Planscope 2015 Year In Review

This year has been a busy year for the Planscope team.

We’ve quadrupled our team size, redesigned the entire product (inside and out), and recoded a lot of the functionality that syncs your work with our database, shows your clients and team changes in realtime, and so on.

Growing the team

Since the beginning, Planscope’s been owned and operated by me, Brennan Dunn. I handled all the design, development, support, marketing, and whatever else of the product.

Many of you know that Planscope is just one of my businesses; I also run DoubleYourFreelancing.com, a training resource for freelancers and small agencies.

I was getting to the point of not being able to manage it all. Both companies were growing, and handling it all myself was proving to be… tricky — and it showed to my customers.

I reached out to my friends at Koombea, an all-star consultancy based in Barranquilla, Colombia, to see if they’d be willing to partner with me on Planscope. This immediately afforded us the resources they have on-hand, specifically their pool of talented developers and designers.

Since late 2014, Koombea’s been helping me build and refine the product, here’s what we did together.

A complete redesign

We all know that engineers shouldn’t design, even if they’re capable of it. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in the the internal muck of a product that it’s hard to step back and objectively think, “How can this product delight its users?” — which, in my mind, is the job of interface design and experience.

I worked with Jane Portman, a brilliant UX designer and a great friend, to redesign Planscope with a more user-centric focus. Our team then took that design and expanded to touch every part of a user’s experience.

And like with anything relating to people and how they interact with the products they use, the design is a work-in-progress. We’re constantly trying to learn about the needs of our customers, the needs of their clients and teams, and incorporating that into the product.

What we’ve learned: You’re never going to have workflows designed that fit every use-case and satisfy everyone. However, because we’re focused on helping just consultants and their clients (unlike our competitors, who want to serve everyone), it’s a lot easier for us to make design decisions. If what we’re doing isn’t inline with the way 95% of freelancers and agencies work, we don’t do it.

A new dashboard

One thing we’ve been hearing from customers was the need to have a central place to see everything.

Most of our customers don’t work on one client at a time; rather, they’re juggling a lot of work at once and need to know:

  • What’s going on?
  • How’s our budget and timelines shaping up?
  • What’s next?

The above list is the common denominator that just about everyone was interested in.

We put together a brand new dashboard that showed this information in an easy to digest fashion. Whether you’re a solo freelancer juggling a half dozen projects or an agency project managing juggling a few dozen, the new Planscope dashboard gives you a high-level perspective of everything that’s happening in your business.

From the dashboard, you can now manage your team and their workloads, and beyond just having a high-level perspective of the projects and estimates your team is currently working on, we also have a firehose of activity available across all of your projects.

More of a focus on the future, not just the present

When Planscope started, we were a project management tool for freelancers who wanted to stay on top of their budgets and timelines.

And then we shifted to being project management and client collaboration, by adding a number of features that made it easy to discuss and plan projects.

Our next shift was to add estimating. We wanted to help you win projects, and not just manage the ones you’ve already closed.

Then we wanted to give you a clear picture of where your business is right now. The dashboard and its related features give you an idea of what’s currently going on in your company, and has attracted a lot of bigger agencies to use Planscope.

Finally, we want to help show you the future. Both myself and Jonathan (the founder of Koombea) run agencies, and we both know how hard it is to predict what next month, next quarter, and next year will look like.

When can we realistically book this next big project?

When will this project wrap up, and will our client end up happy?

How profitable will we be this year, and why?

Planscope collects a lot of data. We know how often your team works (as long as they’re using Planscope to log their time), we know how accurate your task and project estimates are, we know how frequently work gets pushed back on by your clients, and we know how much you have on your plate — now, and in the future.

Combined, we can draw a lot of conclusions from this data. And with this, we can help answer questions about scheduling, profitability, and your pipeline in general. We can also help bigger teams know realistically when projects or milestones will be hit because we’re using data and history. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’ll always be able to perfectly predict the future. But in our minds, this is better than only going off of optimistic “we’re almost done” status reports from the team.

We fixed the internals

Finally, we’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes.

When Planscope was originally built by me, I used a relatively new Javascript MVC library called Backbone.js. There was little supporting documentation, and I had to figure out how to build a production-ready app on top of it. To make matters worse, most of the example projects in Backbone were todo lists or relatively small apps.

Additionally, I didn’t know all that much about Javascript performance. It’s one thing to build on your local development machine with fake data; it’s an entirely different story when dozens of people are using a product, and each change made needs to propagate cleanly to everyone else, and the projects being worked on are large in size and scope.

So even though Planscope worked perfectly well for 99% of customers and for 99% of their needs, we started running into performance and reliability issues — especially as we onboarded   larger accounts.

We spent the better part of the year rewriting and redoing Planscope’s internals. Not much visually changed as a result of this work (and most customers had no idea it was happening), but Planscope started getting faster. It started to perform more like a true desktop app. Weird edge case issues began going away. And customer satisfaction went through the roof.

What’s next

Our recurring goal is to make Planscope better to use and more powerful for our customers.

It’s hard to resist wanting to make this product a kitchen sink tool and have it offer everything to everyone. On paper, it would seem that doing this would allow us to have more checkmarks in a feature-to-feature comparison overview between us and our competitors. But in practice, it would complicate the product and dilute our primary objective: to make it easier to understand what’s going on now and what the future looks like for you and your business.

My main focus as a business owner is to make freelancers and agencies better off. This doesn’t mean giving them just a tool. It means giving a tool and the the guidance for using that tool.

We don’t want to just help you put together line item estimates. We want to help you win more projects.

We don’t want to just help you manage projects. We want to help you thrill your clients, because we know that will get you more referrals and repeat work.

We don’t want to just give you a bunch of data pulled from our database. We want to show you stats that you can act on to help make your business more profitable.

To our customers: thank you for helping us help you build a better business

And to anyone reading who isn’t a customer: we hope that this has shed some light on our purpose in creating Planscope, and if you do decide to give us a try, we’d love to work with you to make sure that we’re always working toward building the best tool possible for consultants.

Thanks,

Brennan, Jonathan, and the team at Koombea

One Response to “Planscope 2015 Year In Review”

  1. Sumit Kumar Patial

    Nice article keeep in tuch…………….

    Reply

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