How to keep effectiveness and love your tools like a boss

This is the first post of a series about project production, tools, and team communication. I’ll be happy to share anything we do and love at Soixante circuits.

A bit of history

At Soixante circuits, we build projects of different scales and types. From the one-week web-based interactive prototypes to the three months edgy and technologically advanced digital activation or installation. Our clients range from artists and architects to brands and agencies mostly in luxury and fashion.

We have always put organization and information in the center of our work. We think that tools and methodologies are essentials when it comes to working better and faster, in any type of company.

Back in 2008, when we were three geeks in a garage (well, ok, three engineers in a big loft), we were using Samba (let say an app to share files) and an old Debian machine running on our LAN. We called it Einstein and we loved it.

He knows everything:

  • our schedule with Webcal
  • our shared data with Samba: images, briefs, responses, resumé, PSDs files, etc
  • our versioning software was bazaar
  • our project management with Redmine
  • our accounting with custom tools that we developed in PHP (thanks to Anthony)

In the beginning, everything was “home made” and open source software based. Open source helped us a lot to start fast

We maintained Einstein and took care about security. We used some good old classics like fail2ban and other packages, to make sure that no one could come in and hack us just for fun. Unfortunately in late 2011, it became really hard to keep up on two points: The maintenance part and the speed accessibility.

The speed accessibility

We actually started to work remotely, and depending on the ADSL connection, speed was an issue when working from the USA or anywhere in Asia. Waiting for a page to load, just to be able to edit an invoice or to send a bill was a pain. Accessing files was also an issue as we started to have large movies or 3D assets with big textures to handle.

The maintenance part

Einstein was a nice guy. He knew how to handle the local network and the WiFi. Delivering files at high 1 Gb/s speed. It was the Valhalla. Unfortunately, he needed lots of help to support the increasing demand of entering connections, and the increasing number of attack attempts. And before we saw it, someone got in. Without much trouble the newb got in and we decided to progressively stop using it.

We finally unplugged it.

The move to SAAS

We smoothly decided to move to SAAS. At first Dropbox. But their granularity control over files was really bad. Meaning, giving read access without write access was impossible. This should have been a standard… but Dropbox always seems to have thought that it was a Pro feature. We stayed with Dropbox for a year and we moved away to Google Drive 3 years ago.

Should I talk about our short journey to Google Wave ? We tried it and loved it. Actually as soon as we started to discover the advertisement, fashion events, and luxury industries, we’ve been trying to escape from the EMAIL hell.

© Daria Nepriakhina

Wave was great, but it had way too much features and it was trying to totally replace the email instead of just trying to improve the communication while keeping the email where it should be : a letter for the 21th century. Wave has been discontinued in 2010.

Now, you must think: wait you’ve got lots of stuff to move? What about your Webcal, and your source code, and your project management tools… your accounting?

We tested and tried lots of various open source solution and SAAS. We finally retained a workflow that we are all pleased with and that we actually love to use.

We are now a little team of 8 people with Developers, UI Designer, Artistic director, Project manager, Creative director and founders. And here we are sharing our workflow with you.


The workflow

Today, we use SAAS only services and here is how all that works. I will describe each app in a separate articles soon, but for now, here is an overview of the entire suite of tools we use.

Slack: Our best friend when it comes to effortless and quick communication, without any friction

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux

We use slack to communicate internally and to share thoughts about projects and news relative to our business. Here are our rules:

  • We never use the private message feature: its sucks for team as whole,
  • As soon as brief or an idea comes in, a private group is created,
  • We share a maximum of work created, within the associated group : screenshots, planning, good news, anything really…
  • Chanel name for new project, while still in pre-production phase is always prefixed with the ”nb-” , meaning New Business.

Slack is great, but it is volatile, meaning we do not use it to store things. For storing things we rely on Google Drive.

Google Drive: Good buddy keeping every single file synchronized and accessible to all team members.

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux (python tooling)

Google Drive is fast, simple and cheap. We use it to store everything. We have an accurate scaffolding that follow this architecture:

  • Archives
  • Productions
  • Administrations

Archives folder is reserved, well for past projects, where we order everything by year, client, and finally the project name.

Productions folder contains all the projects we are working on in a span of a current year. With the structure as follows:

Again Client and Project name for the name of each folder, and inside:

  1. Material folder: containing any material provided by the client or third parties for the production of the project
  2. Project folder: containing all the project files (ai, psds, txt sources and rendered)
  3. Presentation folder: with all the types of presentations we produce
  4. Documents: Everything related to organization
  5. Managements: the name speak by itself

Bitbucket: Guardian of our code, allows fast prototyping and good organisation of a project

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux (yes you can get git running everywhere)

On bitbucket we store the source code of our project. The folder name is the same as on Slack. And well how the code is organized is an other story.

Toggl: Keep an eye on the time you spent doing things

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux

To learn ourselves about how we work, and to improve the entire production process, we track our time, from the project managers to the artistic director. Tracking time allow us to shed more light on efficiency, reality of costs, estimations and bulky time of every project. This allows better scaling and estimations of future projects by learning from our past experiences. You can only improve the future if you know the past. That is all.

You can only improve the future if you know the past.

We have setup tags, in order for the team to be able to tag everything accordingly.

Trello: Simple, yet ultra practical tasks manager

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux

Trello is one of our besties. We really love to use it for the projects planning, tracking the tasks, and the sales lead (yes we do that).

The boards on Trello all got the same name as the ones on the slack group. We use the default columns:

  • todo
  • doing / Processing
  • done

For larger scale projects we add few columns of our own:

  • ready to deploy
  • fridge
  • nice to have
  • mandatory

Google Calendar: One calendar sharable accross all device with everybody.

iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux

You have certainly used it, it’s a simple and efficient tool. It syncs fast on Android, iPhone and web, allowing us to now on the go, what events or releases are approaching.

Embrace the web

As you might have noticed, we are cross-platform. We use OSX, Ubuntu and Windows computers. Our team owns iPhones, Android and even Windows phones. Sorry no more Blackberry.

All this applications are on the web and use API to sync with local client on various devices. It’s the same kind of methodology we use when developing our own software.

Summarize

Brief comes in, a private group is created on Slack with a specific name, after that the board with exact same name is created on Trello, Google Drive, Bitbucket and Toggl. After that anyone can join in the party and work efficiently.

Keep moving and make sure your data could come with you

We have been migrating our data from our own server to SAAS and we have kept an eye of the options we had to move again from SAAS to something else. When choosing a service the most important thing is to know how to leave it.

About the author: Gabriel Delattre is a human, signal processing engineer, the dad of Pia and the founder of the Soixante circuits studio.