Interview with Dean Carlson

Earlier this week I reviewed Viewpath Express, a free web-based project management tool. Viewpath is not positioning itself as a rival to Microsoft Project, so I thought it would be interesting to find out what they are aiming for with their project management software. I interviewed Dean Carlson, CEO, to ask him.

Microsoft Project tends to dominate the market in large organizations. What type of company uses Viewpath and are you seeing ‘traditional’ users of MSP make the switch?

During our 2.0 beta program we’ve seen a wide spectrum of users among our 30,000+ signups. We have users in marketing departments, residential construction, university faculty, software development, non-profits, IT departments, law offices, management consultants, HR departments, environmental engineering, training and development, financial services, and medical research.

We’ve had thousands of 2.0 beta signups from Fortune 500 companies and large government agencies. For the most part, the user groups tend to be small pockets within these larger organizations. Typically the groups signed up because they’ve been tracking projects with makeshift spreadsheets, and/or don’t want the hassles of hard-to-use and hard-to-deploy software such as MSP. Although our application directly maps to well-established project fundamentals (e.g. wbs numbering, milestones, summary rollups, and dependency linking) we don’t target hardcore MSP users unless they are feeling the pain of coordinating collaborative teams that span multiple departments, organizations or time zones.

From Viewpath’s perspective, the market for feature-rich online project and event management tools represents a much bigger footprint than complex tools like MSP. As a result, we are focused on “pull” strategies (e.g. our online search campaigns yield hundreds of signups everyday) and we gain more and

more market traction with the growing consumerization of enterprise applications.

What makes Viewpath different from other collaborative tools?

Viewpath’s approach to collaboration is primarily focused on top-down planning and bottom-up execution of activity scheduling. Although most people use Viewpath for collaborating on longer-term projects and events, the application is designed to easily accommodate non-project activities (random to-do’s) in the day-to-day mix of managing priorities. As such, Viewpath provides user-friendly, high-performance, graphically-rich scheduling components that give a clear picture of “what, when, and who” action-items. In this respect, Viewpath’s step-by-step action plans are very different from collaboration tools that focus on managing communication and discussion content. Viewpath’s team sees value in collaboration tools such as of wikis, blogs, and chat, however, we prefer integrating these readily available applications as  complimentary extensions to Viewpath’s scheduling features.

Why are you offering it free to project managers?

We at Viewpath, have learned over the years (our 1.0 beta release launched in 2002) that it often takes numerous months for project collaboration tools to gain meaningful adoption in organizations. With the commercial launch of our 2.0 release, we think our free (ad-sponsored) Express Edition will significantly increase people’s exposure to Viewpath’s tools – both on and off the job. When customers are ready for additional features and/or larger viewing area (sans ads) we then have a simple migration path to our Standard Edition at $10.95/user/month. Our launch of the Express Edition is only possible because we’ve invested thousands of developer hours in architecting our 2.0 version to be highly scalable. As such, we can rapidly grow our customer base and still maintain relatively low operating costs with our enterprise-class server infrastructure. The dual offering of Express and Standard, helps position Viewpath as a recognized provider of feature-rich project and event management tools – even if some of our customers (such as non-profit organizations) are managing multi-person activities with tight budgets.

Where do you think project management technology is heading?

At Viewpath, we think the future of project management will be increasingly driven by “agile” processes and the needs of dispersed teams. Many collaborative groups are already moving away from complicated software and methodologies that, over the decades, grew out of large-scale project management in industries such as construction, military contracts, telecommunications, and public utilities. Complex software like MS Project will still be used by trained project managers to oversee big projects. But in today’s business world, most people are not exclusively focused on a single project “silo” – rather they often juggle multiple projects along with other job responsibilities. In this environment, the vast majority of everyday project activities can be far better managed with online solutions like Viewpath.

The job demands of dispersed teams will continually shape the technology behind online project tools – especially in terms of being easy-to-learn, easy-to-use and easy-to-deploy in a wide variety of settings. Because project management is an integral part to every organization’s success, at Viewpath, we are rapidly progressing towards integration with other online applications (e.g. accounting and crm), mobile devices, and user-defined “mash-ups”. Viewpath already has integration points with Google Docs and will soon synchronize with Google Calendars and Microsoft Outlook.

Thanks Dean and Amanda for letting me demo and review the software.

If you’re looking to invest in project management tools, there are plenty of free demos and webinars, so have a look at a couple of products before choosing one that is right for you and your organisation.