Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dream Software Giveaway

I have a piece of imaginary software in my head. I have a suspicion that someone may have made it already, but frankly, it's really hard sifting through freshmeat and all of these places to find what I'm after.


This piece of software is simple. It doesn't have a thousand bells and whistles on it, it feels like using a wiki, but not so much that someone who hyperventilates when taken outside Outlook would start panicing. It's intuitive. And it replaces the need to make insane numbers of charts with dates in excel.

It's like a cross between spreadsheets-used-as-reporting and scheduling, outlook calendar, a wiki, issue tracking software, upcoming.org and some kind of database.

The thing that it does, though, that I've never seen any software do, is allow you to work in fuzzy time.

So, say you had a project that you knew was coming up, but the best you could say was 'I think this is happening in the second half of next year, and it's probably a three month project, and it belongs to this category, and this is a quick summary, and I will need to think about this again in a month'. You could put in exactly that information, and it would appear in the long term view.

But the thing is, as projects got nearer, you'd get more precise information about them. So your long term view is... well, sort of logarythmic. For the first week from the current date you have daily tasks shown, which you'd derive from the database-come-wiki of issues and actions against each project-blob in the system. After that short term bit you'd maybe get four weeks with headline tasks. Then you get a quarters worth of monthly view, then it would go into quarters for maybe a year, then it would be maybe yearly until 3 years out, then just 'in the future'.

So it lets you see what's coming up in a timely way, and doesn't drown you in detail beyond what you immediately need to do.

Of course, it should produce nice reports - a quarterly plan, a plan by month, a risks-and-issues sheet, a daily to-do list for each person involved in one of the sub projects. The thing is, different people need to track different kinds of information, for different reasons. As these 'future fuzzy blobs' move towards the present, you can start adding streams within them, breaking them up and firming them up as they approach and your plans get clearer. The whole thing is about bringing just enough timely clarity to everyone involved, when they need it. So your management of the stuff gets more detailed as it needs to; and the system is bright enough to realise when facets of your blob are getting neglected, and reminds you to pay more attention to them.

The ability to zoom in and out of detail levels means you can use it to see that your year is shaping up with no peaks and troughs, and also to get right in to the nitty-gritty of stuff that really needs to be done this week or else...

And it should track changes to dates as they happen; so that project you pencilled in for July gets brought forward, but remembers that it was orignally planned for then. Thus, when you look at the way things have happened over a year, you can see what changes happened, rather than having to wrack your memory.

When stuff gets done, it gets remembered. And if you have information about how well that stuff did - say, some kind of stats, in the case of a web project, it lets you hold that data against the 'things that actually happened' - so you can see that thing X went out, and changed your figures in way Y, thanks to person Z who did the tasks.

If you really, really put some thought into how this could become useful - how it would help people keep track of stuff on a personal basis, and how those little personal to-do lists then aggregated up to give you an overview of progress - it could be utterly utterly amazing.

Basically, it's the web 2.0 of project management. But it's bubble up in a way that MS Project isn't - its about slowly taming the chaos one little bit at a time, not about making that tiny resource reassignment that suddenly means your project ends in 2015.

It's project management for the way that the disorganised work.

Now, if only I could be bothered to kick of a project to get it built...


Tom Dolan said...

I may be projecting my own worries here, but the last thing I think either of us need is something that lets us work on projects in 'fuzzy time'. We need time to be very harsh, brutal and angular, or we'd never get anything done. :-)

Tom Dolan said...

Oh, and on a slightly more helpful note, I found Word quite good for organising things like this. It's like the very useful 'piece of paper in a file' but you can back it up.

kim said...

Aha, but, you see, I'm not responsible for deadlines now. I just need upcoming warning of stuff so I can arrange promotion and marketing... and then relate that to the stats!


Tom Dolan said...

Ah. Very handy.