Our user has commented nicely about Yoxel Personal sync in this Basecamp Answers thread (see last comment)  https://answers.37signals.com/basecamp/2534-outlook-task-integration

Just want to add here that we can do the same now for Zoho Projects: http://yoxel.com/zoho-project-management.html  Huddle connector is also coming.

Plus, we’re testing our contacts sync for Highrise and Google app: http://yoxel.com/highrise-synchronization.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is how you could implement basic scrum story tracking without signing up with any project server, simply using email. You’ll need to use our desktop app Yoxel PCM which scans your email inbox to help you track conversations and identify requests communicated in them.

  1. Install Yoxel PCM, connect it to your email account (i.e. GMail), see how here
  2. Flag/Star those email threads that represent scrum stories in your email client (or start new ones directly from Yoxel PCM)
  3. Yoxel PCM starts tracking conversations that you have identified and also presents them to you as chats
  4. As a conversation progresses, requests and responsible persons are identified.
  5. Each responsible person marks his/her ownership of a story and attaches personal tasks to it, all in their own Yoxel PCM. All this info is shared with the rest of the To/CC list and everyone is aware of who the owners are.
  6. As the owners progress on their tasks they mark their status (active, inwork, complete). As the matter of fact the app can tell the 1st two states automatically. Others, monitoring the conversation, see all these updates.

With this server-less model you dont get to see gantt or burndown charts but you can track all stories simply over email and empower individual functional members to plan and track the tasks associated with them.

Enjoy.

Many large companies are concerned about measuring their business performance. It is not always obvious which departments, projects, products, and customers are more profitable and hence where the company’s focus should be. One approach that is helping the large organizations figure out their profitability is called Activity Based Costing. The model translates resource expenses into costs of basic activities constituting higher level projects and processes and from their derives product/service/customer costs. Such an analysis compared to the revenues generated by the corresponding product/service/customer helps to decide how resources should be used more effectively to maximize profitability.

You can find more detailed explanation of ABC on the Internet, here is just one interesting quote from http://www.asaresearch.com/articles/abc.htm:

Many experts believe that the best method for measuring a business may be “Activity Based Costing”. Some accounting software products such as SAP, Syspro IMPACT Encore, and Deltek offer strong ABC accounting.

The ABC model has a number of problems though that make its adoption quite problematic:

… the process of calculating activity expenses through interviews, observation and surveys has proven to be time-consuming and costly to collect the data, expensive to store, process and report, difficult to update in light of changing circumstances, and theoretically incorrect, by suppressing the role for unused capacity when calculating cost driver rates.

So an alternative approach for estimating an ABC model, called “time-driven activity-based costing,” addresses the above limitations. It is simpler, less costly, and faster to implement. Here is a great paper explaining TDABC and how exactly it is better than the original ABC model: Time-Driven Activity Based Costing. One of the key elements is how you measure an activity, and TDABC seems to be doing this by estimating time required by an activity:

The one new information element required for the time-driven ABC approach is an estimate of the time required to perform a transactional activity. As discussed earlier, an ABC system uses a transaction driver whenever an activity − such as setup machine, issue purchase order, or process customer request − takes about the same amount of time. The time-driven ABC procedure uses an estimate of the time required each time the activity is performed. This unit time estimate replaces the process of interviewing people to learn what percentage of their time is spent on all the activities in an activity dictionary. The time estimates can be obtained either by direct observation or by interviews. Precision is not critical; rough accuracy is sufficient.

I really liked the TDABC paper but I am sort of confused by these two statements:

  1. This unit time estimate replaces the process of interviewing people to learn what percentage of their time is spent on all the activities in an activity dictionary.
  2. The time estimates can be obtained either by direct observation or by interviews.

I understand that if you have the estimates you do not need the interviewing process. But, how exactly do you obtain these unit time estimates? The 2nd statement says, by interviews. So, do we get rid of the interviews or not? I am not sure what direct observation means exactly.

In any case the TDABC model makes alot of sense to me, and I like the idea of using time measurements instead of purely transactional measurements (10% – activity1, 20% – activity2, … = always 100%). I even think that you can do better than just the estimates. Organizations that use project management tools capable of time tracking could be collecting actual time measurements quite easily (depends on the tool of cause) all the time. Anyone tracking their tasks for PM reasons would automatically be logging time spent on the tasks. All that needs to be done additionally is proper categorization and directing that data into one of those TDABC systems (i.e. SAP, AcronSys, …)

So I am thinking the time measurements earlier generated by interviews could actually be a natural by-product of the PM task tracking process and will not be time consuming at all. A PM product that makes it very easy for people to track time could basically enable ABC/TDABC models for measuring business performance.

What do you think?

 

Here are two more links with more information on TDABC:

http://blog.acornsys.com/The-Acorn-Blog/bid/47380/Why-is-Time-Driven-Activity-Based-Costing-Such-a-Game-Changer

http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/168435559.html

 


A while back I posted a digest/review of a research paper on the theory of project management. It was an attempt to make it easy to read but I think it may still look like it is too much to digest. So I want to pick it apart more and discuss here just one problem:

The current model is basically represented by a non-cyclical network graph in which each activity connects directly into its immediate successors.  Such a model fails to account for uncertainty in production process, which affects time as well as interdependencies between tasks.

So the the non-cyclical network graph model (think MS project / GANTT chart model) is a big flaw by itself. So much of our work on projects is cyclical actually. You worked on a task and then you worked on it more, and then someone found a bug, and you worked on it again.

The bigger challenge is the fact that new tasks come about every day and the graph constantly changes. The creative process of working on a task or collaborating with others will produce more intermediate tasks, guaranteed! To make your project status visible and clear you have to somehow keep capturing all these new tasks. I don’t think there are very good solutions available for this.

As these new tasks come and go, a bunch everyday, the key to capturing them would be the simplicity of entering them into your PM system. Very few systems made it simple for people to do that. One good example is probably 37signals’ Basecamp, their motto is simplicity and I think it really helps in capturing these “newly born” tasks. Although this works only if your whole team is very disciplined, as it still requires a login into the project portal every time you need to register a new todo.

I believe a better way would be a close email integration. So many of these “newly born” todos are communicated in email to begin with. So, that is where you need to capture them right away, without requiring to log into the project portal throughout the day and typing the same data one more time. I even think MS Outlook/Entourage got it, as they have implemented ‘follow-up/todo’ flag for email messages which turns them into tasks. But I am quite unhappy with their implementation. I don’t like one-to-one message-to-task relationship. Plus once they have created all these tasks they have not provided a convenient way for people to plan and manage them, in my opinion (well, they really want you to use MS Project for that).

I think you need to have a desktop app to implement the convenient email integration. Basecamp does not offer much in this regard as they are purely web-based plus their view on email integration is different.

What we have done with Yoxel PCM is we first have separated the following two concepts: requests and tasks. Requests are what is communicated in emails (people asking you to do something or you ask them to do something, deliverables really), and tasks are personal todos (what you think you need to do to satisfy the request, what you plan to come up with request commitment dates).

You really want to manage a whole conversation (email thread), not isolated messages (not every email is a request requiring a task), to identify requests in it and track them. Conversations usually go though these stages: started, exchanging ideas, request identified, owner identified, planning&committing, work collaboration, done. Neither MS Outlook nor Entourage allow you manage the whole conversation from start to finish. I think Google Wave was on the right path though. Then you link your personal tasks to the conversation (to the request discussed in the conversation for which you’re responsible). Well, this makes more sense to me. It makes it easier to trace from task to request/deliverable to conversation and back. Also as you focus on conversations rather than individual email messages this allows to organize them better and move the multitude of the messages exchanged under the umbrellas of the conversations (think GMail email threading).

I dont believe email is going away, I personally like the distributed email model very much. I just think new generation email management systems need to be developed to provide better collaboration experience.

-Cheers

Part of the new Yoxel PCM build is integration with Google Calendar.

For email accounts hosted at GMail Yoxel PCM can now automatically import calendar events to block out those time slots from its work-hours calendar. The work-hours calendar is used to plan/estimate work on tasks.

There is abundance of web-based project management tools on the market. Most probably your organization is using one of them right now. How successful though? Have you noticed that most of the project collaboration in your organization is still done through email? That people are reluctant to log into the web portal every time a new task has popped up?

Seems like email (and chat) is what people prefer to use for communicating deliverables and concepts. It is email’s flexibility and accessibility that allows people to be more productive.

So Yoxel PCM is not yet another web-based PM tool forcing somewhat rigid web-based collaboration model on teams, it is a desktop application (Rich Internet App – RIA) that leverages the flexibility of the email and provides enhanced experience more suitable for managing projects.

We have just released the next “early adopter” build with a very useful “multi-owner” request capability. That is when you send a request (email basically) to a group of people and several of them can become responsible for the request. Yoxel PCM now can track progress status and commitment dates of all the owners. This is a capability you will not find in your MS Outlook and it has been asked for by a number of our users.

Read more about this build here.

Enjoy.

Last couple of months we have been working with a number of early adopters of our new Yoxel PCM product. The feedback that is coming is extremely useful.

The updated version of Yoxel PCM (build #100) with the following enhancements is now available for launch from http://yoxel.com:

  1. Simplified configuration of new email accounts:
    • Auto detecting IMAP/POP/SMTP account settings for addresses hosted by GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail
    • Retrieving MS Exchange account settings from existing Outlook configuration
    • SMTP accounts now added/edited in the Email Account editor
  2. Requests View:
    • GMail-like ordering added (by last comment received in the request channel)
    • Flag icons added to show requests associate with tasks
  3. Request Channel (Email Chat):
    • “Need response” mode added
    • Highlighting messages in the chat window to differentiate senders
  4. Improved time profile editor:
    • Day editor allows changing default number of work hours
  5. Calendar View look&feel:
    • Various decorative effects added for cursor, tasks, checkpoints
    • Day time profile correction information is made visible
  6. MS Exchange integration:
    • Identify “follow-up” flagged messages as ‘incoming requests’

Now, that the version is more stable we’re opening it up more:

  • The free “IMAP-only” version can be launched right away from the download page.
  • It is also easy now to launch the evaluation “IMAP+MS Exchange” version from our support portal.