The phone connection cuts out and I’m left listening to nothing. Over in Canada Christophe Borlat, General Manager of Genius Inside, is also holding a dead phone. No matter. We’re on a web conference, so he types on his screen and I can read the new plan: forgot phone lines, let’s talk on Skype. A few clicks, three of us are connected and the sound quality is so much better than it was with BT. You’ve got to love new technology.
“We’ve improved a bit of everything,” says Christophe Borlat, once we’re back into the presentation. He shows me around Genius version 6.5, pointing out things are that going to change in the 2010 release which is due out this month.
“This was really a request from the customer,” he says, setting up a new meeting. It’s fully integrated with your personal calendar, so whether you get the meeting request in gmail or Outlook it still makes it on to your daily planner.
But setting up meetings – while it is bread-and-butter stuff for project managers – is not very exciting. The KPI module is far more interesting. This module allows you to set corporate Key Performance Indicators which can then be attached to each project. So if your overall company objective is to get 15,000 new customers then you can see at a glance how your projects help you support that. Project A will deliver 3,000 and Project B will deliver zero: maybe you should consider stopping Project B and doing something else that will help you reach your targets. It’s benefits realisation management. Or at least, the planning for benefits realisation. After all, just because it says that Project A will give you 3,000 new customers does not make it so. You have to measure actuals as well, but this KPI module gives you a good headstart for doing the right thing.
“The object of the project is not always money,” adds Borlat. “This is to measure the output of the project: not only time and budget but real output.” You can define how you want your KPIs to be measured, for example in currency or percentage or some other measure specific to you. “KPI tracking allows you to track either on a monthly period or also driven by milestones,” Borlat says. The tracking is pretty comprehensive as well. You can track the target, actuals and estimate at completion along with some other things I wasn’t quick enough to write down.
Genius also has a project simulator. It’s not new functionality – in fact, it’s been around years. The development team took it out because people weren’t using it but now being able to simulate what happens if you add or remove staff on a project is a useful business tool for companies coping with the effects of a poor economy. Borlat says that due to customer demand the simulator is now back in the offer, redesigned. The simulator compares different versions of the plans. For example, you can plan out a £1m project with three resources and an end date in six weeks and find out how many hours the team will have to work. Or you could use it for more business-sensible stuff like comparing the impact on a particular department week by week, or finding out where you have resource constraints.
This month Genius launch a new version, 2010. It’s a brand new user interface. The Gantt chart, which Borlat says is “the most advanced on the SaaS market,” can now manage around 3,000 lines. “We do have customers that need that,” he adds. Genius also has customers who need the product in different languages – part of the democratisation of project management and the fact that the straightforward tools make it easy for everyone to use the project management software. There will be a Czech version of the software soon to support clients there.
The most striking difference with Genius 2010 is the shift away from section navigation to tab navigation. Again, this isn’t new to Genius as they had tab navigation years ago and moved away from it when it wasn’t popular. Unfortunately, trends change quickly, and tab navigation is back in fashion. However, they’ve done tabs with a twist. You can have multiple windows open in the same frame (like tabs in Firefox), and you can still have everything open, or close the things you don’t want to see, like you do with section navigation. You have to see it to make sense of it, but it looks good, and as the technology is better the performance is faster too.
I have to feel a bit sorry for software companies. Our opinions of what makes ‘nice’ software change quickly, so while project management itself doesn’t alter much from month to month, demands on project management software companies does. Still, Genius looks like it is adapting OK, but I bet their developers aren’t looking forward to the day that Lotus Notes is back in fashion…