by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 11 April 2012
However, robots also make systems (and projects) efficient.
This week, we will review PMRobot, a project and ticket management application for agile enterprises.
We will review its features, the interface, and see how it can be of use to you.
The human behind PMRobot is Jason Hanley, a Canadian engineer with several successful software consultancy projects behind him. Ever the entrepreneur, Jason experimented with moving 1,000 miles away from his team after reading Tim Ferris' 4-hour Workweek. The transition, however, was not as easy as he had hoped.
"After a lot of long and crazy days, a pattern emerged," he says. "I realized I was wasting a lot of time relaying, copying, and forwarding information that had either not been recorded properly or was lost and forgotten." Jason tried to solve the problem by using publicly-available client collaboration tools. He faced problems here as well since none of the tools combined effective bug tracking with client collaboration and a friendly interface.
So, he took matters into his own hands and developed PMRobot, launching the first prototype as an internal company tool in May 2009. Since then, the tool has evolved into a commercial product.
According to Jason, PMRobot distinguishes itself from other, similar software solutions because of its focus on custom software development. "It saves custom software developers thousands of hours of work," says Jason. He says PMRobot is a three-in-one solution that enables you to manage projects, track bugs, and simplify client communication by making vital project stats available immediately. Although its roots are agile-based, PMRobot can be used with any type of project management methodology. "We don't force users to use 'Agile with a capital A'", says Jason. Instead, the solution "nudges" you into a more agile approach. "We make it easy to create more frequent milestones and commit to delivering more functionality in smaller chunks over more iterations," he says.
How Does This Robot Work?
The initial configuration of PMRobot involves creating project resources and assigning roles to them. The system defines three roles:
Once initial configurations are complete, managers create milestones (or, "sprints" in agile terminology) and assign tickets (or, "stories" in agile terminology) to members. Each ticket is broken down into tasks. Members can optionally record time spent on tickets for billing purposes.
The process seems simple and standard enough; however, finer details included within the system make this one a winner. For example, you can easily display your milestones on Google calendars. Similarly, the system is multi-select to enable bulk assignment of tickets to members.
You can also associate tickets with a full hierarchical file folder system, which resembles the Windows folder hierarchy, to store project artifacts. "There aren't many issue-tracking systems that enable users to organize files the way we do," says Jason.
My favorite feature in the system enables users to attach questions to tickets. While this may seem like a fairly simple and commonsense approach, the strategy can be very effective in closing open question loops. Jason says he got the idea for this feature after reading David Allen's Getting Things Done.
"David suggested making reminders to track open loops of questions and answers (or questions that remain unanswered despite multiple email requests)," he says. "I thought - hey, why not have the system track it for you?" According to Jason, the closed loop classification within PMRobot is very popular with users.
PMRobot is also big on security. Each ticket can be classified for public or internal viewing. In addition, you can configure security settings for practically every feature within the system, including notes or questions exchanged between stakeholders.
Finally, two tabs within the system (Time and Dev) provide you snapshots of time spent by each resource on tasks and code changes for that ticket respectively. These tabs are only available to managers and members. Jason says the Time Report feature will change soon. "We plan to include more interactive and visual elements in the solution," he says.
The Basics: What Does It Look Like?
The interface is intuitive and clutter-free. You can set up an account and your project within seconds. I personally loved the fact that a wizard prompt helped me through the initial setup process, thus reducing my learning curve. The dashboard, which doubles up as a home page for your application, enables you to perform and create project vitals such as milestones and tickets on-the-fly. While the global horizontal menu system enables you to switch between modules, a list of important task heads (right below the menu) enable you to create (or check) project parameters such as milestones and tasks, regardless of menu items.
Jason says the solution provides 100 percent free email support to all users. "This includes any desired help structuring projects and applying agile techniques," he says. So, the folks at PMRobot also offer instructional agile support to rookie software consultancies with little agile experience. Of course, this does not mean that paid subscribers get a raw deal. "People with paid monthly plans are given priority in our email queue and receive answers faster," he says. PMRobot also hosts customized webinar-based training sessions for new users. "We provide these by request to companies looking to improve how they use the platform," says Jason.
The interesting thing about PMRobot is that most new features within the system are the result of customer feedback. "Each week we gather suggestions from our most active users," says Jason. "Based on their feedback, we make appropriate changes to the system."
Is It For You?
Although the solution advertises itself as an agile project management tool, PMRobot is more than an adequate fit for projects using most methodologies. It is not perfect; however, it is a comparatively new tool. This fact works in its favor. "We do releases weekly and love to work with our customers to ensure that the product fits their needs, even as their needs change over time," says Jason.