Project management in the cloud

25 Nov 2011
00:00 is a new nifty cloud-based project management service by the gurus at that is now out in limited private beta, but one that is refreshingly different in its approach and is an example of how businesses today learn from the simplicity of the social Internet, rather than simple putting big enterprise solutions into a hosted web-accessible format as was once the case.

It took a while to get an invitation after signing up on the page, much like in the early days of Gmail, and quite frankly, at first glance, the site seems a bit plain to the point of being featureless and boring. But a few days, one quickly realises that being plain and simple is precisely the point.

Salesforce has long asked the question, why isn’t enterprise software more like Facebook? Rather than huge server farms, spend enormous amounts of money setting up software systems that often need a consultancy firm just to make sense of it and then map out rigid work processes that need a dedicated IT help desk the moment one exception happens, Salesforce offers a much more simple, easy to use, easy to roll out Sales, CRM and other enterprise solutions that can be accessed anywhere via a browser and high speed internet connection.

But take that idea, simplicity, further still and one ends up with Do. No rigid work flows, very few options, simplicity to a point that at first glance, it makes the current version of Gmail look cluttered, complex and convoluted.

For instance, there is no option for even an avatar picture. Rather than adding that functionality, it relies on Gravatar, the Wordpress-centric global avatar service that allows commenters to use the same avatar on multiple Wordpress blog comments without having to upload a picture to each one. Why re-invent the wheel when there is some cloud service out there waiting to be mashed up?

At its heart, Do is a web-based to project management and group coordination solution. There are two ways to start a project. First, and what seems to be most logical, is to create a project, then create tasks and assign tasks to team members. If anyone is not yet in a team, assigning them is as easy as entering their email address in the same field where you would normally enter their name.

Again, simple, intuitive and without any configuration or options to set up and waste time on.

But where the simplicity shines through is in its notes. A note seems at first to be a shared document for team members to read but the beauty is that a project can actually start from a note.

Instead of starting a project from a hierarchical point of view, it can be started as a narrative, a story in a note and then each phrase, each set of words, each action in the narrative can be highlighted and spun off into individual tasks with a simple click. These tasks can then later be assembled into a project.

Compared to setting up a Microsoft Exchange server and using Outlook for project management, is simplicity incarnate. Do is a nice meaty web 2.0 hamburger after a week on enterprise-class Oracle and SAP Chinese banquets.

Integration is tight with Google, which is unsurprising given Benioff’s love affair with Mountain View. It can automatically include Google Docs to notes, with your permission of course, and it can also integrate with Google Chrome for pop-up desktop notifications.

A mobile version for the iPhone exists and one for Android is promised soon.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Do.

Of course, it’s not perfect. The number of invitations is still infuriatingly limited to ten, enough to organise friends and family to clean up after a devastating flood but not quite big enough for larger tasks. Quite how to get more, or how Salesforce will eventually monetize Do is anyone’s guess right now, but considering how the company has recently introduced free Salesforce Chatter after a year of trying to charge for it, the signs are good.

But what really shines through with Do is the vision of Salesforce and Benioff. It is taking business and rather than transcribing it to the cloud, rigid rules, infrastructure and all, Do just takes the essence of project management and re-imagines it in a hyper-connected, browser, web 2.0 based world that we live in today.

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