Friday, June 29, 2007

SharePoint Designer Sparks a Question

We've been so heads down here at TeamDirection that we were unawares of Microsoft releasing ShareDesigner (download the free trial). Very interesting. I really like the intent behind it-- empowering normal people with the ability to create and modify SharePoint workspaces. This fits right along with our philosophy and I think they've done a nice job. (OK, the general UI experience still feels a bit 'techie' to me, but I am a techie and I *love* the features).

But it did give us something to think about. Our most recent release now supports creating SharePoint workspaces for your projects based on SharePoint templates. To do this we adapted our philosophy and introduced a TDCreate web services to be installed on the SharePoint server. While we thought it would be nice to work with SharePoint templates without having to install anything on the server, we also thought it might be important for SharePoint administrators to know how people are using the servers and what the 'high value' pieces are. As a result, we thought the TDCreate web services, on the whole, was a good thing, and could serve as a platform to build on in the future if we introduce our own web parts.

The SharePoint Designer, however, uses a combination of Front Page extensions and SharePoint web services to create subsites without additional installs on the server. Which got us thinking: would this be a better way to do things? I think our answer is 'maybe'.

I absolutely love the inherent simplicity of the client doing the work without tweaking the server. On the other hand, Front Page extensions are different than WSS and MOSS web services, and it seems quite possible that a SharePoint administrator, in the interest of security, would turn the Front Page extensions off. But if Microsoft will be pushing SharePoint Designer, it must mean they will also be pushing for the Front Page extensions to be on.

I think the ability to work solely from the client will be too tempting, but we should keep our current TDCreate web service. Call it the 'best of both worlds' approach. I believe we will put in support for Front Page extensions when working with SharePoint, but keep the TDCreate as an option just in case an administrator turns off the Front Page extensions.

Am I rambling? Sorry, but you're reading the thought processes in action.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How To: Enabling SharePoint Templates with IntelliGantt Plus

A quick note to let people know we've posted a page describing the steps for enabling IntelliGantt Plus to create workspaces based on custom SharePoint templates.

Feedback is of course welcome. We're trying to tame the SharePoint complexity beast as best we can with a simple, understandable set of instructions. If you run in to any problems or have any pointers to make things even easier, please don't hesitate to let us know.

We've received a very enthusiastic response to this feature and look forward to hearing how you use it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

IntelliGantt, MS Project Server and eProject Price Comparison

I spent the day researching customers project management options today and the results were interesting. Right now there seems to be a notion that the web is good and the desktop is bad. Perhaps it's a reaction to Microsoft's desktop dominance, a desire for something new or just a knee-jerk reaction to business as usual. Whatever the case, those small numbers that Software as a Service (SaaS) charge per month really add up over the long haul-- even the not-so-long haul.

The three solutions: IntelliGantt Plus, MS Project Server 2007 and eProject PPM6. First off, in all fairness, IntelliGantt Plus has the fewest features of the three. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as IntelliGantt Plus also doesn't include features only a rocket scientist can understand. IGP (as we call it) is designed to be useful and usable. We're not so worried about the high-falootin cube transformation of critical path chains for resource levelling as we are about getting everyone on the team communicating and reporting progress.

If you need the high-end features, then by all means look at MS Project Server and eProject. However, if your needs are more down-to-earth and your goal is adoption, then IntelliGantt Plus is very powerful indeed.

But on to the comparison (if you can't wait, go here). We chose two common, generic cases: 1) a 10 user group and 2) a 100 user group. For IGP and MSP we proposed a general ratio of 1 client application for the project manager for every 9 users. Thus the 10 user group has one PM tool and 9 users accessing and updating the project. The 100 user group has 10 PM tools and 90 users. For eProject, we couldn't really make that distinction, so everyone is treated as an equal user.

These two groups (10 user and 100 user) represent two interesting plots on a curve that demonstrate most of all that Saas might not scale, economically the way most people think it does, and that MS Project Server 2007 actually looks very reasonable next to eProject as the number of users increase. Neither, however, approaches the economical solution if IntelliGantt Plus.

Why? Because we don't make it complicated. No databases, no Client Access Licenses, no server components (well, actually one that supports our SharePoint Template feature). We work with out-of-the-box SharePoint Services (WSS 2.0 and MOSS 3.0) that actually ship with Windows Server 2003-- for free! We still need to flesh out the benefit comparison, but as you can see, there are a lot of compelling IntelliGantt features.

However, in straight number terms, the IntelliGantt Plus solution for a 10 person group costs roughly $60 per person for one year. By comparison, eProject costs $45 per person per month! Furthermore, while the IntelliGantt Plus costs per year go down in year two (because the license has been paid for and the only out-of-pocket expenses are support and software assurance), the eProject costs march on at $45 per month. This means after 3 years, the eProject solution is about 20 times the cost of IntelliGantt Plus. Software as a Service indeed.

MS Project Server 2007 is more of a hybrid solution, similar to IntelliGantt Plus. However, where IntelliGantt Plus makes use of existing SharePoint services, Project Server introduces its own server in addition to using SharePoint. Because of this configuration, the 10 person group using eProject actually comes out a bit ahead in year one compared to Project Server. However, once again after the initial license is purchased, eProject turns out to be more after years two and three are included since Project Server CALs turn out to be less than $45 per month. Of course, IntelliGantt Plus is still 10 times less than the cost of a Project Server 2007 solution.

This illustrates where we believe the market lies for IntelliGantt Plus-- or as we say 'bigger than a spreadsheet and smaller than the enterprise.' Once you get in to managing a group of people, does it make sense to jump right in to enterprise class solutions? They do not economically, and I don't believe they do in terms of productivity and usability either.

MS Project Server 2007 and eProject PPM6 are great solutions for enterprises, but make no mistake, that is what they are built for. As such, IntelliGantt is happy to work with them (certainly in MS Project's case), but also provide tangible value to the market between the single user project manager and the thousand-person workforce.

And its not like we skimp on features. For instance, we work very well off-line, thank you. Multi-Level undo? Check. Multi-Project view? That too. Automatic backup and restore points? Yes. Task based permissions. Yes again. The ability to drag a summary task and watch the gantt update in real time all the ramifications? I think that's just us. The ability to use alternate collaboration platforms like Groove, Amazon S3 or even a simple File Server? Definitely IntelliGantt :).

If you're intrigued, then check out the numbers for yourself. If you want to see IntelliGantt in action, check out our 15 day trial today and see what IntelliGantt can do for you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Microsoft's Magic Milan Touch

How could I not have noticed this earlier???

From a recent CNet headline: "Microsoft hopes Milan has magic touch".

OK, so I edited the headline just a little bit. But still, it's always fun when your name comes in vogue. Only recently has the self-satisfaction of having a car named after you begun to wear off. I really have to get one of those.

I wonder if I can put one of them new-fangled Milan table PC's in the back of my Milan? When I get in and drive off, would that be similar to the Russian dolls where one fits inside another which fits inside another?

Of course, at times like these I have to bring back my old standard:


Thursday, June 14, 2007

When to Adapt Your Philosophy

TeamDirection and its IntelliGantt products have been built with the notion of working right out of the box, which is something of a novel ideal in this interconnected world. True, this is a good thing. In fact, IntelliGantt works very hard on the interconnected pieces so you don't have to-- integrating with MS Project, MindManager, SharePoint and Groove.

However, there comes a time when a feature is too compelling to grind under the foot of unyielding dogma. No one likes a Zax.

With our next release of IntelliGantt, we are introducing a feature that lets you publish projects to SharePoint utilizing any custom template registered on the SharePoint server. We've received feedback from customers and consultants alike that this will provide the best way to tailor projects to individual (company) needs. And we agree.

The result is IntelliGantt Plus will let you select the SharePoint template to use, but it will require a web service installed on the SharePoint server. It's a simple web service that is only in charge of listing available templates and creating a site based on a template. In fact, in large measure it got its inspiration from Todd Baginski's great examples on how to create SharePoint sites based on templates.

For about a month we struggled to with 'no code to install on the server'-- until it became untenable. Our new philosophy is a more realistic 'as little code as possible on the server, and make sure its well documented.'

You tell me how we did. We'll be updating or site over the weekend, but if you'd like to see IntelliGantt Plus using custom SharePoint templates on your server, then go get IntelliGantt Plus, read this document and install this web service.

Supports WSS 2.0, MOSS 3.0 and enables your team.

To see it in action, check out the screencast in the blog post below.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

IntelliGantt WBS

We had a lively discussion over on our forum today about how to keep track of tasks once they've been published to SharePoint. The basic SharePoint task list is, well, pretty basic. What has been needed is a way to match the task IDs in the SharePoint list with the task IDs in the IntelliGantt or MS Project task list.

Except that there aren't any ordinals in the basic SharePoint task list.

We've been looking at this problem for a bit and the discussion today gave us the perfect reason to execute on a design we had in mind. Since we just released support for SharePoint custom templates, our developers had List web service APIs on the brain. We had also just implemented a WBS feature in our core model. When these two ideas met, the result is code that updates the basic SharePoint task list with a WBS column that IntelliGantt will populate.

Like this:

The result is people will know exactly what task they mean, and they can sort and filter them. This particular screenshot shows the SharePoint task list with the WBS column visible and the IntelliGantt Plus view with the WBS column visible. Our Add-In for Microsoft Project will also do the same thing-- publish WBS codes to SharePoint task lists.

The minor trick at the moment is the WBS field will not be visible by default. If you want to turn it on after you share, click on 'Modify View'.

IntelliGantt as added WBS to the column list as a result of a successful share. If you have a custom SharePoint template that already has a text column for WBS, IntelliGantt will recognize it and use it. Otherwise it creates it for you.

Just click on the column to make it visible, and set the layout position to '2' so its on the left.

Now you can keep track of your tasks as you get down to business with your project. As you move tasks around, indent and outdent them, add and remove them, the WBS codes will be updated and in sync.

You'll never lose a task again.

Project Management with Groove Templates

Though SharePoint gets most of the press, Groove brings a unique set of features to collaboration as well. In fact, it's amazing how similar the SharePoint and Groove platforms are at times and how well they lend themselves to a similar philosophy.

Take templates for example. In my previous post I showed how IntelliGantt Plus can publish and synchronize tasks with SharePoint templates. Not to be outdone, Groove has its own templating system (arguably a bit more simple for the user to work with) and TeamDirection, of course, is happy to build on it.

Here is a screencast showing how to drop the TeamDirection Task List for Groove 2007 in to a standard workspace, save it as a template and use it again when you publish and synchronize your project.

If you have a Groove Forms developer in house, or if you've contacted a consultant, it's terribly easy to drop a TeamDirection Task List into a Groove workspace and gain powerful project management features.

As an added benefit, we've unlocked our forms as well. This means you can actually open up the TeamDirection Task List itself, make a few modifications for your needs and still have the power of IntelliGantt Plus. This Groove Workspace Template ships with IntelliGantt Plus. Head over to TeamDirection and check it out, or go right to the source and try it today.

Now wouldn't it be cool if you could point IntelliGantt Plus to any SharePoint or Groove task list and create a project from it?

Hmmmm.... :)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Project Management with SharePoint Custom Templates

Yes, it's been another quiet period, which can only mean one thing: new features!

We're quite excited about this upcoming release as it gives you more control of your projects, SharePoint and Groove. We're about to introduce the ability to publish projects to SharePoint and Groove based on custom templates. This means if you've got a SharePoint workspace or Groove forms guru in house (or if you've paid an external guru a handsome sum) to customize and personalize workspaces for your needs... you can keep using them. Better yet, feel free to make new ones.

On my techie SharePoint blog I'll go in to the guts a little bit and explain how it works. But here I have a screencast that shows this feature in action. It's just showing SharePoint at this moment, but we will be improving the screencast shortly to show more or less the same thing with Groove forms and workspaces.

This link will take you directly to the SharePoint Custom Template screencast. If it looks easy, its because it is easy.

We've also written up the installation (and uninstallation) instructions so you can see for yourself how straightforward we've made things.

This release has tons more stuff in it (and a few important usability fixes-- no more needing to specify server names when logging in to SharePoint!). Look for email in your inbox announcing it shortly.