ProjectPier Founder Interviewed!

I was interviewed near the end of last year about ProjectPier and some of its history. It ended up being rather long, so they weren't able to use it all. I have decided that it would be useful and some people might find it interesting if I posted the whole thing. Keep in mind that it was done awhile ago, so it might sound a bit dated. Without any further adieu, here it is below


On 9/27/07, Aaron Smith <******@******> wrote:

AS: Here's the list of questions I've put together about ProjectPier. I appreciate you taking the time to answer them for my article.

AS: How did you start/come up with the idea for ProjectPier?

RC: Actually, Ilija Studen originally came up with the idea for the precursor to ProjectPier, the activeCollab project. I believe it originally started as an open source clone of Basecamp (37signals). The origins of the project can be seen in the comments of the following blog post http://wisdump.com/business/being-37signals-for-free/#comment-4338

Personally, my father owns a general contracting and help from the community, I started to notice other active people on the forums and brought up the idea of development with them. When Ilija made the post about going commercial it was a good catalyst for us to consider forking the existing code. Unfortunately, I couldn't in good conscience start a fork of the code and commit to maintaining a project of that size permanently without having some other people willing to help. As a result, I started recruiting more people on the forums and formed a Yahoo! group so that we could start discussing how to move forward. We did a lot of good work and, as I mentioned, in the process of brainstorming a name for the new project we met Jon who had registered the name ProjectPier which was as good a name as any, and had the domain available! So, we set up shop and have been doing development since then.

Above all, I started it because I saw a lot of potential in creating a solid open source project management and collaboration software that would really help people get projects completed and not just focus on traditional planning/analysis/control.

AS: Who do you see as the target users?

RC: I think there are 2 main target audiences for this software. The first are the many small community groups, even single users, who need help staying organized for their projects - students, freelancers, non-profit, churches, etc. - and need something cheap and simple. The second are all the various business level users - from small business to enterprise users - who are probably looking for something they can host themselves (for security reasons) and who might be interested in being able to customize the solution to their specific needs. Of course there are a range of users who want have a simple collaboration platform, so we don't want to cater to any one particular group.

In general, I find that most projects are generally run and managed by some small team (1-15 people) even if those teams are within a larger organization. The groups and their projects are often very organic and evolutionary over time, and I think providing a framework to facilitate that loose structure is much better than trying to impose structure or attempting to track the structure, which is the traditional approach.

Also from reports I've received from current users, it ranges between single users, like freelance designer/developers or students who want to just keep track of their own projects to large enterprises, like Duke University who are using it to manage over 400 of their research projects. I think our main target is people who have a lot on their plate and are interested in getting a project done and doing things and are less interested in trying to manage what needs to be done, because bureaucracy is nobody's friend.

AS: Why is your application valuable [to] a small business?

RC: First, I think small businesses will find it valuable because it takes away most of the overhead necessary to run a project and makes collaboration easier and more efficient. I think it removes a lot of the necessity of having a dedicated project manager, which saves costs, plus it allows projects to have as much or as little structure as it needs so it scales for many different types of projects. We recognize (and try to leverage) the organic nature of many project groups and attempt to provide the tools they need to cooperate.

Secondly, by providing a solution that can be hosted however you want, it provides both flexibility and security. Many businesses, particularly small business, rely on some sort of special skill or knowledge to provide a business advantage and it would be foolish to trust this information to be kept secret by some other business.

Thirdly, the flexibility to host your own solution and full ability to see and customize the source code provides the ability to integrate existing infrastructure or enable specialized features for different business that is simply not possible with a proprietary system. Plus, you never have to worry about a company going out of business or your software expiring.

AS: I found several other project management sites online, like Basecamp, goPlan, Intervals, OpenProject, etc. How does your application differ from these others?

RC: Some of our vision and philosophy about how project management works was inspired by Basecamp (mainly the focus on communication), however Basecamp and its many clones (activeCollab, goPlan, zoho projects, etc) are all proprietary. In addition, most of them are hosted and you don't have the option to install it locally. Also, most of those programs can't be customized the way an open source project can be. As a result, by using those services, what you're really giving up are control of your information and flexibility of your systems. The way we differ from the other projects (dotProject, MS Project, Open Workbench, "]project-open[", Streber-pm, etc.) is their focus on the more traditional approach to project management mainly Gantt charts, risk tracking, resource allocation analysis, etc. It is an often lamented claim that managing a project can sometimes become a full time project in itself, and I don't feel this is necessary. I feel well positioned to understand that some projects are on the scale that they need to have that type of analysis done (risk assessments, critical paths, etc), but those projects generally also have the ability to provide a full time project manager (sometimes many). On a meta level, I think some of those larger projects could still benefit from an approach like this between the different project leads. Additionally many of those programs are desktop based, some might say desktop bound, and therefore loose the benefits of a networked application. Finally, I know that a gantt chart or risk analysis doesn't get the job done, people do. ProjectPier aims to facilitate what people do and get out of the way.

AS: How does the recent activity around ActiveCollab effect the future of your application?

RC: There has actually been a lot of discussion on the activeCollab forums and comments on the blogs. There were a lot of people who were upset when Ilija decided to go commercial, and there was a huge uproar when he posted prices of the new software (up to $2,000). He recently also decided not to provide a free version any more. As a result, a lot of people feel like he has been stringing them along for the last 6+ months, in addition to using the open source meme to generate traction around a product before commercializing it. I also still find it amusing when people make a post on the activeCollab website in outrage like this is something that just happened, since they have obviously just found out about the switch. I don't think Ilija intentionally started the activeCollab project with the intention of closing it up as it approached 1.0, but he made comments from very early on that he wanted to provide commercial support/customizations. I don't fault Ilija for wanting to get some compensation for his efforts, but I was disappointed when I saw the move to close the source and commercialize the project. I think there are other ways to generate business from a software project without the need to close the source; drupal and wordpress provide good examples of this. I think the switch to a commercial product was the big catalyst to get ProjectPier started, but in some ways, I really am glad that he made the switch. There wasn't any community development going into the code base, and without that I think either a fork would've been inevitable or the project would've died because Ilija wouldn't have been able to maintain the one man show as the project continued to grow.

Either way, a lot of positive comments have been made referring to ProjectPier in the activeCollab forums. I think people have started referring other users to our project since they don't feel that activeCollab will be worth the money - especially untested. There are also a lot of people who want to support the open source work that we are doing and recognize the merit of that approach. A lot of open source projects have vibrant commercial ecosystems surrounding them that have enhanced the project instead of turning it into a closed proprietary system. I know Ilija put a lot of work into this code, and I think we all wish him the best of luck with his company.

AS: What do you think of the recent uproar over ActiveCollab pricing?

RC: As I said earlier, I think that many users felt betrayed. I think there was this idea that switching from a free and open source project to charging up to $2,000 for the software was just not right. However, I think you have to give Ilija a bit of credit for listening to his potential clients and changing the pricing. I believe that he will continue facing a lot of uphill battles since many people still think of activeCollab as an open source/free project that he is now charging a significant amount of money for. In addition, without any free version to try, many people will be hesitant to hand over the cash. Not to take pleasure in activeCollab's potential misstep, but I'm excited to see more people joining our project every day and I expect that trend to continue.

AS: Where do you plan to go with the application (features, API, plugins)?

RC: This is probably our most often asked question, and since we just released version 0.8 , it is something we are thinking a lot about. As a group, we are trying to form a road map and figure out where we want to focus on next. Personally, the biggest feature that I'd like to see is a plug-in architecture. Additionally, we'd like to implement 2 major features that many people have been asking for - time tracking and project templates. There are several other features that I think would be really useful to have, but I don't think everyone necessarily desires them nor will they be appropriate for every project. That's why I think the plug-in architecture is really the most important place to focus; it will allow everyone to decide what is most important to them. I think it will allow a lot more people to contribute to the project, not to mention the ability for enterprises to customize the software much more easily without having to break the core system. The other important focus point will be on some user interface improvements. Beyond that, I guess the sky is the limit - I'd like to do things like better calendaring and abstracting the authentication for things like openID or LDAP and other integrations. I am hoping for some improved theming abilities and I'm sure we'll see Gantt charts from someone that needs to appease the boss.

AS: Again, thanks for your time. I look forward to reading your responses.

RC: Thanks for your interest, Aaron. It's always great to see more open source projects mentioned in the media and I appreciate the opportunity to share ProjectPier with your readers.

What's the easiest way to get in touch with you?....

Outside of leaving comments on your blog ;-) I have some experience that may be useful to Project Pier but didn't want to sign-up on the PP site yet. Let me know...

Submitted by Ben Gaucherin (not verified) on Thu, 10/07/2008 - 9:25pm.
Good effort!

Enjoyed the interview! Waiting for more!

Submitted by Jack Hobbs (not verified) on Mon, 31/10/2011 - 7:54pm.

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