Archive for October, 2010

Launch an App Month – Simple WorkFlow task manager

Over the weekend, someone over on Hacker News posted a challenge – Make November launch an app month.

I have a day job in a ‘large enterprise’, so to get an app launched by November, even the end of it, it would need to be small enough to go from concept to minimal viable product in just under 2 months of evenings.  From past experience, if I cannot get a viable product going in that time, I will lose interest and abandon it, so picking something small is even more important.

I have been searching for a new project for a while, and was recently inspired by email overload while managing simple tasks in my day job, which gave me an idea for a new project.

Application Idea

In any large enterprise, there are different groups of people responsible for different systems and different teams responsible for different parts of the same systems.  For example, Application Support are responsible for the day to day running of the system, the DBA team look after low level database related things.  The release management team install code, Application Support run scripts and reports, etc.

To achieve any non-trivial task on a system, often several teams need to be involved and co-ordinate tasks one after the other or in parallel between teams (eg shutdown the application, backup the database, create a new tablespace, upgrade the application …).  Then there are the managers and delivery managers that need/want to be kept informed along the way, not to mention auditing the output of commands etc.

These problems don’t just occur during code releases either – when the enterprise goes into crisis management mode, often many teams have to carry out daily manual work arounds that need to be coordinated and reported on by even more anxious managers.

Where I work, this is managed with a mish-mash of phone calls, emails and spreadsheets.  So that got me thinking, what *my team* needs to make this easier is a very simple work flow app.


The application would:

  • Allow a ‘task owner’ to create a task plan
  • The task plan would have a title, overview of its purpose and start date and time.
  • The task owner can add a series of tasks to the task plan to be executed in series or in parallel
  • Each task would have an implementer, instructions and perhaps file attachments, like scripts to execute etc.
  • Once the date and time for the plan is approached, the app would email the implementer (and any subscribed interested parties) the details of the first task.
  • Upon completion, the implementer would enter any log messages or relevant information and mark the task complete (this could be done by replying to the original email to save actually logging into the app).
  • The app would then email the next implementer and interested parties and so on until all the tasks are completed.
  • Afterward, the log of the event can be kept around for as long as required.
  • Interested managers can chose to subscribe to updates on the task plan on a task by task basis or at the start and end of the task as they see fit.

Now, I am pretty certain that if I looked around the inter-webs, a product just like this would exist, probably something hideous like ‘Oracle Work Flow Manager’ or something from PeopleSoft or SAP with more bells and whistles than Santa’s sleigh.  My aim here is to make a *simple* work flow app with as few features a possible to solve simple work flows.  If your problems involve flows charts and branching decision trees, this idea is not for you!

The requirements above are probably the minimum necessary, but there are tons on potential features that could be added if the product got some traction.

So what do people think?

Would you use an app like this?

Does it sound useful?

Are there lots of tools out there already that do something just like this and are easy to use?

In a few days, I hope to post a html mock-up of some UI ideas in an effort to crowd source some feedback on my idea before really digging into code.  If you are interested please subscribe to my RSS feed and I will try and build this product out in the open.


October 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment