Looking ahead to 2021
It would be easy to reflect back on the last year and focus on all the challenges 2020 threw our way—there certainly were a number of them! And while we may not have accomplished everything we set out to last January, the fact that we were able to persevere through everything is a true testament to our team and our users. I can’t say enough how much all of us at ZenHub appreciate your support, and appreciate how many of you stuck by us despite the immense pressure that 2020 put on every business.
As we look ahead to the upcoming year, I can truly say that I’ve never been more excited about the opportunity that lays ahead of us. We have some incredible news that we can’t wait to share with you in the New Year and are looking forward to making this the best year yet. As this year comes to a close, I hope all of you take some time to recharge and have a safe and happy holiday season!