You could think it’s obvious…

… But it’s not!!! Since the beginning of my career at Axen, I’ve worked for 4 differents customers including the one I’m currently working for. And it always amazes me to see how difficult it is for them to deal with such a basic need as project management tooling. And apparently, judging by a few discussions I’ve had with a bunch of colleagues in the consulting busines, it’s not only the customers I work for!

The thing is that, even if Agility is gaining more and more attention these days, with tight collaboration and cooperation at heart, most companies out there are still managing their IT in a very procedural way. They have project baselines and plans, forms, excel sheets and time sheets everywhere. Every decision has to go through the proper validation channel, and believe it or not: it’s slowing down their business. All those mandatory procedures create an enormous need for tools that can make it simpler and more effective to create, share and collaborate on project-related information. Source code assets, planning, documentation, issues, releases are amongst the most redundant tasks in IT projects, tasks which need tools like version control systems, wikis, issue tracking, release management, etc.

You could think, where there is such a need, there is a market, and where there is a market, there are solutions available! Wrong! Or to be more precise, there ARE solutions, there are too many of them, and the worst thing is they’re incompatible with each other.

Let me give you an example. On the project I’m working on right now, we needed a version control system. The company-wide default one didn’t suit our Java development needs, so rather than trying to force a cube into a circular hole, we chose not to use any version control system… until recently. Now merging code from all the developers is really becoming a big issue and we are losing a lot of time and money on it. So rather than staying in that situation until a new company-wide standard VCS is chosen, we proposed to install Subversion. And believe me, that’s a huge step forward!

But recently, there was a demo of the application and the project lead noticed a few bugs while using it, a few bugs that he naturally wrote down in a non-collaborative but so common Excel sheet. And now he realizes that, if he wants the bugs to be fixed, we need to have some sort of system to register and monitor those bugs, in other words, an issue tracking system. First integration problem: we need an issue tracking system that is compatible with our version control system so that, when a code change fixes a bug, there is a link between the commit and the issue it fixes. And that of course is totally independant of the fact that we need an issue tracking system that makes it easy enough to register new bugs, so that users and developers are not slowed down on the way.

But wait a minute: now if there is a version control system, and an issue tracking system, everybody has to know where they can be accessed. That and the documentation for the project, like design specifications, requirements, coding conventions, and all the information that the teams needs to know in order to work efficiently. First reflex, why not a wiki? A simple editable website where anyone can create and modify pages with just a few clicks. Sure thing! But hey, it must use the same user base as our version control and issue tracking systems. Are you getting it?

Yes, there are a lot of tools out there, both commercial and Open Source, for version control, issue tracking, documentation management, release management, planning, and so on and so forth. But believe it or not: for each of the projects I’ve worked on in the past five years or so, I have looked for a single platform that could integrate all of those very common tasks into a single consistent environment, something so easy to install, maintain and use that it would just… work! I’m not saying it does not exist, but I don’t see it anywhere, and judging by the amount of time I dedicate to technology watch every single day, I think that if such a miraculous tool existed, it would be everywhere!

Well, you know what they say: if you’re not happy with a situation, what prevents you to change it? In that case, nothing! And that’s why I’m currently working with Axen on such a platform. All I can tell you right now is that it’s called Basement PMS (Project Management System), and I would love it to be open-source. We just have to figure out a few details, and I’m working on a proof-of-concept to show off. But I’m convinced it’s gonna be awesome.

What do you think about that problematic? Have you ever encountered or worked in a company with a single, consistent and reliable IT project collaboration environment?

10 thoughts on “You could think it’s obvious…”

  1. Just a quick note (but I’ll get back for a proper reply)
    “trying to force a cube into a circular hole” -> no problem! It’s possible. You just have to watch Apollo 13:
    Kranz says, “Then I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.” A group of engineers starts working on a procedure to build a filter. (source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112384/ in the synopsis)
    But maybe this is the very work of an: engineer to come up with some system to build something great with little incompatible pieces…

  2. And you example is so good!!! In Apollo 13 they are in space!!! They have no possibility of going back to the ground, get another spare part and change it. They must do what they can with what they have. It’s not the same here. To quote another great wise man “everything starts with a choice” ;o)

  3. I completely understand your problematic. I’d love to have such a tool here and now ! In my current company we currently have subversion and bugzilla but no link between them… We were looking for a web based project management tool intensively (Cooper, Kiwi, DotProject…). We found a lot but never with integrated bug tracking system AND source version control. So we will continue without a PM tool for now or use a traditional desktop one. Let me know if you need tester :-)

  4. You may want to check out VersionOne’s agile project mgmt platform – aside from existing integrations with FitNesse & Subversion, we’re just finishing up integrations with Jira, Bugzilla and Eclipse. Integrations are open-sourced so they can be tailored (everybody’s got their own unique needs…), and are available on our community site at http://community.versionone.com.

  5. Yes, but they still remain different products from different vendors with different constraints and differents lifecycles. My main problem right now is to convince our tool management department that we need some tools and we need them consistent. I mean, it’s great to have all those open source and non open source products out there but they are too specialized to be applied in multi-project environments. I think that’s the main issue on the market right now.

  6. There are still JIRA and FobBugz, but I agree the main problem is to find a globally integrated solution.
    IMHO, this is mostly due to lack of Vision of independent vendors. Most of the time, they are focusing on a single product. And yet “doing ony one thing but right” is a good approach, this not enough for project management tools. In such platform, I think you distinct three sides that should be fully integrated: developers, managers and clients points of view. Usually, you get tools adapted to one (sometimes two) of the actors.
    So filing the gap by providing a global and open tool would be great…

  7. I agree on the the fact that doing one thing right is always better, and I’m not saying that there should be one new platform to replace all those tools. Actually I was more thinking of a platform merging all the suitable products. But you already know that… ;o)

    Where I’m not quite sure whether I fully agree with you, is the target of such a platform. I mean developers, managers and customers have very differents needs and expectations. The way I see it:
    – customers need tools to require, specify, maintain and file requests
    – managers neet tools to monitor, review, plan and estimate
    – developers need tools to collaborate, document, keep on track, support, develop, test, release and plenty of other stuff.

    I think that the most important gap to fill is in the developer field. Or at least that’s where no one has ever started (not profitable enough, maybe?), so I want to start there and maybe expand then. Time will tell…

  8. I didn’t explain the 3 sides, but we agree on the content ;)
    Indeed, the developer part miss a fully featured tools to easily manage the whole process of project: a sort of workflow with all tools needed to handle a project from specifications to release (with all the intermediates).
    On the other hand, I’m not sure that they are tool that are really adapted to the 2 sides left (managers & end users).
    I’ve seen heavy dashboard targetting project managers with so many stuff you’re wondering how many engineers does it take to change a light bulb :p
    Same applies to end user (but in an opposite way): most of time the user has to fight throught the project-not-so-helping-tool, let say like Bugzilla… In a way it’s what I found nice in FogBugz: the system seems clean and simple. But there is maybe not enough developer tools like code versioning integration and so on…

  9. Just a question. Are you talking about something like “launchpad” that would be available for local installation ?
    As I see it, it integrates blueprints (specs), VCS, bug tracking, FAQ, … into one common interface.

  10. I didn’t know launchpad but it seems to be the kind of stuff I was thinking about. Yet, apparently it still misses the management of important collaboration aspects like methodology concerns, user support and others. In the same category, Assembla looks a bit more like it.
    And yes, the possibility to host it on internal servers is definitely an argument for big companies.

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