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Posted on Aug 7, 2017

Annotate PRO: Retrospective, Roadmap & August – September 2017 Goals

A key component of modern software development is the retrospective.

After every sprint the ‘pigs’ on the team gather to candidly assess successes and challenges.

Typically sprints are two to three weeks in length and a retrospective would be time-boxed to an hour.

I’ve seen retrospectives work beautifully using PostIt notes and Sharpies to brainstorm short descriptions of wins and losses, get them up on a board without commentary, and then arrange looking for patterns. You can use Google Drawing to do the same thing, especially if team members aren’t all together in a room. See the example, from another software team, below.

Example Retrospective Board

Click to see a larger version of this image.

It doesn’t matter what this team has written down, or that it is focused on software development. What matters is they shared, in an egalitarian way, catagorized to look for patterns (yes! color coding!), and took a positive approach to continuous improvement.

Pigs and Chickens

A core story to software development, and really any undertaking of signifance, is the story of pigs and chickens at breakfast.

Pigs are committed. Chickens are interested.

Retrospectives, and really all the work and processes of a team, should be decided by pigs. Not chickens who parachute in to share their wisdom, then flit off without accountability.

The metaphor is maybe a little harsh (sorry vegans)…but hey, it’s only a metaphor.

 

Retrospectives force honesty, and they help you refine estimates and learn from your mistakes – equally important in education as in software development.

Back in April I wrote about 11trees’ plans for May through July. Basically:

  1. Create a unified sign in process, so Annotate PRO users could access their library from Microsoft Word and Google Chrome, making it easy to create comments in Word 2016, Google Docs, or almost any website.
  2. Publishing Annotate PRO to the iOS app store so iPad users could use it with Microsoft Word on iPad.
  3. Adding the ability to create new comments and sort them.
  4. Simplify the process to provide clients with custom libraries of comments. 

Annotate PRO running on an iPad
Not available to general users yet…sob!

Support for Multiple Libraries
Available to institutional clients and coming to all users by September.

So how’d we do? And what’s next?

  1. Unified sign in process
    This is done. You can edit your library using a full web browser, then refresh your library in Google Chrome and Microsoft Word to use those comments in either place.
  2. Publish Annotate PRO to the iOS app store
    Not done. But we tried. Microsoft and Apple rejected our application because Annotate PRO offers in-app purchases. Which Apple doesn’t allow unless you pay their tariff. We also weren’t delighted with the user experience on iPad and so are going to take another run at this in September. We believe simply disabling “install new library” and similar buttons in our iPad version (running inside Word 2016 for iPad) will get us past Apple. We’ll see! We definitely hear the interest in an iPad app.
  3. Add the ability to create new comments and sort them.
    You have always had plenty of empty comment ‘slots’ to use in our libraries – to add your own comments. But not the ability to add new ones, or new groups or libraries. We’ve completed the architectural improvements necessary to support multiple comment libraries and user-created groups and new comments. We hope to have them live by the end of August.
  4. Simplify the process to provide clients with custom libraries.
    We’ve largely accomplished this. We’ve on-boarded some significant new clients who needed much more sophistication around libraries – different libraries for different purposes, the ability to limit editing for some users and other capabilitites. The screenshot at left shows a general example of a more powerful library experience. This will play out for all users soon. So you might have our College Edition library as a good, core library, but then create assignment or course-specific libraries you can choose to use on the fly. And share with your colleages (site license clients).

So we did okay against our goals. Not great. There were many technical roadblocks, mostly unseen or unanticipated. And a couple of major wins – that took a lot of effort and that weren’t really on our radar in April: automatically adding comment bubbles in Word 2016 and formatting text in comments.

Annotate PRO now supports clickable links and some formatting of text for Microsoft Word 2016 and Google Docs. So if you want to bold some text in a comment, you can – write it once in your Annotate PRO library and we’ll handle formatting it properly for Google Docs and Microsoft Word. If you include a plain-text link, like www.google.com, we’ll automatically convert it to www.google.com. Here’s a deeper dive on the options and limitations.

More miraculously, in Word 2016, when you select a comment (using Search or a Favorite button or scrolling through your library or typing a Free Form comment) we’ll automatically create a comment bubble and insert the text.

This is a significant improvement over Word’s own capabilities. With the Annotate PRO task pane open, you can just type a comment in the Free Form area, then tab to Insert, then click space to actuate the button. Or type then click the Insert button.

This is a savings of a click or two and a half second or so per comment. And if you use your Annotate PRO library? Zoom zoom! See the screenshot below for an illustration.

So, with the traditional school year upon us we’re feeling pretty good about progress. Hopefully by the time school is in swing, and certainly by the time the first writing rolls in, we’ll have a lot more to show based on the groundwork we’ve already laid.