From XLS to BC5 - Part 1

This is the first of a rambling series of articles that details the evolution of a home-grown project management system. It is not intended to instruct or to promote any particular system, although knowing the problems met and mostly overcome may prove useful.

A disclaimer is needed here: these articles are all my own work and are personal views only. It is hoped that I will write nothing that upsets RemObjects Software, but only time will tell!

This article merely sets the scene and shows why I produced a spreadsheet in the first place. The story starts just over a year ago, when I assumed the role of General Project Manager at (RemObjects Software). Before then, I had a minor role at the company (which suited me fine, having had serious health problems).

The company at that time were having problems (I feel safe to say that now, after this length of time). These were the normal problems faced by a small start-up company having to switch to maintaining existing applications in parallel with creating new ones. Although a lot of work was being done, it wasn’t properly focused, resulting in us missing promised ROadmap targets. This, coupled with personnel changes, meant that some serious project management was needed.

The main tool in use was the Mantis bug management system and there were actually three separate databases (and I added another, but that comes later). At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of Mantis, but my respect for the system has grown considerably over the past year.

Time for a little digression. I have a love/hate relationship with certain software applications. Some I gel with instantly and others cause me no end of grief. Whether I love or hate something doesn’t always seem to match the experiences of others. For example, I loved Virtual Access and only switched to the XanaNews newsreader when development of the former virtually (sorry!) ceased. In contrast, I have had nothing but bad memories with VMWare, which others seem to love. A lot depends, in my view, on why and how you are using an application. When you have to use one, the learning curve can definitely put you in the ‘hate it’ category.

Although I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love Mantis either, particular when I tried to use it for project management. It was fine for viewing and updating single issues, but I found it far too slow and restricted when trying to view at a management level. So, I needed a proper project management tool. In the past, I have had great success with bespoke tools such as Microsoft Project and various time recording tools, but I did not feel these were an option at the time. In view of the fact that we were behind schedule, I needed to use a system that did not impact upon the developers (apart, of course, from making them more productive in terms of the items that were most important).

So I decided to create a spreadsheet as a temporary solution (where have you heard that before?) where I could keep the important details from the three databases in a single place, thus allowing me to create consolidated reports.

That’s it for this first article. Subsequent articles will cover how this spreadsheet evolved into an application known internally as BC5.

Mike Orriss

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