During the development and manufacturing of the personal robot “Pepper,” Softbank used Backlog to bring their idea to life. Atsuyuki Matsuda of their Global Business Development department shares with us why they chose Backlog and how they used it.
Can you tell us about the work you do to provide some context?
I belong to the department responsible for the business planning and promotion of Pepper. Pepper currently comes in two models, Corporate and Home. So far, “Pepper for Biz” (i.e. their Corporate model) has been introduced to more than 1700 companies.
In our division, I promote new projects for corporations and support their implementation. We also support developers using Pepper’s “RoboApps” application. We plan to operate the “Pepper Partner Program,” which supports RoboApps development for our partner companies, as well as planning and operation of the “Robo Application Market” which sells RoboApps developed by our partners for customers using Pepper for Biz. We also share information with the developer community.
How is the workload divided within the department?
To further expand the utilization of Pepper for Biz, it is important we promote new robot apps and solutions development while strengthening cooperation with certified partners. We use Backlog to ease information sharing in various fields. Specifically, it serves three purposes.
First, we use it to respond to inquiries from companies participating in the "Pepper Partner Program" and to manage progress within the company.
Second is aftercare and communication with certified partner companies. For certified partner companies, we offer services such as RoboApps Safety Review, Technical Support, Training, and Certification Logo License Agreements. Since close communication is required, we give Backlog accounts to our Certified Partner Companies to help everyone work smoothly together.
Third, as part of the marketing strategy, we are planning and developing RoboApps in collaboration with various outside companies. Many people are involved, and communication becomes very complicated. We use Backlog as a management tool.
When adding new projects to Backlog, each project name is made up of the application name and company name.
"Communication and project management was a challenge."
What problems did you have before using Backlog?
As the manager, I was responsible for overseeing the progress of the project, and overall, I felt that the bottleneck was in email communication and management methodology.
Previously, I used spreadsheets with email and sharing functions to handle our project management. With e-mail, it's necessary to secure time for managing tasks, and information-sharing is difficult. As with the Pepper Partner Program mentioned earlier, the number of people involved is always growing, as we are always collaborating with other companies. When new members join mid-way through a project, there used to be an information gap for them.
As the number collaborators increased, it became difficult to grasp exactly who was involved in the project. Minimizing these management and communication costs was a major challenge.
How did using Backlog change things?
We sent a questionnaire to my department [to measure the effects of Backlog], and many colleagues said that the number of emails they sent and received decreased as well as the time spent checking email overall. Also, because progress is visualized with a Gantt chart, we are able to reduce the number of tasks behind schedule. In addition, people joining in the middle of the project can now follow the progress of the project immediately and get up to speed quicker. People also better understood who was in charge of each task. As the manager, it was easier to confirm the progress of a project because I could grasp the current state of the team.
Also, we have tracked our volume of emails to see how much it has been reduced since introducing Backlog. At the beginning of the full-scale introduction of Backlog, there were many inquiries about operations, and the number did not change significantly. But within 3 months, it began to decline and continues to decrease with a downward slope.
Why did you choose to use Backlog instead of other project management tools?
Its cost-effectiveness was overwhelming. The development department of Pepper had been using a different project management tool for many years, and we considered using it. However, when deploying that environment for external use, the expenses associated with servers and operations is enormous. As a result, many stakeholders agreed Backlog was more appropriate in terms of total cost, including maintenance, etc.
Also, even if you did not have specialized knowledge of the tool, the UI was friendly and intuitive, so any team could learn it.
How do you use Backlog?
I refer to the burndown chart once a week to manage the progress of all projects. We use the search filter to check the number of challenging cases and the progress of the members' tasks. To accurately grasp the status of the task, when creating a new issue, we will ask you to set a category for each task, enter a milestone, and enter a reference value. In addition, we add special fields, like "completion conditions" with custom attributes.
From the viewpoint of quantifying and visualizing tasks, we are able to grasp the number of tasks for each project by completing milestones on a monthly basis. In order to be helpful for setting up the next assignment, we also ask to enter the actual time after completing the assignment. Gantt charts are also used separately for application development, routine tasks, and business flows.
Do you use any tools with Backlog?
For the "Pepper Partner Program," the summary and exam date is not managed by Backlog; it is managed by a marketing automation tool we use in tandem. We are promoting automation for routine emails and frequently asked questions. For parts that can not be automated, like new projects, etc., we are assigning issues by using Backlog. At regular meetings within the department once a week, we review the issues and make efforts to improve efficiency.
Do you have any features that you would like to see implemented in the future?
From the viewpoint of an administrator, I would like a function which has a kind of a graph/diagram in the dashboard and a report function that can help me understand at a glance how much uncompleted and expired tasks exist for each project. In addition, I think that it would be convenient to be able to move tasks in the Gantt chart by dragging and dropping, as it may extend or change the deadline of the assignment.
From the viewpoint of quantifying and visualizing tasks, seeing man-hours for each person that could be understood using milestones would be good.
Also, a way to look at actual values for tasks and forecast the values, to understand how many people are doing the task, and know exactly the time they worked on it, I think that could be a useful function for administrators.