Threewill Podcast: Aprika’s Mission Control Project Management Solution

Check out the recent interview by Danny Ryan from Threewill who took a look at Mission Control with Colin Johnson. The guys at Threewill do a great job taking time out to meet with various AppExchange solutions.

This Podcast focuses on Mission Control, our very own project management tool built natively on the Salesforce.com platform. Thanks Danny, really appreciate you taking the time to chat about our solution.

If you’re interested in seeing / hearing other Podcasts from Danny at Threewill, you can check them out on their website.

You can also checkout the audio on Soundcloud.

Full Podcast Transcript

Danny:                  Hi. This is Danny Ryan. Welcome to the AppExchange podcast. Today I have got Colin Johnson from Aprika here with us today. Welcome, Colin.

Colin:                    Hi Danny, how are you?

Danny:                  I am doing great. How about you?

Colin:                    Yeah. Good, thanks.

Danny:                  Excellent. I notice an accent. Where are you calling in from?

Colin:                    I am actually from Australia today, but I originally come from the UK.

Danny:                  Excellent.

Colin:                    Probably trying to pinpoint my accent will be pretty hard.

Danny:                  So, Australian English. Something along those lines.

Colin:                    That’s right, yeah, yeah.

Danny:                  Awesome. I appreciate you taking the time to do this today. Today we are going to learn more about one of your apps, which is Mission Control. You’ve got a number of apps that are out on the app exchange. This one is one that is focusing in on project management. Tell me a little bit more about Mission Control.

Colin:                    Okay. Yes. Mission Control is native to salesforce.com, so it provides you with full project management functionality. It lets you, obviously, have your projects, your milestones, your actions. You can submit time logs and expenses against any of those actions and any of those projects. You are able to track your full profit and loss right through the project, so you can track both your billing revenue and your costs that you are incurring, such as paying your staff and so on. It comes with a whole host of tools, like a gantt chart, a resource capacity planning scheduler, weekly time sheets, and virtual kanban whiteboard. As I mentioned, it is native to Sales Force, so you get the benefit of Sales Force One, and more recently, we have just received our Lightning Ready Certifications as well, so it’s very exciting times.

Danny:                  Wonderful. Is it typically a professional services organization that would use this? What’s your typical customer for this?

Colin:                    I’d say we haven’t got a typical customer. It is very general project management.

Danny:                  Your typical customer is a breathing human being.

Colin:                    It is pretty much. Any business in the world has projects that they can be running and we have those guys, we have a diverse range of customers, so we’ve literally got psychology franchises, we’ve got accountants, we’ve got manufacturers, we’ve got builders. The one that I supposed surprised me the most was how many software developers we’ve got actually.

Danny:                  Oh really?

Colin:                    Yeah. Obviously there’s a number of … There’s the Waterford methodology, and the Agile methodology. I’d say Mission Control is a blend of the two. Obviously everyone loves their scheduler and whiteboard, but I get amazed at how many people still go nuts over the gantt chart. I think a lot of these guys are really excited by having that feature in the tool.

Danny:                  Yeah, I see some of the … We use scrum internally as an organization so I see burn down charts, some of those things that are very scrum related.

Colin:                    It is a hybrid of the two. And realistic … I was having a conversation the other day about Agile vs. Waterford and I think a lot of our conversation was arriving at the agreed decision that a lot of it is just terminology. It’s pretty much the same thing. You’ve got an issue as a milestone, and the tasks are actions. It’s very comparable. Yeah, it’s interesting so we’ve got … I mean looking at the diverse range of businesses that we’ve got, we’ve got a lot of people using it, which is good. I think we’ve probably got about clients in about twenty countries around the world using [crosstalk 00:04:01] Mission Control today.

Danny:                  Awesome. Awesome. Does the … If someone was using this for projects, and they’re using it for internal resources, and then looks like some of the stuff like Risk Log and burn down Chart, would a client … Would like whoever the providing service for, would they log into the app as well, or would they get an [crosstalk 00:04:23] extract out of it? How does that work?

Colin:                    That’s going to depend on how you want to run your business, I suppose. I mean, again going back to being native, and that’s something that we always stress how important that is and how big a feature it is to someone. Being native to Sales Force means you can come in, you can add in your own customization, so you can put in custom fields, add in your own validation rules, put in work for rules if you want.

Obviously, extending that out you get the full reporting and dashboard capability that Sales Force provides. On top of that you can easily expose as much or as little of Mission Control to external people via things like force.com licenses or customer and partner communities. We’ve got a number of clients who are … Sorry. Clients to Mission Control who are using Mission Control, and they’re actually providing access to their customers via community licenses.

Danny:                  Very nice.

Colin:                    If you didn’t want to … If you’re not wanting to go to that level of exposure, I suppose, to your customers, you can … You are able to export the gantt chart as a PDF, so you could provide your clients with a timeline of the schedule that you’re going to be working on.

Danny:                  Like the burn down chart? You could export something like that as well?

Colin:                    We’re actually just looking to … We do have a project overview page, which is … You know, gets you that three hundred and sixty degree view. We’re actually just in the process of providing … We’re going to be providing the ability to export that as a PDF to give pretty much provider summary out to your client and everything.

Danny:                  Very nice. Give me a little bit more about the back story. Why did the … Where did this come from in the first place? Was this something to scratch around back, or was it something the client came to you and asked for?

Colin:                    No. It’s funny actually how it has come about because it’s become bigger than we kind of ever imagined. We’re an [ISV 00:06:25] partner predominantly now, but we started off as a consulting partner doing implementations for clients. We got more and more successful. We got more and more projects coming on, and we were like, “Okay, maybe we need to come get something going internally to better manage these projects effectively.”

Yeah, I mean, I was actually just looking over a few old things yesterday and seeing the evolution of the product over the last few years, it’s been, yeah, it’s an amazing journey. It ultimately had humble beginnings of just being an internal requirement where we had a couple of objects, and then we’re like, “Okay. Let’s develop this visual force page. It would pull all of this information onto one page and really give us that 360 degree view.”

Then from there we just kept adding bits in here and there, and we ultimately got to a stage where we were like, “You know, we’ve probably got a decent app that we could put onto the app exchange here.” We actually … We made it a bit more formalized and added in some additional features.

Then, I think three and a half years ago we launched it onto the app exchange. Yeah, I mean it’s grown, user base has grown 300 percent in the last twelve months.

Danny:                  That’s awesome.

Colin:                    Yeah. The actual evolution of the product is … It’s been really, really cool to sort of like look back over it. We’re just actually looking at getting one of those info graph done … Info graphic things done just to actually show the new features that we’ve added.

One of the good things is, obviously, we encourage our user base to give us feedback. While we’re heavily responsible for driving roadmap, we love the ideas that come in from our clients as well because those are the guys who are actually out there using it in vain everyday. They give us some great ideas on how it can be improved.

Danny:                  Any good stories along those lines where people are surprising usage of the app at all?

Colin:                    Surprising, I mean, we’ve literally got … We got clients in so many different industries. We’ve got some guys in the US who they outsource those sign spinner guys on the corner of streets, so-

Danny:                  Yes.

Colin:                    -they manage all the scheduling of those guys in Mission Control. I’ve got some let’s say software developers who’ve kind of surprised me a bit. I’ve got professional services companies. I’ve got some … We have a lot of not for profits using the tool as well. We’ve got market research companies, so they’re tracking who’s doing what, how long it’s taking them. Manufacturers [inaudible 00:09:10] we were able to do like a start stop time logger, so you were able to literally say, “All right, I’m starting work on this now.” Go away, do that work, come back, and click the stop button and it logs the time exactly.

Yeah, I mean, I suppose the diversity of our client base is what’s thrown me the most, really. It’s really exciting to see.

Danny:                  Yeah. It’s got to be fun to see who’s using it and-

Colin:                    Yeah.

Danny:                  -how they’re using it. Has it come up at all, you know, with some of these, because I sort of think of this … There’s formal, full-blown professional services automation types of things that are out there. This is … You’re really focusing in on the project side of things, and along with that it’s great to hear like time tracking and expense tracking. Have you run into, with customers who are trying to either integrate with other backend billing systems or integrate with another PS, another professional services automation or any of those types of things? Have they come up yet?

Colin:                    Not necessarily. I mean, billing is actually something that’s on our roadmap to introduce going forward. Again, being native to Sales Force it’s go the capability of leveraging the Sales Force [API 00:10:28]. We are … We’ve spoken to people about could it, would it be possible to actually integrate with something like Zero or [inaudible 00:10:37]-

Danny:                  Yeah.

Colin:                    -or one of the other online accounting packages. It’s certainly possible. We’re probably looking to actually introduce billing and invoicing directly within Mission Control to where you can raise an invoice off a specific mast and deliverable or, you know, you’re processing your expenses or you’re actually got a specific customs payments schedule.

I mean, it can come back to the conversation we were just having when you look at the evolution of the product it certainly … It’s moved from a very basic project management tool to be providing, you know, bordering on that full [PSA 00:11:20] solution.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re able to track, you know, all of the costs of the project, all of the revenues, whether it’s a fixed price, it’s time and materials. We’re able to assign and generate revenue from the project, and you can apply revenue like billable rates, standards regardless of who’s working on the project. You can apply a standard day rate, or you can take a role based rate. If Danny’s working on an action, we can be billing him $150 an hour. If Colin’s working on an action, we’re billing him at $100. Likewise, you’re at like the cost simulation to expense … Sorry, staff payroll and so on.

You’re able to track whether you … Whether the client’s going to be happy to pay you overtime, whether you have to pay your staff overtime.

Danny:                  Right.

Colin:                    We have the ability to ignore … You can … The scheduler … I’ll show you shortly, the scheduler is a [inaudible 00:12:20] planning tool, so you can see all of your project resources, what capacity they’ve got, what allocation of that capacity is been taken up already. You can see bottlenecks and critical paths, and reschedule and reassign to make sure you’re fitting within the capacity of the team. You can factor in, ignoring weekends and holidays, so you’re able to assign holidays to people. You can reschedule actions automatically to reflect those holidays.

You can also … Each of your project resources can be assigned to teams. They can be assigned to skills profiles. If Colin’s over allocated on his capacity, rather than just reassigning it to someone else, you’re able to filter that list down to make sure you’re actually going to reassign to someone whose got the same skill capability as the person you’re taking the action from.

Danny:                  That’s great. That’s great. A couple of questions before we hit the demo.

Colin:                    Sure.

Danny:                  One is I’m going to claim I’m an ignorant American, but what is this translate to after exchange rates? The amount per month?

Colin:                    Yeah. I’d say today it’s going to be $14.27 US.

Danny:                  You knew that off the top of your head. Excellent. Wonderful.

Then the … I guess this is we … I love breaking news. This is the brand new website, so for people who are … This looks great. Congratulations. This is going to be going live later on this week, next week? When are you planning on?

Colin:                    Yeah. Pretty much within the next 48 hours we’ll be live with that, so there’s a huge amount of content on there now that did exist before, but it was in PDFs and user guides and so on. We’ve made it all accessible directly from the website. You can see there we’ve got our … We’ve obviously got our links through to our support.

We have a partner program for Sales Force consulting partners if they’re wanting to join our program. The key thing there is asking for ideas, so we’ve got an idea section where our clients can actually go in and put new ideas forward. That’s obviously where were encouraging people to help us drive the roadmap.

Danny:                  Is that in one of the things … I mean, I’m always interested to hear what do you attribute your success to? Is it listening to what people are asking for, or what do you think has really helped you guys put out a great product?

Colin:                    Yeah. I think definitely listening to people who are using the product, and what can make it better. I think … Flip back to our app exchange page or even just scroll down on that page [inaudible 00:15:00] customer testimonials sect … In the reviews I think certainly from a US perspective, a lot of people think they have a bit of a concern around our “How well is this company going to be able to service me being based in Australia?” Like these guys, [Xavier 00:15:16] in Miami and, you’ve got [Elaine 00:15:19] is in Canada. We got clients as mentioned earlier all around the world, but these guys think that … I mean, Xavier’s comment is generally you don’t have to wait more than an hour to hear from us.

Danny:                  That’s great.

Colin:                    Yeah. I think certainly our approach to customer service has really made us make sure we have a loyal customer base.

Danny:                  All right. I’m ready for the demo, if that’s okay with you.

Colin:                    Yeah, sure. [crosstalk 00:15:44]

Danny:                  I’ll switch over. I’m going to make you presenter, and you’ve got the conch.

Colin:                    Okay. You can see that okay?

Danny:                  It looks great.

Colin:                    Okay. What I’m actually going to do, so we literally received our lightening certification earlier this week, so we’re just finalizing that. That will be on the app exchange by the end of this week.

Danny:                  I love the [inaudible 00:16:07]. That’s great.

Colin:                    That’s great. Yeah, so we’re really excited about what lightening is going to look like presenting this going forward. I mean, we’ve basically [re-skinned 00:16:16] the Mission Control console.

What you’re looking at here is the central console. This gives you quick launch access to all of the key parts of Mission Control, so I’m able to create a new project here. I’ll be able to create additional milestones against that project. This is a bunch of settings around here as well. Obviously won’t go into those now, but they’ll help you keep your projects on track. There’s a right number of automated things that just happen to edit to make sure you can just focus on the key at the core parts.

I can select an existing project [inaudible 00:16:50] into my project overview. This is the page that gives us that full 360 degree visibility. I can see all the projects high level of information. I can see the hours that the schedule costs, the anticipated expenses, the profit and the loss. I get the burn down chart. I get a risk chart in there as well.

Carrying on down I’ve got my gantt chart, which is interactive. You can see there. I can get dependencies going on. If I reschedule a parent, the child will be rescheduled as well. I can reschedule entire milestones and even double click into this sort of thing and reassign if I need to as well.

Carrying on down I get the milestone and action information so I see all the key information at every single level. Right down on the bottom I get my risk log and my expenses as well. Both expenses and time logs that were out into the system, they can run approval processes, so your expenses can be approved by your individual manager, and your time logs can actually be [inaudible 00:17:57] level approval systems so your project manager can approve it and you individual line manager as well.

It integrates with chatter as well, so we’ve got a roll ups, anything that happens on any of the child records like time logs, actions, or milestones, that’s all rolling up to the actual parent project chatter feed. You’re [inaudible 00:18:17] you’ve got that internal collaboration as well.

Danny:                  Nice, nice. Very nice.

Colin:                    A couple of other quick features. I’m able to jump back to the console from anywhere I want to be, but I can … If I jump into the schedule [inaudible 00:18:30] resource capacity planning tool. This shows us any actions that are assigned to any individual person. We’re looking at a three week window here. What I’m able to do is look at a specific week, or I can go right there to a twelve week period. I’m able to actually move backwards and forwards and see the capacity of the whole team, but individuals as well.

Jumping into that three week there you can see that I’m over-allocated. I’m able to just drag and drop and reassign actions to other people. That assigns the arrows to those guys and frees up my capacity.

Danny:                  I’m so used to seeing [crosstalk 00:19:07] like this in a spreadsheet, so it’s wonderful that it’s all hooked up and …

Colin:                    Yeah. Yeah. Again that’s one of the examples. We first started this as a two week timeline, which was great, you know, really catapulted our usage of the system. Just that example of one of our clients was looking for a forward planning tool, and they were asking for a report. It was like, “Well, how about we actually just start this at this scale here so you can literally look over the next three-

Danny:                  That’s awesome.

Colin:                    -months and see exactly what it is.” It’s a far more, far more intuitive than a report.

Also, if I jump into the time sheet there, so the time sheet will load up for each individual roll within Mission Control. That gives you a list of everything that’s been assigned to you to work on this week. Obviously this is demo mode, so it doesn’t look like I’m very busy. What you can see is the project, the milestone, and the action. You can see both billable and non billable time. You can see the percentage that you complete so far.

What you’re able to do is actually come down and just say, “Well, I’ve just been … I’ve been working on these actions. I’ve been putting in this time.” As I’m doing that I’m getting totals for the day, and I’m getting totals for the week. I can save that if I’m using the approvals. I can submit that as well, so that will put basically anything that’s pending through to the approvals process and that will be submitted for my manager’s to approve as well.

Danny:                  Nice.

Colin:                    Again, the whiteboard, so this is a really cool addition. We had this really, probably really early on in the evolution of the product, this allows you to look to every single action as if it were an individual sticky note stuck to a whiteboard in the office. That’s where it came from. Four years ago that’s what we were doing. We had each action as a sticky note on the whiteboard in our office, and we used to drag them over to the columns.

You’re actually able to actually filter this down, so you can see … Obviously it’s showing each individual action. You can see who owns the action, what action it is, what project the milestone relates to, and start and end dates, and scheduled hours and completed. You’re able to actually just drag and drop any of these over from one column to the next to physically update the status.

There’s very [inaudible 00:21:39] style, very agile. I [crosstalk 00:21:42] focus user interface. You’re also able to filter that down. You can look at a particular project. You can scroll down, say, “Okay. Well, I just want to look at this project,” or, “I want to look at a particular team,” or, “Chris has just come to me saying he’s got too much work, so let’s have a look at what he’s got on his plate.”

In this instance I’m just filtering that down to that project so I can see all of the actions. I can see a summary of what efforts remaining at each stage as well.

Then one of the more recent additions that we just put in is our [peer mode dashboard 00:22:20] as well. That gives you a real eagle eye view of how your projects are tracking. If I go back a few weeks … This gives is the ability to look at individual projects. It’s probably not going to load up any data because it’s a demo mode. W

hat I’m able to do is look at my CPI and my SPI. Basically tell me … The CPI is telling me whether my projects are running to budget, and the SPI is whether they’re running to schedule. I can get a high level across all of my projects to say, “Are we running to budget?” Also ultimately if this is one it would be green, and it would be telling me everything’s fine. If it’s above one that means, “Hey, that’s great. I’m going to be delivering this under budget.” But if … In this scenario, this is saying it’s at zero, so we’re clearly running behind budget, and we’re clearly running behind schedule. You’re able to draw down into each of the individual projects, milestones, and actions and really get into the detail of what might be causing that issue.

Danny:                  That’s awesome. Very cool. All right.

Colin:                    Yeah, so there’s other features obviously. I’m probably running out of time now, but there’s a few other things like rather than creating actions one at a time, we’ve got the ability to jump in and just create a bunch of actions for a project. You can also build out your project entirely from your gantt chart. You’ve got the ability to reschedule it if you need to as well.

Danny:                  Well this is a great demo. I think that you showed us a lot within a very short period of time here. I’m sure there’s more we can go see, but it looks great inside the new lightening experience as well. Congratulations.

Colin:                    Thanks.

Danny:                  For folks who want to definitely check out this demo, if you go to www.appexchangepodcast.com we’ll have the video up there. Also, I just want to say a quick thank you. Colin, thank you for jumping on and sharing more about your product, and well done.

Colin:                    No worries. Thanks, Danny. Thanks for having me.

Danny:                  Okay. Thank you, everybody, for listening and have a great week. Bye bye.Col