Project Management Visionaries: Vertabase

This is the fourth and final(?) entry in the PM Visionary Series.

Some time ago I met Mark Phillips of Vertabase online in the Ask About Projects forum. We found we kept answering the same questions and in some cases commented on each others comments. I found many of his answers to be very shrewd and I developed a fast respect for the man. About a year ago, I got the great pleasure of having coffee with Mark to catch up and talk about each others’ work. What I discovered during that coffee was that in addition to being extremely knowledgeable about project management, Mark was very hip to social media as well. It was a great meeting, and knowing him has been one of the highlights of my short career in blogging!

In today’s article, Mark talks about keeping software out of the way, ensuring information stays meaningful, and being resilient enough to function well within any environment. Join me in welcoming Mark to the blog by leaving your comments in the section below!

Project Management Made Easy

Our vision at Vertabase is one where people have the information they need to do their work but where software doesn’t get in the way. Software facilitates their job but doesn’t become a tiresome task that needs to be done because a project manager or bookkeeper said so.

Our vision is predicated on the belief that projects are a good way to organize work but that people don’t need to be professional project managers to get the benefits of sensibly managing projects. And, that it is somebody’s job to manage projects, produce reports, collect information and use project data for strategic decision making.
This visions finds its form in our approach to the features we build, the audience that uses Vertabase and in the services we offer.

Features

There are two aspects to our approach to features: which features we choose and how we implement them.

We like to think of our features as the “best of” project management. They are culled from the most used and most powerful features in the project management toolbox. We combine them with the benefit of having information centralized on a server and make them easy-to-use, to create a one-stop-shop for projects. Our feature set is fully customizable and can be as extensive as including project creation, task scheduling, document management, project budgets, online timesheets, issue tracking, resource allocation and reporting across all projects, portfolios or people.

You can turn-on or off any feature you’d like and control the features by access level or permission group. This is part of the “how” we implement.

Staying true to our vision of project management made easy means that we make sure features are: easy to use, intuitive (like drag and drop for documents), convenient (like timesheets integrated with tasks and a daily to do list) and subtly comprehensive.

Vertabase Screencast

Subtly Comprehensive

Information, entered once in Vertabase, is leveraged to provide data across a wide spectrum of reports and features. We are focused on eliminating double-entry of data and maximizing the value of every interaction with the software. This means that team members can concentrate on their specific tasks, get targeted information that’s relevant to them and, in a simple task update, provide information directly to the project manager and others. Information flows up, down and across an organization along the paths you set-up as part of the software. This can be as simple as determining which actions trigger email reminders to whom, or as detailed as creating report templates for individual managers of separate business units. This flows directly into another core tenant of our vision.

Vertabase Screencast

Make Information Meaningful

The secret to project management is producing meaningful information. To be meaningful, information needs to be in context. The more context we provide, the less intrusive the software can be. When task information is targeted and in context, team members know why they are doing something and only have to enter an update once. Project managers can enter schedule data and it automatically creates relevant information for each stakeholder, depending on their role. Senior management or clients can view reports that have only the information they care about.

As discussed in my recent blog post, project management is an outstanding theory of work. It provides a framework on which we can hang the gigabytes of project data that are generated every week. Without it, information becomes noise and project management software becomes cumbersome and unused. There are numerous frameworks you can use: PMI – PMBOK Guide, Agile, Waterfall, Prince2, etc. and the mishmash of techniques used every day to get the job done.

In a Social World – Our Vision Solidified

The rise of social media has solidified our belief in the importance of keeping information in context. The success of Twitter, Yammer, Facebook and Basecamp, has sparked a me-too trend to capture everything inside of project management software. Some people want to migrate the entire work process online.

Vertabase is focused on the work environment people currently live in. We don’t want to burden people with yet another online personae they have to manage or another space they have to interact with to do their job. We have surveyed numerous project managers and senior management and have found that Vertabase saves them an incredible amount of time. By providing information in a way that is meaningful to them, they don’t have to sift through post after post of task oriented conversation to get the answer to a simple question like “when will the task be done?”

Project management software provides value by helping answer specific questions. For managers those are questions like “are we making money?” “how many hours is this taking?” “are we above or below our estimate” or “is Joe overbooked and when can we schedule the next chunk of work?” For team members, those are questions like, “When is this due?” “Where is the project information?” or “Is this design approved?” At Vertabase, we are focused on helping people answer those questions.

Vertabase Screencast

Our Audience Drives Our Vision

We spend a lot time understanding the tools people use to do their work. This lets us know where people are spending their time and the environment we need to fit into. One of our first questions to people is “what tools do you use to do your job?” Our customers span the gamut from MS Office, Google Docs. to sticky notes and job folders. For some, it is Adobe’s Creative Suite, Basecamp and Excel for time tracking. For others, it is MS Project for planning, QuickBooks for billing and a truck-full of tools and hardware on the job. We want to make sure they can use the best tools for the job, but still have the benefit of project management.

Frankly, organizations can only thrive when they are delivering the right products or services. To paraphrase Peter Drucker, “The only results that matter are those outside of the company.” That’s what pays the bills.

In order to give people what they need to benefit from project management, Vertabase can be deployed either as Software as a Service or installed directly on customer’s servers. We have the added flexibility of customizing the software and creating integration points with other applications.

Service Matters – Empowering Customers

At the end, project management is about people and information. Give people what they need without getting in the way. We foster a culture of empowerment by sharing our expertise and experience in project management and in implementing project management software. For many organizations, adopting project management software is the next big step for them to getting better organized, increasing visibility and generating real business intelligence. That’s why service is a big part of what we do. This is reflected in our training, consulting and support. We love to share best practices and useful knowledge with our customers. Our vision is about enabling our customers to do their best work and be the best they can be. As our slogan for Vertabase 5.0 says “Do what you do, only better.”

 

Mark Phillips of VertabaseMark Phillips is a project management evangelist, writer and consultant. He is a co-founder of Vertabase and leads the product management team. A highly sought-after speaker on project management and technology, Mark has led seminars at the PMI Great Lakes Chapter, spoken at the Internet User Experience conference, HOW’s MYOB conference and numerous Adobe groups. His blog is consistently ranked one of the leading blogs for project management in the world. His work has appeared in publications including C|Net, eWeek, and ComputerWorld and he has been interviewed on the leading project management podcasts on the web. He is a moderator on Stack Exchange’s project management site. Mark regularly consults for organizations ranging from the Fortune 500 to the Fast 500 and everywhere in between. He holds a Masters degree in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan and a Bachelors of Science in Economics and Philosophy from the London School of Economics. You can follow him on Twitter at @mpmobile.

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Elizabeth

    Ty (or Mark), hello. This article doesn’t fully explain what social media type features Vertabase uses, if any. The reason I’m asking is because I believe that creating another persona or creating social media style features within a project management tool is pointless if all your users are hanging around somewhere else, like on Twitter. Asking them to work in the way that feels most comfortable is the simplest solution, so Vertabase’s approach to understanding work tools is positive. I haven’t yet found a project management tool that can incorporate feeds from social media tools (and it might just be me that wants this, to be honest), so I agree that the jumping on the bandwagon that Mark writes about is not helpful to delivering business results in small companies, where the critical mass of people using the project tool doesn’t feel enough to get a good network going. What do you think?

  • Hi Elizabeth,  our approach at Vertabase is to keep information in context and to provide relevance for information that is given or provided. With that in mind, social media tools don’t provide enough project specific context nor is the information provided by the tools instantly recognizable as relevant. We’ve found that much of the benefit in terms of people’s enjoyment in using social media tools, is outweighed by the administrative overhead it takes for managers to get good data out of the tools.  The issue is not the size of the network, it is the lack of boundaries on project related conversations. (This plays into the added burden of managing another personae online to make-sure your online “work-face” looks good.) By keeping discussions focused, you can still get good networks, information flow and discussions going without losing relevance.

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