Project Management (or productivity) software has always been troublesome. It was like accounting, you needed to have a special person who thought like all those spreadsheets to actually use the program.
Then the tools evolved and now, with online banking and financial tools like Mint, we are able to track and analyze baffling things like money.
But productivity software has been notoriously problematic for creative projects. Just utter the phrase, “Microsoft Project” in a room full of creatives and it will quickly turn quite frosty. If the tagline for MS Project wasn’t, “Designed By Engineers For Engineers” it really should have been. Even the much-lauded Basecamp from 37 Signals, while light years ahead of Project, is still a bit of work for creative folks who still need to retrofit their working style to fit the interface.
In a recent email discussion about this, a friend from Agile Partners suggested that I keep my eyes open for Action Method. While it isn’t released yet (and living up to pre-launch hype is always a challenge), the concept gave me great hope because the problem wasn’t necessarily with the productivity software, it was with the people that used these applications. And the problem was that they loathed using them. I don’t think loathe is too strong a word. That’s a problem.
What looks different about Action Method is that they’ve broken out the world into projects with three categories.
They describe it like this: “The typical creative process for managing ideas and projects is haphazard. Many creatives lose energy amidst unclear tasks, half-finished thoughts, ideas with ambiguous next steps, cluttered references, and little follow-up in a team environment. This method brings order to the organic creative process we all use in our work.”
The secret of what will most likely make Action Method successful is this key point: creative processes do not lend themselves to a whole lot of documentation and categorizing. “The Action Method is project-centric, not context-centric. “We found that creative people tend to approach their personal and professional lives as a series of projects. Design helps us sort the components of these projects and stay engaged long enough to complete them.” With over twenty years of experience in creative groups, I can assure you the operative in that sentence is, “stay engaged long enough to complete them”. It’s the difference between a productivity system that you can actually use to run your business and one that just wastes everybody’s time.
There’s a great usability book called, “Don’t Make Me Think” which encourages developers to not make the people who are going to be using the interface have to think about what they should do next. Action Method sounds like they have taken that to heart and designed a productivity system that works the way creative people think. At least, I’m hoping that’s what it is.