Nowadays, it's hard to turn on the news or go online and not hear about non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrencies, and blockchains. For the average person, these concepts may seem daunting and inaccessible. Enter Dapper Labs. Dapper Labs is on a mission to bring Web3 technologies down to earth, enabling regular folks to access and experience real-world blockchain applications.
Founded in 2018, Dapper Labs builds on the Flow blockchain to offer a slew of games and services, including:
- NFT-based marketplaces of timeless sports moments in football, MMA, and basketball (NBA Top Shot, NFL ALL DAY, UFC Strike)
- Blockchain-based online games (CryptoKitties, Cheeze Wizards)
- Dapper, a wallet to store and secure online assets
This focus has positioned Dapper Labs at the ground level of the emerging Web3 and Metaverse ecosystems. “Many of the people entering into Web3 now are running into the problems that Dapper Labs ran into and solved years ago,” says Software Engineering Manager Sean Robb. “One of the reasons I came here was because I felt it was one of the places I could make the biggest impact.”
As a decentralized person-and-play-focused company built on blockchain, Dapper Labs is well-positioned to plug into the Web3 and Metaverse environments. But with so many different teams to keep in sync, the Dapper team needed exactly what its developers aim to deliver to their customers: simple tools that empower users. Dapper Labs teams leverage Zenhub to keep process and program management simple and streamlined.
Separate teams with a common goal needed alignment but flexibility
While Dapper Labs started with a single blockchain-based game—CryptoKitties—it has since branched out from its roots, explains Engineering Manager Bob Wei. "We're shifting towards being an ecosystem. We have Flow, Dapper, and multiple products on top of that. And with multiple, separate development teams working on separate projects, managing the work of each product team and keeping those teams coordinated is critical to the business' success."
To keep things interconnected but individually functional, development teams are set up in pods organized around their product focus.
"The idea was to align everyone with the same goal and make our day-to-day activities more transparent," Bob explains. "So, for example, the Dapper team has its own pods, as does the NBA Top Shot team. Each pod is a cross-functional team that includes PM, EM, UX, QA, and some SRE. Methodologies for pods are unified within individual product teams, but we have not set up a specific process foundation for all the teams. With the pod approach, each team has some flexibility to decide how long its sprints will be and when it's going to release things. And we can shift people around without having to retrain anyone."
As Dapper Labs has grown and taken on new projects and challenges, it has found the need to split teams up further.
"For example, we pitched the idea that we wanted the Metaverse to be the gravity of the Dapper platform. We wanted to be the reason that customers and apps would come into the Dapper ecosystem," Sean explains. "Whatever we needed to build to accomplish that would be our focus. As we saw, that could be many different things. So, we've already split into two teams, and we could probably split into more. And we need to be able to keep those teams coordinated and in sync without manually moving issues around."
When Sean first joined Dapper Labs in 2021, the company's user base was growing by leaps and bounds, putting a lot of strain on teams to keep up. "We were putting out fires for the first three or four months that I was here," he says. “When you’re in that mode, it’s tough to track what’s being done. I absolutely trusted that the engineers knew what the biggest fires were, but it was very difficult to track any metric when that was happening.”
Both Sean and Bob say that many project management tools can offer many features and functionalities to help team leaders manage processes, but they also come with significant overhead. “It’s hard for me to say I love project management tools,” says Sean, “so I wanted one that would let me manage my projects without trying to manage me.”
Bringing teams together without getting in the way
ZenHub’s features and modular structure were perfect for the decentralized but not entirely asynchronous structure Dapper Labs wanted.
“We use two central repos for front- and back-end issues,” Sean says, “which break down and link up into the individualized workflows of each team.
"It’s helpful that we can have issues represented on multiple boards. And that centralization has enabled us to streamline our processes broadly while still leaving room for individual teams to tweak their own workflows."
Sean Robb, Software Engineering Manager
By using filtering tools, teams can stay focused on their work while stakeholders and managers can see the whole picture,” Sean says.
And, of course, issues need to move between teams as well, which is where Zenhub’s workflow automation features kick in. “With pipelines and workflows set up properly, I haven’t had any major pain points handling handoffs between teams,” Bob says.
The ability to create customized sprint cadences has kept work organized based on each individual team’s needs while allowing team leads to establish schedules for review and synchronization.
"Zenhub offers the fundamentals while including useful additions, like planning poker. Using planning poker and high-priority tagging makes it easy to set and see priorities."
Bob Wei, Engineering Manager
And ZenHub’s ability to group related tasks into broader epics has proved helpful for organization, Sean adds. “I’m super epic-focused when it comes to how I talk to teams, especially as I have more of them. I can see all the issues and filter them at that level. I use that functionality a lot to ensure I’m not getting distracted because I’m an engineer, and I’m as capable of getting into the weeds as much as anyone else.”
Implementing agile was a natural progression
Sean explains that as a lightweight tool purpose-built for agile, Zenhub helped Dapper Labs teams incorporate more of the principles of agile into their processes.
“I think of that agile principle, of not letting processes get in the way of people,” Sean says. “When I’m creating issues, for example, I can write whatever I want and create a lot of different templates. Working with other tools, I’ve sometimes found issues were so difficult to create that people would go ahead and do the work because that was easier. Sometimes there were pages of information on how to fill out an issue for each team. So, I love that Zenhub gets out of your way and lets you communicate human-to-human if there are questions.”
Bob adds that Zenhub’s simpler, plug-and-play solution for agile started to change how he thought about tooling and organization.
"It forced me to think in a simpler way and made me question what I really need from a tool. If you have too many features, you have too much overhead. Zenhub clears out a lot of things that are ultimately extraneous, simplifies the flow of information, and ensures that everyone is drawing on a single source of truth."
Bob Wei, Engineering Manager
And Bob emphasizes that the combination of Zenhub’s velocity metrics and customizable boards has made sprint planning and velocity analysis much more effortless.
“It’s really hard to do project planning without knowing how much your team can get done in a certain amount of time,” Bob says.
Using a scrum framework in alignment with Zenhub has provided more clarity, making communication with outside stakeholders much easier. We can show them the board and our average team velocity, and then it becomes much easier to communicate whether we can take something extra on or not."
Bob Wei, Engineering Manager
Home in on agile with Zenhub
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With powerful automation, planning, and estimation tools, Zenhub enables teams to integrate their agile practices directly into their workflows. Sign up now to improve your agile team’s collaboration and project visibility today.