Recently my team decided to try out Slack as a replacement for Skype messaging that we use on a daily basis. Our reasons for looking for a replacement are likely similar to many other companies but here are a few:
- Skype call quality diminished after recent upgrade
- No ability to message a specific user in a group chat
- No integration with our various other tools
- Private chats where access only provided via invitation
We have been keeping an eye on Slack and have been interested in watching it develop and grow in the typical SF venture funded model. Until recently our team resisted the move due the lack of a calling feature on Slack. We tried other tools for calling but could not find a good replacement for Skype. Without a reliable calling option we simply could not leave Skype and felt the team was unlikely to want to run Skype and Slack at the same time.
When Slack announced the calls beta we decided to give it a try and have had good luck. The calls feature was a pre-requisite to our migration to Slack – now that we are moving the real benefits of Slack are starting to appear.
Slack recently announced an app store for applications and bots that integrate with Slack and provide enhanced features. The program is backed by Slacks venture partners (Accel, Andreessen-Horowitz, Index Ventures, KPCB, Spark, and Social Capital) in the tune of $80M in investment in Slack App companies.
Our team immediately searched for a plugin/bot that would provide the following things:
- Detection of Jira Issues mentioned in chats
- Automatic retrieval of issue data
- Automatic link to the task in Jira
This feature was something that we really liked when we had a trial of HipChat, Atlasssian’s answer to Skype and Slack. The hipchat tools integration with Jira made it a really compelling offer, we ultimately decided to keep looking due to the lack of calling and higher price tag of HipChat at the time.
Our team has conversations that go like this very frequently:
- Bob: What are you working on today?
- Susan: I am stuck on MCS-1023 and then I am going to work on MCS-1033
- Bob: Ok, let me take a look
In this case Susan is referring to a Jira issue by its ID in Jira. This is the most common way we refer to issues and it ties into our wiki, bitbucket, branches, test plans, etc. The current process would require Bob to go into Jira and find MCS-1023 or create a link by knowing the structure of the Jira ticket URLs. The process probably takes 10 seconds but happens 100s of times a week.
The other issue is that other team members in the chat won’t go look up MCS-1023 and don’t really know what Susan is working on unless described on the daily scrum. They may have unique insight that could help Susan from being stuck if they only knew what MCS-1023 was.
Our initial search for this plugin surprisingly returned no results. There is a plugin that pushes Jira updates into Slack but is a push methodology where updates in Jira create posts in Slack. We were looking for mentions in Slack and info from Jira. Honestly we were surprised not to find this plugin.
One of my team members dug a bit deeper and found on GitHub a MIT licensed piece of code that appeared to do what we wanted. They then setup node.js on their local machine, worked out some bugs, figured out how to connect and configure and was able to get a sudo functional version for our team.
The open source code needed more work to be a commercial offering. It was lacking OAuth based integration for both Slack and Jira and needed deeper integration but was a great starting point. At this point the team member decided to spend personal time to build out the bot and recently announced an open beta with a functional solution. Our team has been testing with it and we are super excited to see where this goes. I have also discussed Slack with other organizations during “conference season” and found a number of teams looking for this same feature.
Check it out if you are interested in a bot that integrates slack with jira feel free to take a look and join the beta group. He told me he is going to accept the first 100 or so teams to determine if it makes sense to continue work on the bot.
In addition to the jira bot for slack we have found a number of other interesting Slack Apps.
Here are a few:
- New Relic – Alerts and notifications from our application monitoring and performance tool
- Giphy – A fun app that pulls in animated GIFs that prove to be hilarious
- PagerDuty – ITOPS alerts, scheduling and incidents
After a long look and careful consideration we are going full steam into Slack based communication. I will attempt to keep this site updated with our progress and results (so says the guy who has not posted since 2012).