It's not often that the chief of a software company orders his own product deconstructed. However, that was the case last summer when Tom Witkin, president and CEO of The SpeedWork Company Inc., was overseeing the development of SpeedWork Version 2.5, his company's new project management offering.
Even though the application was loaded with features, Witkin noticed it was becoming too difficult to operate. The end result after a retooling, he says, is a new task-oriented project management tool that is, above all else, easy for anyone to use.
"What we're trying to do for the project-oriented world is very similar to what Quickbooks [GST accounting software for small to medium businesses] has done for the accounting world," said Witkin. "A lot of project management science is intimidating and cumbersome to use. We wanted to bring an application, that didn't require any formal project management experience, to the world of everyday work."
Perhaps the most attractive feature of SpeedWork 2.5 is versatility. Not only does it run on Lotus Notes and Domino, but it is also available as a fully Web-enabled application, granting users full accessibility through a browser. In July it will also be available for rent through ASPs, such as the Interliant AppsOnline service.
SpeedWork 2.5 evolved from an application called instantProject, developed when The SpeedWork Company was still known as Market Contact Software Inc. One the many notable improvements in the new release, Witkin said, is the focus on managing everyday assignments.
"More traditional applications are designed for large, highly structured projects, like building the international space station, building the Hoover Dam... they're not designed for getting your everyday work done. They're not designed for collaborating with the everyday worker," Witkin said.
The ideal SpeedWork 2.5 user, according to Witkin, would be someone in a small- to-medium- sized workgroup, who needs to interact with coworkers and managers on day-to-day projects with specific goals.
Witkin added that while many companies make high quality programs, the applications are not always geared toward the individuals who are actually doing the work.
"Microsoft Project is a terrific application designed for project managers sitting at the top of the pyramid, looking to structure an overall project from the manager's standpoint. We're looking at it from the user's perspective," said Witkin. "We're really trying to distinguish ourselves from the other project applications out there."
That ease of use is apparent when users are creating a project. Witkin said that his company guides clients through the installation and setup process. He said, on average, installation, configuration, and initial project setup takes between 15 and 25 minutes.
Witkin added that SpeedWork 2.5 allows users to visually track the status of projects.
"We don't use our arcane project management terminology," he said. "We simply use timelines that are represented by colored balls that display the status of a project. It easily displays duration of task, time until deadline, and status of project, all generated by the system automatically."
The program features an interface allowing issue resolution within a task area. A user may change a task into a question, by denoting it with a large question mark easy for others to see and respond to. When another user answers the question, a large exclamation point replaces the question mark, showing that the issue has been resolved.
And if there is a project setback, said Witkin, "It yells at you in English, and tells you that you've got a problem."