by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 5 March 2012
Although it emphasizes people and stakeholders over processes and tools, the agile methodology for project management has had limited success with non-technical audiences. Which is a pity, really, because agile is more than a methodology; instead, it is a philosophy and approach to project management.
This week, we will review Planbox - an agile online project management software - that simplifies the agile methodology and makes it simpler for stakeholders. We will look at Planbox's features, interface and see how it can be of use to you.
Incubating a Solution
Planbox was incubated by Bolidea, a Montreal-based incubator. According to the solution's co-founder Olivier Cabanes, it was built to tackle problems of an incubator. "Incubators are complex organisms, they handle multiple products and projects at the same time, they work with remote teams and have activities outside of software development such as legal and marketing," he says.
In short, that was a great test-bed for the development of an agile project management tool.
Once the vision was clear, Cabanes and his team implemented their vision using the agile methodology of continuous feedback and iteration. This means that each iteration of the product resulted in new features. In fact, the team has even included a feedback widget for use with the current solution.
Cabanes lists four ways in which Planbox differs from other, similar products in the market:
It's All In The Details
To understand Planbox, it is necessary to understand the solution's project structure. The structure, which consists of four levels, mirrors traditional project organization.
The highest level is called Initiative. The Initiative is a container of projects that belongs to a particular business unit, service offering or even a program within your business. Each Initiative consists of multiple Projects, which form the second level. By themselves, Projects consist of Items, the third level. Items are specific constituents of projects such as feature lists, defects, or even notes. Finally, Items are subdivided into tasks for each individual user.
However, at the heart of this solution lies a simple, useful, and usable user interface.
"Companies came to us after they failed to implement complex project management solutions within their organization," says Cabanes. "More often than not, they were unable to get adoption from the people who actually needed to add or complete tasks in the tool."
Obviously, the company's developers seem to have taken this bit of advice to heart.
The "Work Page" is simplicity itself. It is organized into four tabs that display current and next items and, also, items in your backlog of stories. Each hierarchy level is associated with appropriate permission controls. In addition, you can drill down to the appropriate level of detail using drop downs. You can restrict and customize user interfaces using menu items. You can also enable and disable views for team members using triggers. Finally, you can control specifics related to scrum methodology such as business value and task complexity using simple menu prompts such as drop downs and lists. The interface also includes an activity feed that displays status updates of work about your team members.
One feature that I thought was missing from the solution's feature list was project velocity.
As it turns out, it was not missing but, instead, was never requested by users. "Planbox already does a great job with resource allocation and planning, as well as tracking, progress, and team members' workload," says Cabanes. He adds that they intend to include this feature in future iterations.
Along with this, the company also plans to include a roadmap view, which enables users to have a long term view of their plan. Also on the anvil is integration with more third-party apps and systems. Among others, current integrations include SVN, Github and Zendesk. The solution's API is already public and enables users to generate custom reports or create their own dashboard.
"Our goal is to provide an agile project management engine that is highly flexible and can integrate seamlessly into the users' workflow," says Cabanes.
Supporting Your System
A dedicated account manager is assigned to each Planbox customer. Besides this, the solution offers email/chat/phone support. Live chat and phone support is also available during business hours and emails support is offered 24 hours and 7 days a week. One other, important fact: the company also offers agile project management consultancy. This means that, for a small fee, you can get onsite help to implement your agile solution.
Is It For You?
If you are implementing a solution using agile methodology or are an agile project manager looking for a solution that is simple enough to get user adoption but contains most functionalities you would expect from most expensive products, then this app is definitely for you. It combines functionality with simplicity and feedback. That's always a winning combination.