This post originally appeared May 19, 2011 on BetterProjects.net.
You know, I have to hand it to the guys at Pragnalysis, they did something in a timeframe I didn’t believe possible. Last Saturday, they debuted their new requirements management tool, Reqline. I love the idea of what they’re trying to do here for a couple of reasons I feel I just need to point out.
First, the price is unbeatable. Its free. The last vendor I spoke with who promised me a revolution in how I elicit requirements wanted $250k just for a handful of user licenses. Their tool was, admittedly, top-notch, but when you work for an organization that relies almost exclusively on open source tools for their development practice, freeing up money for new desktops is hard, much less dropping a quarter of a million dollars, equivalent to some yearly departmental budgets, for a tool to replace MS Word, Excel and Visio, tools the company already pays a lot less for, is an impossibly hard sell.
Second, I like their approach. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know I’m a big fan of simplicity. My general rule is to use as few tools as possible to complete the needed tasks in as efficient of a manner as possible. Despite the growing number of requirements management tools on the market, most try to be everything to everyone, and charge everyone for it. You know, I really don’t need an absurdly complicated traceability matrix function, but if you just give me a list view with custom columns and, most importantly, an extremely fast way to enter the data I need, you’re going to win me over.
All the praise aside, there are a few things that I have to talk about with the tool; things I just can’t get over despite my want to love it.
Back to Reality
First up, this is a v1 release. Not all v1 releases are bad, but this one surely is. Guys, great effort, and I don’t mean that in a pandering, elementary school soccer coach way. Please keep up the good work, but your tool, in its v1 incarnation, is simply unusable. Its not that I didn’t try. I walked through the half dozen very needless configuration screens during the setup process and at the end, I was presented with a blank grid that did nothing. I figured I messed something up (user error, hello!) so I did it all over again. Same thing.
I’m a pretty savvy guy when it comes to software (just having to justify myself that way makes shivers run down my spine), but even I couldn’t figure it out. I figured out Prototype Composer. I figured out iRise. I even figured out Oracle BPM Studio, yet your tool completely flummoxed me.
Maybe its not fair to pick on you, given I couldn’t even get the tool to work. Maybe I should have contacted you for support. That’s not really my point though. Its possible I was just over-thinking it and missed something very obvious, but isn’t that in and of itself a problem? If I failed to be able to use it, what is going to happen to users with lesser abilities to navigate foreign software?
If I could give you only one piece of advice, it would be simplicity. Launch the app. Present 1 option for the user to fill out (the project name) and then slap in your ‘best case’ defaults for everything else. Get me using the app as fast as possible with as little work on my part as possible. Give me a way to tweak the settings later, after I get a chance to actually use it. Those half-dozen screens I walked through during setup? I had no context (other than my background as a BA) about the consequences of any of my selections, other than my experience with requirements in general. Keep it simple; it will help. There is a reason 'It just works’ is a slogan. If it just works, you’ve solved most of my problems already.
But if I could give you a second piece of advice, it would be to ditch .Net completely. Its not a bad thing for desktop software, but its very limiting. You really want to do this right, you can still use .Net, but make this thing a web application that anyone can use. Don’t make me install software; point me to your website and turn me lose. The name of the game for requirements elicitation and analysis is collaboration. Installing desktop software is a big bag of hurt on collaboration. Don’t saddle yourself with what is a legacy application on its launch day. Don’t tie yourself to something that can only be used on a Windows machine. Analysts need to be mobile and that excludes just about everything from Redmond, WA outside of lugging a laptop into someone’s office.
It may seem like I was a bit overly critical of a v1 piece of software, but if you take anything away from what I’ve written, its that you shouldn’t give up! Go on! Go faster! Go better! I love what you guys are trying to do and I truly want you to succeed beyond your wildest expectations. If you do succeed, then you’ve made my life so much better. I can’t wait to see what v2 has in store.