Thursday, September 28, 2006

Struck by Washington Post Headlines

Maybe its an accident, but I could help but notice these two headlines right next to each other on the 'front page' of their web site.

Many Rights in U.S. Legal System Absent in New Bill

House Panel Digs Deep in HP Spy Case link

This isn't a political commentary blog, but I was struck nonetheless.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

American Warbird

I've been completely remiss in my duties in sharing Kevin Kegin's American Warbird as a great time. They travel the country with refurbished vintage aircraft and take wanna-pretend-to-be pilots like myself for rides. Not only do you get to see what its like to fly these old planes, but you also get to remember the 'gee-whiz' thrill you had a long time ago as a little boy or girl.

Here's what I flew in.

That's Kevin in the back, and not me in the front. I'm taking the photo and getting ready to go next. In front. With the canopy open. Talk about a rush!

It was a gorgeous day. Temperature in the mid 60s, light fluffy clouds to fly around and a brilliant sun making everything glow.

I can't remember the exact model of the airplane-- check the site for that-- but I can tell you it can do a loop, a barrel roll and an aileron roll. And you can buy the video of yourself acting giddy as you do all three.

Yee Haa!

Identifying with Customers

You may have noticed a new look on our home page. The pretty flash movie is gone in favor of a simple yet (hopefully) common story that bedevils project managers every day. This is the start of TeamDirection's efforts to better connect with current customers as we navigate the transition from Groove 3.x to Groove 2007, and new customers who are used to the SharePoint experience.

As I've mentioned before, I think Microsoft's purchase of Groove was brilliant, and I think they see the power of SharePoint, Groove and Project Management together as they've created a business group for the three. However, I've come to the conclusion that the SharePoint audience has a completely different set of expectations from the Groove audience. As such, it takes a completely different message.

SharePoint users expect SharePoint applications to use SharePoint web parts. This is not so dissimliar to Groove 3.x customers who expected Groove appilcations to use Groove tool templates. But whither the web services? People wanted the web parts and the tool templates, leaving the web services to the tech heads to figure out what to do.

Well, since Groove 2007 no longer allows non-microsoft applications to live within Groove, we had to figure out what to do. Solutions for the Groove platform have three choices: Groove Forms, Groove Web Services, or both. Interestingly enough, these are also the choices for SharePoint: SharePoint Web Parts, SharePoint Web Services, or both. So we chose Both and Both. We created a Task List using a Groove Form, we utilized the Task List that ships with SharePoint and we tied them all together with web services.

But now we have to describe it to interested parties. While Groove users seem to have no problem installing a webified desktop application, SharePoint users seem to much prefer a solution through the SharePoint server.

Which makes me very curious for the near future with respect to crossover: will we have two distinct marketing strategies for these two similar collaborative platforms or will the marketing strategies coalesce as people become more comfortable with the two? Time will tell.

Of course, there's also that class of user that doesn't use SharePoint or Groove. Don't worry, we're thinking about you too!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Andy Warhol is the Spiritual Father of Blogs and YouTube

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." -- Andy Warhol, Stockhom (1968)

PBS is running a four hour documentary on Andy Warhol this week and all I could think of were the sick days I took back in elementary school so that I might glimpse the world as my parents see it. This usually involved watching a lot of tv. And I always remembered the silver haired apparition as he would float occasionally from channel to channel, almost as if he was more a part of a tv cloud than any particular show. I think the reason his ghostly image imprinted itself on my memory was it brought on the first inkling of pathos for someone I didn't know, someone who seemed oddly stuck in a box.

I certainly couldn't understood what exactly made him famous. A matte of repeating soup cans? Please. It didn't occur to me it was his own insatiable need to be famous that made him interesting, if in a morbid 'car-wreck' kind of way. I didn't see then what I see now in that his genius was exposing the ordinary as artistic expression. His ticket may have been the Campbell soup cans, but his resonance was a result of tapping into every one's desire to be noticed, especially the ordinary people. It made him an excellent commercial illustrator, but an even better self-promoter.

It's like those modern art exhibits where the 'artist' takes a 10 foot by 10 foot canvas and drew a line down the middle. 'Any idiot can do that' is the natural reaction. It took me a while to realize that yes, any idiot can do the line, but how many people can rationalize it, promote it and sell it? That line down the middle of the paper is an in-your-face 'I can draw a line and call it art and you can't'.

Your 15 Minutes

What would you sacrifice for that 15 minutes of fame? A few minutes a day away from the family writing your blog? A few strands of your dignity when you post a video on YouTube? Do you want to create art, sell something or just record your existence?

Down the road a few years when my daughters take a sick day from school, will you be their ghostly apparition?

And would that be OK?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Comparing BaseCamp and TeamDirection Project

The other day, Online Degree left a comment asking me if there are other project management software solutions I would recommend. Usually people are loathe to compare their products with potential competition since a) its basically impossible to be objective and b) nobody wants to give the competition free pr. However, Online Degree also said "You seem to be very knowledgeable about project management software," and flattery still works for me. And in truth, we do look at the competition because everyone has good ideas. Furthermore, proper product strategy requires you to know what's going on. So, let me break a taboo and compare BaseCamp with TeamDirection Project.

BaseCamp is a 100% web based application that runs on most browsers. While this is a challenging environment for products solving moderate to high complexity problems, BaseCamp carries it off with aplomb. I admire the group and their accomplishments in bringing richness to the web browser environment. The greatest advantage a web app enjoys over a desktop app is the guarantee that every user is running the same version.

TeamDirection Project is a hybrid desktop application. It does need to be installed on the desktop, but it comes with deep web service integration for both SharePoint and Groove. A simple version was released in July, but a richer version is coming in October that everyone is very excited about. It offers full integration with SharePoint and Groove Task Lists and Link Lists. This allows some users to use TeamDirection Project and other users to use browsers as everyone works on the same tasks in the same project. So to answer a question Online Degree raised, you could indeed have your Mac users work with TeamDirection Project through their Safari browsers and SharePoint.

The first thing I notice is we have similar philosophies for demystifying project management. Perhaps the best way to demistify a discipline is to make it understandable. Both products achieve this quite nicely with clear, straightforward language and well-thought out UI decisions and production. Neither product requires special training, and in fact offer the ability to be productive within 10 minutes. (One of the greatest compliments you can give any product I write is 'It's a simple product'. Products are rarely simple. If someone thinks it is, then I've done my job.) And because both projects do such a nice job of alleviating the intimidation of project management, they offer a palatable onramp for everyone who knows they should use more than a task list, but haven't.

Both products recognize the value of communication in order to execute a project successfully. But here we begin to see some tangible differences between a web app and a desktop app. Whereas BaseCamp creates a 'Messages' tool for its users, TeamDirection Project integrates with Microsoft Instant Messenger. While the BaseCamp solution will work on most browsers, the TeamDirection solution will work with most MS messengers and offers additional features like presence. This means if you have a question for a team member, you can see if he's online, send an instant message and get an instant answer. And, of course, Microsoft is improving instant messaging all the time.

Both products also recognize the value of ease of use. But again, we see what is possible with a web application versus what is possible with a desktop app. BaseCamp provides a nice way to create and update a task list, but very little to assist with scheduling, grouping and filtering. TeamDirection Project, on the other hand, has very rich scheduling, grouping and filtering support, and gets to use cpu power on your desktop to do some cool scheduling tricks. But you may not need scheduling right away; and if not, then BaseCamp is a very nice shared task list.

Finally you should ask yourself what you may need to support your projects. If you just need to share a task list with people, track progress and do simple reporting, then BaseCamp offers a compelling solution. However, if you would like to integrate your task list with any other system, then the web applications server side strength turns into a desktp liability in that your task data has very little mobility. TeamDirection Project has import, export and synchronization with MS Project (for all your reporting needs) and the ability to push, pull and synchronize data with SharePoint and Groove task lists-- nicely integrating with the MS Office system. If this sounds like a bit of a technological leap, then BaseCamp is a natural. But if this sounds like your current business requirements, then TeamDirection Project helps you get the most from your collaboration pieces.

Furthermore, TeamDirection Project is designed to facilitate the exchange of project related data across multiple systems. For example, we are also looking and integrating with MindManager in addition to MS Project. (We've received positive feedback so far.) In fact, if BaseCamp had a web services interface (which they may; I might have missed it), we would definitely look at integrating with BaseCamp much as we integrate with SharePoint and Groove. BaseCamp has an excellent task UI, better than either SharePoint's or Groove's task lists and we'd love to use it. Our basic philosophy is its your project data, you should be able to decide how best to work with it.

In the end it comes down to choice, as always. If I must rate them, then I would rate BaseCamp better in terms of getting started and working with simple task lists. And I would rate TeamDirection Project better in terms of integrating with other systems and providing more scheduling, task grouping and instant messaging functionality. But in truth, both provide you with the tools you need to create, execute and review your projects success.

BaseCamp is a monthly subscription with pricing info found here.

TeamDirection is a one-time purchase and will have two flavors:

1) TeamDirection Project
2) TeamDirection Project Plus

Most of what I've described above is the Plus version. Current pricing for TeamDirection Project can be found here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Project Management is Social Software

But with a purpose.

I've been intrigued by the Web 2.0 debate going on in various corners of the web. It's a natual topic for me as my company creates collaborative project management solutions, and much of web 2.0 revolves around being collaborative. Or Social. Or Webified. Or a Rich Internet Application. Or a Smart Client. Or what-do-I-name-this-thing today?

It's getting harder and harder to categorize products because names seem to be coming out of the woodwork. This also means its getting harder and harder to reach out to people with a solution because we may not know how to tag it.

But the odd thing is, its hard to find a more social problem than Project Management. And its even harder to find a Project Management application that is social, webified, smart and rich (and tall, dark and handsome).

So my task at hand is to figure out

a) Workable definitions for all these terms
b) If TeamDirection Project meets the definitions
c) How to spread the word

My strategy is to find every blogger in the social, rich, smart, webified space and let them have a preview of our next version. If they write about it, or better yet, review it, I'll give them a free license. Doesn't have to be positive, it just has to be honest.

We've put alot of our sweat and blood into this product, and we're curious what the opinion shapers of the web have to say. If you're interested in trying the next version of TeamDirection Project out, and have specific interest in Web 2.0, Rich Internet Applications, Webified Applications, Smart Clients, Social Software and Project Management, I believe we have a compelling story for you.

Drop me a line at johnm[at]teamdirection[dot]com.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What Web 2.0 Means to Me

Feeling more and more like a curmudgeon with each passing year, I've been busy recoiling against the Web 2.0 onslaught of publicity and hyperbole. Perhaps from a strong desire to learn from the mistakes of the past and from an inordinate sense of deja-vu, the best I can say about 'Web 2.0' is its a nice evolutionary step. I was even going to accept my newly confirmed curmudgeonhood and stay in my corner but then I came across Ebrahim Ezzy's post on Richard MacManus's blog entitled Webified Desktop Apps vs Browser-based Apps.

At first I was just happy that I might have company in my corner, and commented that I wrote something similar and even had the temerity to write a desktop application on my theory. And then Richard put up this poll asking people if they prefer desktop apps or web apps. More than 80% prefer web apps? Are you kidding me?

I began to think of my nice safe corner again.

But then that curmudgeon voice came back. 'You've seen this before', it said. 'The poll represents an ideal instead of a reality', it whispered. 'Is Intel fooling itself by making faster and faster chips for the desktop?'. That was my business voice chiming in (I tend to have pretty lively internal discussions).

'OK', my ego replied. I agreed to look at Web 2.0 some more, and my first question was, what does it really mean?

Wikipedia thinks its "a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in new ways — such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies." O'Reilly, the putative inventor of the 'Web 2.0' term, devotes 5 web pages trying to define it. I didn't do a word count, but the definition of Web 2.0 seems quite a bit longer than Tim Berners-Lee's original proposal for the World Wide Web itself, so one would think this Web 2.0 must be pretty revolutionary indeed.

However, O'Reilly in fact demonstrates Web 2.0 is evolutionary right on the first page by showing a nice table of Web 1.0 -> Web 2.0 fish coming out of the sea. For instance, 'publishing' loses its fins to become 'participation.' My question: aren't HTTP methods exactly the same for Web 2.0 as they were for Web 1.0? 'Participation' is really better utilization of the available, well-defined HTTP methods, which is a nice step toward consumer usability. Maybe its this notion-- that consumers will now be willing to pay for web services-- that makes Web 2.0 revolutionary.

Cynical as that may sound, I also have a revolutionary side of me that rears its head from time to time. And if Web 2.0 truly wants to be revolutionary, then it should stop focusing on applications and start focusing on data. Specifically, data identity. No, I don't mean better URLs or better addressing for web pages. What I mean is data identity that lives past the URL request, page view or even application. Why? Because you have an identity, corporations have a legal identity and its about time data had an identity too. When data has identity, then the debate between desktop apps and web apps becomes irrelevant.

The first thing to do is take a look at that O'Reilly evolutionary table again. And let's pick the first example of primordial web apps crawling onto the beach: DoubleClick becoming Google AdSense. My second question about Web 2.0: Did the DoubleClick data you entered magically evolve into Google AdSense? Or did you have to do that evolutionary step yourself? OK, now go through that list again and ask yourself about re-entering all that data again. Are you willing to carry the weight of another evolutionary step?

What I wish Web 2.0 really meant is the ability for data to start taking these evolutionary steps too. These types of data exist today. I can think of a blindingly obvious data type that is at home both on the desktop and on the web. More importantly, its also been fine and dandy with each evolutionary step of desktop applications and web applications. The result is the means to access this data type is the choice of each user. Is mobility the key? Data management? Do you want a rich UI, a web UI, or BOTH depending on what you feel like?

The data type is email, of course-- the single most valuable desktop/web application, and probably the first application for Web 2.0. Though its kind of a bummer that email has been around for so long. Its kind of hard to hype something everyone has grown so used to, but I would argue email is in fact the first Web 2.0 application using my criterion: does its data have an identity that allows it to move from presentation to presentation. Let's see, I can view the same email from dekstop to web to phone to blackberry using smtp, imap or exchange. So the answer is an emphatic yes.

However, email is the rare data type that preceded the mass consumer adoption of the web. I'll bring up another data example that lacks the RFC, but is no less important to millions of people and is approaching ubiquity. It also happens to be something I'm intimately familiar with: Project Tasks.

Everybody has tasks. And just about every office system has tasks. If people have modelled tasks adequately, shouldn't it be trivial to move task data from system to system? Right now the answer lies in how accurate you want the task data to be. Do you want the task data to be 100% accurate for a specific system, like MS Project? Or do you want the task data to be mostly accurate for all project systems? And remember, there are a lot of project systems.

And most importantly, do you want any sort of referential integrity for task data between disparate systems? For example, if I start with a MindManager project, and somehow manage to publish tasks to a SharePoint task list (sounds like a good idea! Hmmm....), wouldn't you want the ability for people to adjust task data via their SharePoint browser and have it somehow reflected back to the MindManager project?

Now that speaks of Web 2.0 to me-- addressable data that blurs the current demarkation of what is desktop application data and what is web application data. But unlike email, a task is not a task-- at least not in the eyes of today's applications. In order for tasks to maintain their integrity, they need a little help. They need specialized applications/services to come along and help make these leaps possible.

So what will happen in the revolutionary Web 2.0 environment? Its sort of a tale of two cities. If you want a piece of data to be able to manifest itself in different forms on differerent devices, today you either need all the devices to agree on the data schema, or you need a middle man (or service) that helps the data make the transition. Because there is very little incentive to create cross-application data schemas (and make it really work), its more likely that we will start seeing more applications that are also services which enable data to make hops from one application to another. And if people are willing to pay for these apps/services, then there will be alot of incentive to create them.

Remember, that Wiki entry wasn't so much about web applications being superior to desktop applications, but in fact 'supposed second-generation of Internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in new ways'. I sincerely hope people will start asking themselves what kind of data they would like hopping from desktop app to web app and back. 'Internet-based' doesn't mean 'web application', it means 'a universal medium for information exchange', at least according to Tim Berners-Lee's Semantic Web.

Now that will be a revolution!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

When Should a Product Keep its Name?

TeamDirection Project or IntelliGantt? I like IntelliGantt, but do I like it enough to delay a release? Hmmm... Maybe I'll keep it in the backpocket for a while.

Even though I like the name, it seems to resonate, its trademarked and we have the domain name, we are trying to release a new version of TeamDirection Project by the end of this month. And we have a major trade show coming up in October here in Seattle (PMI North America). Do I like the new name enough to put all that at risk?

After all, its not just a domain name, but a name on every window, dialog box and brochure. And how about all those pictures in the help file. And don't forget the web site.

Maybe in the new year.

Monday, September 04, 2006

When Should a Product Change its Name

If you've been following this blog or TeamDirection, then you know something really cool is coming down the pike: TeamDirection Project for SharePoint 2007 and Groove 2007. Two versions, actually. One that works purely as a smart client, and a 'Plus' version that works as a really smart client-- it distributes data to SharePoint lists and Groove forms (the Task and Link lists and forms), and synchronizes that data so that the manager can post tasks and the workers can report progress from SharePoint or from Groove.

It's all very cool, but do you think TeamDirection Project for SharePoint and Groove might be just a tad unwieldy? I can't imagine anyone sitting in a meeting and taking the time to ennunciate all the elements of that title. And TDPSG is nonsensical. So it just might be time to think of a better name.

The considerations: If someone comes across a software title called "TeamDirection Project", its a fair bet that someone will associate that software with something to do with projects. But what if I'm looking for SharePoint and Groove integration? TeamDirection Project doesn't tell me that. So how much have I gained by having 'Project' in the name?

Of course, you could be the de-facto standard, like Microsoft Project. But if you're not the de-facto standard, and you follow the same naming convetion, then you might be confused with the de-facto standard-- or worse, be thought of as a knock-off. The reality is we are trying to do something MS Project does not (talk to Groove) and does not very easily (talk to SharePoint out of the box). If you want resource leveling and awesome reporting, use MS Project. If you want to share specific MS Project tasks across SharePoint and Groove users, use IntelliGantt (oops, foreshadowing alert!).

BTW, I was in a conference call last week with Microsoft and heard MS Project has sold more than 18 million copies over the years. 18 million. Standard lists for $599 and Pro lists for $999. Do the math. Even though TeamDirection is a private company and private companies rarely like to disclose numbers, it shouldn't surprise anyone when I admit we have sold slightly less than 18 million copies since we've been in business.

But back to naming.

If you have a project management application, you want something catchy, but still meaningful somehow. While MasterBlaster may be catchy, 1) its already taken by numerous other entities and 2) does that give me any hint about it being project management? It is cool for precision concrete microblasting though (the first search result).

So I'm pushing 'IntelliGantt', with maybe a subtitle like 'Project Management'. Or better yet, 'Workgroup Project Management' since we are so ideally suited to... workgroups! Something like this:

Now does that tell you we can latch onto a summary task in MS Project, publish it to SharePoint or Groove tasks lists and synchronize the changes all the way back to MS Project? No, but that doesn't make for a good tag line either. And it does have that 'Gantt' part to it, which is definitely associated with project management.

The idea is to establish IntelliGantt as workgroup project management, and if that entails moving data from MS Project or Mindmanaged to SharePoint and Groove and back again, then that's what TeamDirection IntelliGantt will do.

It's as much about naming and branding the problem niche as about naming the software solution. Obviously my preference is IntelliGantt, but there may be other good names out there too. Of course, IntelliGantt has the benefit that we have most of the search results. And I got the domain name. We have a local creative group coming in whose stuff I like, and whom I don't mind plugging (Graphiti), and we'll see where things go from there.

I just have this nagging suspicion that 'TeamDirection Project for SharePoint and Groove' just doesn't roll off the tongue like a good name should.

But IntelliGantt. Kind of catchy....