To many, genius is the ability to make things look easy. If you’re really good at something, you can make a complex task look simple.
Boiling down the complex has been Kubermatic’s mission since 2016. The Kubermatic Kubernetes Platform (KKP) is a complete Kubernetes management solution for enterprises. It addresses the operational challenges of managing Kubernetes at scale. With a self-service developer and operations portal, the KKP enables DevOps teams to manage containerized workloads across hybrid-cloud, multi-cloud, and edge environments in an infrastructure-agnostic and vendor-neutral platform.
What sets the KKP apart is its emphasis on automation. Automating deployment and full cluster life cycle management makes Kubernetes easy to run in deployment and frees up time and energy for development teams to focus on high-quality, innovative deliverables.
“We chose to have no repeatable tasks not be automated,” says Sascha Haase, VP of Edge at Kubermatic. “In essence, we wanted to reduce complexity, and make IT and OT infrastructure easy to use and consume.”
Released in early 2017, the platform was certified for Kubernetes by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) before the end of the year. In 2019, the company decided to move all development onto GitHub. When Sascha joined in 2020, he started looking for ways to improve the company’s use of GitHub by leveraging some of the strengths of its own offerings: powerful automation that allows developers to streamline workflows and focus on the actual development work, rather than boring and tedious administrative work around development.
“I’m a huge fan of not changing tools every day,” Sascha says. “A large, distributed network of people all had to be able to work together efficiently and cohesively in GitHub, without having to bounce between tools. So, we needed a project management platform that would make project management simpler by making it easier for teams to coordinate, providing clear and comprehensive data on velocity, and automation to handle busywork.”
Project coordination and management were complicated
What made project management a challenge was the same thing that contributed to Kubermatic’s ability to innovate.
Kubermatic made the early decision to expand its hiring pool worldwide. While it paid off by attracting top talent, it also inevitably created logistical challenges. Coordinating over 100 team members spread across 25 countries and a half-dozen time zones was a significant task. Setting up meetings and ensuring handoffs went smoothly required constant effort and maintenance.
In this environment, planning product release dates was unreliable. Teams had difficulties coordinating and lacked tools that provided rich information on progress and velocity, which made making accurate predictions or checking on the status of projects difficult. As a result, the company tended to plan release windows rather than dates and sometimes had difficulty hitting them. As with most development teams, ensuring they could always hit release dates became a major priority.
And while teams were leveraging some of the strengths of GitHub—its excellent alignment with open source projects, and being the centralized location for discussion and contributions—there were drawbacks to using GitHub alone. For example, tickets needed to be manually copied over, which created inefficiencies and errors; GitHub has no native workflow automation features, and sprints needed to be manually planned and organized. “Using GitHub in a coordinated way is not possible with GitHub alone,” Sascha says.
“When I joined, there was a clear company goal,” he explains. “We wanted work to be organized and managed a little better, and we needed to do something about it. So, I started looking into all the available project management tools, and it soon became clear that ZenHub was the right choice. I immediately recognized that it makes a lot of sense for companies whose code lives in GitHub to use ZenHub.”
Sascha says other tools didn’t offer what Kubermatic considers so critical to developers: powerful, simple automation. Without the ability to automate tasks like handoffs or to auto-propagate information, thereby reducing both errors and busywork, other tools couldn’t offer what Kubermatic needed to optimize its own internal workflows.
ZenHub’s productivity management platform enables easier collaboration without more oversight
ZenHub’s automation and modular framework has proven to be a perfect fit for Kubermatic’s distributed development teams. With ZenHub, teams are now able to organize themselves into sub-teams that are represented by workspace boards to leverage specific skills for specific tasks. By creating their own stories, issues, epics, and tickets, these teams can coordinate development processes easily, despite geographic and time-zone challenges.
Even if one of the team members is in China, another is in Eastern Europe, and another is in Italy, they always know what is going on. Despite being as much as eight hours apart, they can coordinate seamlessly. They only need a small overlap meeting, and sometimes even without a meeting, everything is clear. And with automated handoffs handling the movement of tasks between teams, there are no hiccups when it comes time for a task to change hands.
Sascha Haase, VP of Edge at Kubermatic
Sascha emphasizes that with a dispersed team, tracking velocity is difficult but critical. ZenHub’s velocity chart and reporting features have enabled much more accurate velocity tracking without introducing a lot of extra work or heavy lifting.
By using ZenHub’s burndown charts and milestones, all teams are now able to ensure projects are on-track or identify pain points that may explain why one has fallen behind. Tools like planning poker not only improve velocity for multi-developer projects but provide valuable data for even one developer working alone. And by making it easy to estimate small tasks and collate them together, overall estimation has become both easier and more accurate.
Sprints and epics have also played a significant role in improving both efficiency and productivity.
"By making it easy to keep track of specific tasks and see them as part of a broader workflow, prioritization and organization have become much easier. Even very complex tasks are much simpler to organize from the get-go. And by generating general estimates from individual-task estimates, teams have greater confidence in the accuracy of their velocity projections."
VP of Edge at Kubermatic
For example, Kubermatic’s test epic contains over 90 sub-epics, which are broken down further into sub-issues. By providing a clear and comprehensive overview of the individual components of the sub-issues, how they fit into each of the sub-epics, and how those sub-epics come together into the broader epic, ZenHub provides the visibility and clarity that is critical to Agile processes. It enables teams to easily re-prioritize work as needed, making them more flexible and responsive and ensuring that they aren’t spending time on deliverables that are no longer a priority. “ZenHub makes applying Agile logic very easy,” Sascha says. “ZenHub does Agile right.”
New tools enable a stable release rhythm and ever-increasing velocity
Sascha says that while Kubermatic teams were initially hesitant about adding another tool to the GitHub process, ZenHub has proven to be an important and valuable addition that’s engrained in their developer culture.
With the superior insight into the development process that ZenHub provides, managing and coordinating the work of widely dispersed teams is a lot easier. The roadmaps that provide automated insights into deadline trajectories allow teams to remove challenges before they cause delays and affect releases. This has resulted in significant improvements in velocity, including:
- A 40% increase in epics completed for 3 consecutive releases from when ZenHub was introduced in October 2020 to January 2021
- A stabilized rhythm of regular releases 6 weeks after a Kubernetes release with no delays
As a result, Kubermatic was able to move from having release windows to firm release dates. And since integrating ZenHub into its processes, Kubermatic hasn’t missed a single date.
“We've repeatedly not only hit our deadlines and achieved what we wanted to achieve on-time,” Sascha says, “but we were also able to do it without adding a lot of people to improve productivity. Having this confidence in our process is important.”
And as a purpose-built product for working in Agile, ZenHub has made it easier for Kubermatic to leverage many of the strengths of the Agile process.
“In the last sprint review, it was fascinating to discover that from sprint to sprint, we always achieved the same average of weighted points. A team of 3 to 4 people cleared around 50 to 60 points in a biweekly sprint. This has happened in the past year. It’s really great to see, and it's a lot of fun.”
Sascha concludes by noting that ZenHub has, in fact, become integral to all processes at Kubermatic, beyond development. Over 70% of the company, including non-traditional teams such as marketing and finance, have migrated over to ZenHub for project management, and the goal is to move everyone onto the platform.
"When we first introduced ZenHub, we had discussions where people would ask: ‘Is this worth it?’ And I’d tell them to bear with me a little longer and they would see the benefits for themselves as developers. At every step of integration, ZenHub proved itself. The developers now see the benefits and so do other teams in the company."
VP of Edge at Kubermatic
ZenHub can simplify and optimize your team’s processes
ZenHub enables software teams at startups and scaleups to build better code faster by providing a developer-friendly productivity management platform. As the industry’s only platform that lets teams plan, track, and optimize work across public and private GitHub repositories in one place, ZenHub helps open source projects improve project transparency.
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