Fog Creek

Big Board: Having Fun with Data

A big part of our series on how Fog Creek does customer service has been avoiding having cases—which represent communication with our customers—fall through the cracks. Filters are probably the broadest solution, but here at Fog Creek, we’ve also installed a 46” television (with embedded Windows XP—rock on), mounted it vertically, and run a full screen web page in Google Chrome. We call it Big Board.

The goal with the Big Board is to give the support team useful information in higher density. We found out early that when you put a number on the board, it will move, up or down, for a short amount of time, usually no more than a month. Then it’ll get “stuck.” The novelty of a moving number attracts interest, which moves the number more quickly. But then people move on to other things, and you have a number that doesn’t really mean much to anyone.

The solution here is not to remove numbers from the big board (though we have largely stopped putting numbers up there). The real issue here is to make sure from the beginning that you can change out non-moving metrics for ones that are consistently interesting, and interestingly displayed.

Solari Board for Scheduled Calls


Borrowing a metaphor from railway stations, the Solari board shows us scheduled calls (for more details, read Schedule Calls, Protect Your Support Team). The email address tells us which customer we’ll be calling and the track number tells us which support rep will be taking the call. The data is backed by FogBugz and will automatically update when a case is added or removed.

The skeumorphic Solari board has an important feature of its real-life counterpart: it makes noise when new information comes in. We use a recording of a real-life Solari board. When we hear the clattering, we know there’s a new tech call.

Office Calendar


Our company’s shared Google vacation calendar shows who’s out over the next couple of days. Is someone at the doctor, on vacation, or at a conference? That shows up here.

FogBugz and Kiln Details

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We have an internal build system that we call “Mortar,” which integrates nicely with Kiln and has a local web front-end. Early in its creation, the engineers started putting useful information for the support team on mortar’s home page. We decided to take the most useful information, like current version numbers for Licensed and On Demand, and put those on the Big Board. Below that, we see the current primary contacts for the two teams. The support team channels interruptions through the primary contact, which minimizes noise for the rest of the team.

Support Team Distribution

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The radar chart uses a poorly documented Google Chart API. There was a lot of fumbling around to get it to work correctly, but it’s actually a very information-dense part of the display. It gives us “feel” metrics that are also occasionally actionable. It changes quickly enough to be useful, and it’s gratifying to see the size of the yellow polygon shrink over the course of the day, finally collapsing down to green and letting us move on to more strategic tasks.

Bonus Calendar! Support Team

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The grid below the radar chart shows us which support team members are out of the queue for the next two weeks. If a team member is on vacation, sick, or on a “dev day,” their avatar will show up here. The blank avatars you see represent available dev days, which are days that a member of the team can spend out of the support queue to work on strategic objectives. The first generation of the Big Board was developed by a member of our support team through a series of dev days.

Want your own big board? Well, you can use something like Geckoboard, or you can write one yourself. In your initial design, it’ll be difficult to pick the perfect metrics. You’re far better off spending your time making sure you can change out tiles quickly. Since you get to control which browser you use, you don’t have to worry about making sure it looks good on other browsers, which is nice. Play around with it and let us know via Twitter if you come up with anything cool!