I'm Graham Ashton. I founded Planner in 2012, with the goal of building an Agile app that embraced the flexibility, simplicity and (frankly) enjoyment that comes from running projects with real index cards.
Here's the story of how Planner came to be…
In early 2011 I was working as a consultant, writing software and managing agile projects for my clients in London. One afternoon I was sat in my office, working on a new project. A pile of index cards was growing ever higher on the desk in front of me, as I wrote the stories that might make it into the first release.
I’ve always enjoyed writing stories on real index cards. Their physical size prevents you from writing too much, while leaving just enough room to express the value.
As the day drew to a close, I spread the cards out across my desk, satisfied that I’d made a great start.
The following morning, I had to work from home. My stories were still on my desk at work. Worse still, the rest of the team were in their own offices, and I couldn’t show them what I’d been up to.
I knew I had to get the stories online. I took a look at all the usual suspects (Pivotal Tracker, JIRA, Mingle, etc), frustrated that nobody had built a decent approximation of what I needed that would let me get started right away. None of these apps would let me:
- Choose my own workflow/process — To Do, In Development, Testing, Deployed (etc),
- Display my work on a Kanban wall — they highlight how much working software you've shipped, and I’m yet to see a better measure of progress,
- Review my stories in a UI that let me focus on the user need — i.e. why the work needs doing rather than what to do, and
- Consciously schedule the work that the team would focus on during the next iteration (it's not good when a story that hasn't been properly discussed is automatically pushed onto a developer's plate).
Among the development community, making your own project management tool is a cliché. It seems as though everybody does it, and I’d spent years telling myself I wouldn’t go there.
But that morning, my cards were at the office and I was unable to get to work.
Out of idle curiousity I found myself sketching a database schema. It was small. Simple. Could it be that easy? I sketched 3 screens of UI, and realised I could make something useful (just for personal use) in a couple of weeks (3 at the most!).
But still, I wasn’t going to go there. The world didn't need yet another project management app. Right? Did it…?
The previous week I'd done a couple of days work for my superb-designer friend Neil. Instead of sending him a bill, I asked if he fancied taking my sketches and turning them into pretty screenshots. Neil said yes, and before I knew it we’d built a landing page.
I showed it to friends. They were excited — Planner addressed some of the things that frustrated them about the apps they were using. I added a sign up form to the web site and started collecting email addresses from people who were interested.
Within a month it was clear — once I had room in my schedule I should shelve my other projects and focus on Planner. Clichés be damned!
The future of Planner
When new products appear on the market, my first question is always whether they'll stick around for the long term.
If you're wondering the same thing, let me set your mind at ease. The first customer joined the private beta in July 2012 (and they've been using it ever since). As I write this that's 3½ years ago, and I feel like we're just getting started. So yes, Planner will be around for the long run.
Nor have I any desire to turn it into something big, then sell it. I've worked hard (while funding development myself) to make it what it is today.
I expect Planner to play a big part in my life, for the long term.
What about customer support?
I really enjoy talking to customers and helping them solve their problems. This is good news – I'll be handling all your questions myself, ensuring that any issues that crop up get dealt with promptly.
It also means that if you need any help or advice you'll be talking directly to the person who designed the app (me).
If you find something that you'd like to work differently, you'll be able to get in touch directly. And I really hope you do – I welcome the feedback.
I love working on the problems that people like you (and I) have when managing Agile projects with digital tools.
If you’d ever like to chat about this kind of stuff (or would just like some help with how to run your projects – you don't need to be a customer) I’d love to chat. Email me (I'm graham "at" agileplannerapp.com).
And if you'd rather speak than email, we can setup a call…