19 May 2011

Reqline Beta Launched!

download1 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

4 comments:

  1. I agree. Keep going. We need more of this stuff.
    I too couldn't figure out what to do but put that down to my lack of expertise in the BA arena. I haven't a clue most of the time and fudge my way through it.
    I was thinking of something for the iPad so a web based version would be ideal for this. Understandable if you don't actually want to pay to host this stuff and would rather create software to push out into the market. Hence, what you've done.
    Congrats.

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  2. I can appreciate the problem the guys at Pragnalysis have... no one, and I mean no one, has done this well so far. They wanted to get a v1 out there quickly, to see what worked and what didn't, so they could iterate and make it suck less that much faster. Its a great strategy and can build better software faster, but it doesn't take away that the first version just isn't very good. If someone had done it well thus far, they would have a good model to follow when building their product to be even better.

    I do think, looking back on this post, that I need to make one clarification... I'm not saying I could do better. In fact, I'm saying the opposite simply by the fact that I have not built a better requirements tool. They had the guts to try while I get to sit back on my blog and 'take shots at their work.' If the creators are reading this, I hope you guys understand that I'm not picking on you; I'm rooting for you to win! We need you to win.

    Creating an excellent user interface and workflow is hard. Very hard. I've been doing it with custom software for 4.5 years (and packaged software for 5 more years) and I am just now getting the hang of what makes for an ok experience. I think I've got a long way to go before I understand what makes a really *good* experience. I look back on some of my work from just last year and want to slap myself for the dumb mistakes I have made. It just isn't easy.

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  3. Coincidentally I trialled this software today and had the same reaction as you did Ted. Good on them for trying, but this isn't fit for the public yet.

    Presenting a poor product such as this presents a risk to the product's reception in the marketplace; you often only get one shot with a busy user like me. If it's rubbish, I'm gone never to return.

    The Praganalysis guys need to form up a friendly group to pilot with and get feedback from. Otherwise they are burning goodwill.

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  4. Its the dichotomy of modern software development. On the one hand, you've got the traditionalists who say, "your product can't suck! no one will use it!" and then you've got the progressives who chant, "ship early, ship often". thing is, both camps are working (hard) on getting to the same end point, software that has a large positive impact on their user bases. I routinely get frustrated at how slow software development, especially in large companies, can be. I also see the number of small, nimble start ups, who are using the newest methodologies (often no methodology) and fail incredibly badly over and over again.

    I wish I knew of a better, middle road. My thoughts are this... start with a very limited, yet rock solid set of functionality. Give your users something that isn't wildly useful, but has just enough that they like you and have that one niche you fill like no one else. Build from there, only releasing something that 1) fits with your core goals, 2) is truly excellent (not perfect, just excellent) and 3) can fit into a very small development cycle. It all feels like the old triangle joke... speed, quality and cheap; pick any 2.

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