Thoughts on building an online project management tool

John Reeve | October 21st, 2008 | , ,

The online market for productivity tools is growing rapidly and expected to keep doing so. The growth isn’t solely economic, either. New technologies and efficient frameworks are making it more simple for developers to launch new ideas and see where the winds of business take them. It was only four years ago that the Pelago team decided it was time to leverage our collective experience and expertise into a web-based product of our own. Here are some thoughts on what we’ve learned along the way.

Build on what you know

The first thing anyone thinks when pondering what type of web-based application they should build is “what can I do that no one else has done yet.” We assume that being the first to market with a unique idea is all we need to succeed. The flaw with this logic is that there really aren’t very many unique ideas left. And if you do think of one, someone is going to copy it, and where does that leave you? You will have a far greater advantage over your competitors if you build something based on what you know — if you are your own audience. Not only will you save time and money on market research, but you will also be more in tune with your customer’s needs once you do launch. We chose to build a project management service because our past nine years of experience as a web design and development shop have honed our project management skills to a fine point. We have a lot of knowledge pertaining to workflow that we could distill into a web-based service. And we are finding that our customers gravitate towards Intervals because of its practical and relevant workflow. Building tools based on what you know will make development and marketing easier in the long run.

Focus with intensity

Choose one thing and do that one thing well. There is an old saying that its better to be an inch wide and a mile deep, than to be a mile wide and an inch deep. If your goal is to build out several apps until one of them strikes a chord, you are going to end up building a lot of tools. Resist the temptation to pursue other ideas that may seem easier and more profitable on the surface, because they aren’t. Instead, stick with the service you’ve decided to offer and pour that entrepreneurial energy into refining your application. You will earn a lot more mileage with your customers by appearing focused and attentive to their needs.

Spread the word

Building and launching a web-based app is not at all like in the movie The Field of Dreams. Build it, and they might come, but they probably won’t, unless you devote time and resources to spreading the word. The beauty of the Internet is in its ability to enable all sorts of conversations, from marketing campaigns that speak to the masses, to one-on-one conversations on twitter. Speak clearly and directly to your audience and they will reward you with their business. Marketing a hosted application is a lot of work and requires a bigger investment than some may realize. It may be weeks or months before you start seeing results from your marketing campaigns, and that can be deflating. But if you stick with it and are honest and genuine with your message, the momentum of a captive audience will boost morale and increase signups.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on building an online project management tool”

  1. PM Hut says:

    I think intelligence is one of the uncharted territories in such applications.

    Right now these applications are more about data entry and then displaying this data for later use. The missing ingredient is intelligence, for example, learning, fixing obvious (and not so obvious) mistakes, etc…

    I think whoever tackles this area will probably rule the online PM tools market.

    PM Hut –

  2. John Reeve says:

    That is very true and one of the key differentiators of our project management tool, Intervals. We’ve put a lot of our experience and expertise into real-time reporting that is useful for measuring project health and estimating future projects. Our thought is that a project management tool should enable the process of predicting, tracking, and learning in a small business environment.

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A collection of useful tips, tales and opinions based on decades of collective experience designing and developing web sites and web-based applications.

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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