Interview with Craig Fitzpatrick of Devshop – Project Management Done Right
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Craig Fitzpatrick CEO of Devshop Inc., which is a fantastic online hosted project management service for software developers. We believe there solutions are extremely useful and should be tested and tried at least once by every software team working diligently to manage and protect an accurate timeline for their project(s). We hope you enjoy the interview and gain as much insight into this fantastic product offering as we did.
TechAddress: Tell me a bit about your company, what it does and what’s your value proposition?
Devshop: For software teams who really want to deliver quality products on-time without all the usual mania of completely unrealistic timelines, changing requirements and so forth, Devshop is a hosted project management tool JUST for software teams – the whole team. Unlike general purpose project management products, Devshop focuses on helping manage the things that uniquely cripple software projects: accuracy of time estimates, distractions that keep coming up, and something we call Schedule Confidence (the measure of how “sure” you are about a given plan). It actually gets to know the individual team members and builds their particular habits into the schedule so you don’t commit yourself to a schedule you can’t deliver. It’s the first of its kind.
TechAddress: What makes your company stand apart from your competitors?
Devshop: Devshop isn’t trying to be the one project management app to manage all kinds of projects – it’s just for software. That alone sets us apart to begin with, but in addition, the approach is quite unique. Rather than simply trying to have the longest list of minutia to track (we track considerably less things, but the RIGHT things), Devshop focuses on the top factors that typically throw software projects off the rails: estimating time is hard, requirements keep changing and blowing up the schedule, and it’s really tough to quote “how sure” you are about any given plan to your customers. By focusing on these risks from a scheduling point of view, you can insulate the plan and prevent the typical software death march.
TechAddress: What are some of the main features?
Devshop: First, Devshop will actually track team members over time, getting to know their individual abilities to estimate time. After completing a few tasks, Devshop will know if a particular developer’s Time Estimation Error rate is 40%, and know to add 4 days automatically if you assign that person 10 days of work. This figure self-corrects over time. It also provides a feedback loop so that the developer can get better over time and bring that rate down to near zero. Second, since developers often get pulled from their core jobs to go do other things (being the only technical people in the organization usually), Devshop gets to know how often people get pulled to do things like “fix the CRM server” or “be a sales engineer for a day”, so that the schedule can be insulated from those trends as well. We call that the Distraction Rate. A third example is Schedule Confidence, which gives the team a metric that helps them quantify how much “homework” (requirements and design work) has been done and what effect that has on the “realism” of the current plan. It helps take the guess work out. Making commitments too early in the planning cycle is a common (costly) software mistake.
TechAddress: Who’s your target customer or audience?
Devshop: Any software team that typically spends 75% of their time developing software on a couple of projects (it’s less useful for body-shop type projects). The ideal team size would be 3 to 20 people, which pretty much covers the majority of software teams in organizations big and small alike. Teams that value collaboration in project planning will also like Devshop.
TechAddress: Any new things in particular that you’re working on right now?
Devshop: Lots! What people see in the Public Beta is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of new ways of looking at old (software) problems that we’ve got in store for the future. I’m afraid I’ll have to stay pretty tight-lipped about that right now.
TechAddress: Where do you see your company heading in the future?
Devshop: The plan is to be the Salesforce.com of the software development world. The place where you can go to get all of the “management and decision support” apps you need for software projects. Not your dev studio, or your timesheet software, but things that help you be a GREAT software team, like: project management, quality management, requirements management and so forth. But with the typical Devshop twist: that is, not just tracking minutia, but really looking at the trends that are at play in those functional areas and coming up with simple ways to take control of them so they don’t take control of you. The other major direction we’ve chosen is to help bridge the gap between the dev team and the rest of the organization. To most, development is voodoo. Opening up the Gantt chart to non-devs doesn’t do a whole lot to foster trust and understanding or provide a useful platform for honest-to-goodness collaboration. We’ve got some ideas on how to do it better.
TechAddress: Any negative feedback or criticism regarding technology and services?
Devshop: Sometimes the odd person will say, “but you don’t have that other feature that the other tool has”. We’re pretty picky about building-in just the right mix of “high impact” features that are really going to contribute to the success of the mission. It’s not about selling software by the pound with us. Some people are a little wary of the hosted software model right now, but it’s changing quickly.
TechAddress: So what would you say is the guiding principle behind your company?
Devshop: The customer experience is king. Good enough isn’t. Good ol’ fashioned customer service has been too long gone for too many companies – take responsibility for your own products!. Don’t get caught up in a feature race. Solve the problem in the most elegant fashion. He who solves the problem with the least features wins.
TechAddress: What is the mission of your company and what are you bringing to the market that is innovative?
Devshop: The mission is to make software development predictable for stakeholders, not a disaster-a-minute for those on the team, and we hope that fresh thinking beyond just tracking hours & things is the way to do that. Our secret sauce is in the “process without a process”, or using historical data about the team members and their environment (the organization) into account when planning, so that you really do learn and get better at planning. Lateness is the root of all software evil: when you start running late, you cut features, cut testing, and still deliver late anyway!
TechAddress: Where are you in terms of funding and your lifecycle?
Devshop: Devshop has been bootstrapped so far, with only a little raised from locals to get us through to launch. We’re within spitting distance of generating real revenue and are entertaining leads for angel investment. Any inquiries should come to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Get in while the gettin’ is good!
TechAddress: If your technology or service is not formally launched yet, when’s the launch date?
Devshop: We’re holding off on publicly announcing the commercial release date, pending the outcome of Public Beta – you never know what you’ll discover! The app is up and open to the public now however, at http://beta.devshop.com . We’re pretty close to a commercial launch. People may also be interested in my blog, http://www.UncommonSenseForSoftware.com, where I write about practical “street smart” software management and give you some of the inside scoop about what’s happening over at Devshop