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How the Global Biodiversity Information Facility uses ZenHub to track work

GBIF—the Global Biodiversity Information Facility—aims to provide anyone, anywhere, open access data about when and where all types of life occur on Earth. With a network that includes more than 100 formal participants and more than 1,600 data-sharing institutions from 130-odd countries, GBIF is a massive worldwide collaboration. The scale of the biodiversity data that GBIF works with requires shared data standards and conventions to allow data from a wide spectrum of sources and regions to be brought together.

A 30-person Secretariat in Copenhagen, Denmark, handles the coordination of this network. We spoke with Federico Méndez Hernández from the Informatics team in Copenhagen about how they use ZenHub to streamline their processes.

GBIF turns to ZenHub as a project management solution

When looking for a project management tool, GBIF looked for a solution that would integrate easily with GitHub. They found ZenHub to have the ideal balance of functionality and simplicity compared to other alternatives; as Federico explains, JIRA added unnecessary complexity, whereas GitHub Projects couldn’t offer the needed customization. ZenHub offered a straightforward experience, while still allowing a personalized workflow that integrates Issues from multiple GitHub repositories into a single view.

Federico shared that they found the onboarding process for ZenHub to be smooth. “We’re a small and busy team that didn’t want to invest too much time learning, installing, and configuring tools”, he explains.

Federico isn’t alone in his praises for ZenHub. As he explains, experienced team members have their preference for specific tools they’ve used in the past, which often leads to some hesitation in trying new tools. Most of us are probably familiar with this experience; project management tools generally come with a difficult learning process and take time to feel like part of the workflow. At GBIF, ZenHub became an exception and was welcomed and widely accepted by the team.

How the GBIF uses ZenHub

GBIF initially turned to ZenHub as a way to manage and prioritize the work associated with their data ingestion platform. This effort requires the integration of multiple projects and systems, each containing an ever-growing number of tasks. To combat disorganization and lack of clarity, the GBIF utilized ZenHub to coordinate this work.

Having had success with this, GBIF has expanded their use of ZenHub to keep track of organization-wide activities, spanning beyond software development and IT tasks.

We asked GBIF to share with us the benefits they have seen since the adoption of ZenHub. Below, we’ll cover some of these benefits, as well as some ways you can apply ZenHub to your own workflow to get these same advantages.

Comprehensive, consolidated overview of work

Prior to working with ZenHub, GBIF found it challenging to have a clear overview of their work. It was difficult to keep track of work in progress and see the status of tasks. ZenHub offers a solution to this problem, providing both high-level overviews to facilitate long-term planning and more detailed views to manage day-to-day work.

ZenHub’s Roadmapping tool serves as a way for teams to see upcoming plans, providing the GBIF Informatics team at-a-glance information on the status of long-term goals. Intuitive color-coding allows teams to quickly see whether certain pieces of work are staying on track or falling behind schedule.

Meanwhile, the ZenHub Board provides a detailed look at the status of day-to-day work. Pipelines can be customized to represent each stage of a workflow. As a task moves through these stages, the GitHub Issue representing the task travels through the Pipelines. This allows the entire team to instantly see the status of a specific task. It also provides information on how much work a team already has in progress – critical information for resource planning.

ZenHub allows you to work in a fully customizable way. Integrate multiple GitHub Repositories into a single view – set up your Boards, Roadmaps, and Reports to work best for your team, regardless of how your code is organized inside of GitHub. Teams can work across multiple repositories without sacrificing the ability to have a single, consolidated way to manage their work.

Informatics complete Kanban board cards

Increased autonomy for teams and individuals

GBIF found that ZenHub allowed individuals to work more autonomously, without relying on the detailed instructions from their line managers. The results are an overall increase in efficiency with fewer bottlenecks in the process. ZenHub accommodates autonomous work with little overhead in various ways.

As Federico mentioned, ZenHub offers a low barrier to entry with a straightforward onboarding process. Anyone with access to a GitHub Repository can create Issues to represent tasks. Managers can easily label Issues or assign them to specific individuals. Epics ensure that developers are able to quickly see the work they’ve been assigned, as well as the business context of the tasks they’re working on.

ZenHub also comes with the ability to set up automated Workflows. Automated Workflows allow teams or individuals to customize their process to suit their unique needs, and for these distinct workflows to be personalized, but interlinked. For example, a QA team may choose to have their own Board, separate from the development team. However, they may want to work with the same GitHub Issues. Automated Workflows can synchronize the Pipelines of these two Boards. When the development team finishes a task, it moves automatically on the QA Board, communicating that this task is ready to be tested. This creates a single source of truth, and allows information to stay up to date for both teams without relying on team members moving Issues manually.

Traceability of interlinked tasks

Large organizations with many moving parts will inevitably see dependencies between different pieces of work. Keeping track of these dependencies can be challenging, but the successful management of these interlinked tasks is often critical to an organization’s progress and success.

ZenHub’s Dependencies functionality allows teams to mark which tasks are dependent on the completion of other tasks. This information is displayed on both the Board as well as the specific Issues. Teams can see at-a-glance which pieces of work to tackle first. Additionally, Dependencies automatically update as Issues are closed, ensuring information stays up to date.

ZenHub also elevates GitHub’s Pull Requests, allowing them to be connected to Issues. Developers can mark exactly which Issue a Pull Request corresponds with. Like Dependencies, these Connected Pull Requests also update automatically – connecting a Pull Request to an Issue can trigger the Issue to move to a designated Pipeline.

For tasks that build up to a larger piece of work, Issues can be added to Epics, Milestones, or Releases. ZenHub offers various ways to group Issues, making it easy to communicate the larger context of tasks.

Transparency in prioritization of work

Identifying and focusing on the highest priority tasks is critical to an organization’s efficiency. This was one of the challenges the GBIF faced, and an area they saw improvement once they turned to ZenHub for their project management solution.

ZenHub offers various ways to communicate the prioritization of work. The Board allows Issues to be sorted by priority within a Pipeline, with the highest priority Issues clearly marked and pinned at the top.

Additionally, ZenHub offers various reporting tools that help you highlight bottlenecks and inefficiencies. For example, the Control Chart allows you to see which Pipeline Issues are spending the most time in, which can illustrate bottlenecks in your process. The Velocity Report gives you historical data on your team’s velocity, allowing you to identify and address a decrease in productivity. These tools can help you pinpoint the areas in your process where you can make changes that will have the greatest impact on your team’s effectiveness.

a Control chart example in ZenHub

GBIF works with biological data at an immense and international scale, it needs to juggle countless moving parts while optimizing the use of limited resources just like many other fast-moving and dynamic software projects. A streamlined and easy-to-use project management tool is a critical solution for teams facing such challenges. ZenHub was designed with these challenges in mind, and balances customization with simplicity.

Whether your organization spans the globe, or your small team is just starting to fulfil its mission, ZenHub offers a project management solution that can suit the needs of your team.

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