“In the context of startups, project management tools will always suck”

19 Feb

On Friday 17 2012 the CUNY EJP12 cohort attended a session on product and project management hosted by Nancy Wang and Jeff Mignon of RevSquare.

Both Jeff and Nancy stressed the importance of having a clear project plan, of communicating effectively with your team (and especially your developers), and of prototyping (more on which in another post). And Jeff admitted to being something of a convert to the Project Management Way.

Back in the FT Tilt era, both Ranjan and I spent a lot (a lot!) of time “optimizing our process”. In the end (and indeed, toward the end) I settled on Trello as a way of keeping the globally dispersed editorial team briefed and engaged on where we were up to in terms of sales and development; our London-based developers used Redmine for bug ticketing; and Ranjan and I used a combination of email, Google Docs, Skype and shoulder-tapping/coffee meetings for everything else. I, of course, am a total iDoneThis evangelist, so I also used iDT to keep a running log of what we’d accomplished (or not, as it were).

But along the way we tried (and abandoned) Teambox and Basecamp, and I tested at least a half dozen other options. The issues were always the same: fiddly interfaces; too many emails and checkboxes and lists, not enough “doing”; team objections to yet-another-login/thing they have to use.

(For what it’s worth, I’m using Asana these days and quite like it)

Having been on both sides of project management – i.e. as the manager and the manage-ee, and sometimes both at the same time, I agree with the RevSquares that clear objectives and communication are essential.

But I also agree with the sentiment expressed by “Handsome Code” in a post about project management:

In the context of startups, project management tools will always suck. If you are using a PM tool then you are not designing, coding, or communicating with customers. You are not even communicating with your team. You are putting an abstraction layer between you and your team, effectively saying “I prefer to engage with this UI which makes me feel valuable and productive because I make lists and assign tasks” instead of actually engaging with the people building the product…Getting e-mails that say “UserName has assigned you task: XXXXXX” sucks.

The post also included some strong words about developers not being robots.

But not having any system at all – or heaven forfend, relying on email – is arguably the worst of all possible worlds.

Sure, getting notifications that you’ve been assigned X, Y or Z has never ranked high on Maslow’s hierarchy. But not shipping because no one has any sense of priority or ownership? Epic fail.

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