I don’t often praise software. Quite frankly, most software isn’t very good.
The average piece of software is, well, average, and average in the software business is pretty bad.
I’ve been using computers since early in 1979. During that time I’ve used software for work, I’ve tested software for software-development teams, tested software to see if it could help me in my businesses, redesigned user interfaces, reviewed software for magazines and written about software in computer books.
I’ve had a lot of exposure to software.
Over the years I’ve used literally thousands of different programs. I’ve seen the good, I’ve seen the bad. And most is bad.
So it’s a pleasure to run across a program that really knocks your socks off, a system that works so well, so much better than average, that it’s a real eye-opener. That program for me right now is FogBugz, www.FogBugz.com. The publisher, Fog Creek Software, describes FogBugz as a “complete project-management system designed to help software teams to communicate.”
Wait! Before you nonsoftware developers leave, you should understand that Fog Creek undersells itself. FogBugz is a project-management system, and it’s designed for software teams, but it’s a great little tool for “any” team that has to work together closely, in which tasks are assigned, shared, switched between team members and so on.
I use FogBugz with software-development teams, but I even have an account that I use with my personal assistant to help us keep track of tasks. In fact, Fog Creek provides free, hosted FogBugz accounts for two-person teams.
So, what’s this all about? The core of the system is the ability to create tasks. Each task is a document, accessible through a Web browser. That document can contain text (“please do this for me”), pictures (snapshots of a problem with a program, for instance – FogBugz even comes with a program that takes pictures of your screen and uploads them to a task), or attached files (Word files, Excel files, zip files, whatever you want).
Now, this task can be assigned to a particular project type, assigned to a team member and given a priority. You also can create a due date, category, area and so on. That team member will see a list of prioritized tasks and can add notes to it, as can other team members. The “owner” of the task can even send e-mails from the task and receive responses back to the task. When the task is completed – or at least ready to pass to another team member – then the task can be assigned to someone else, or set to a “resolved” status. The person creating the task can then review it and close it.
This is a fantastic tool for development teams; there are plenty of features specific to software development, of course, such as scheduling tools. There’s also a Wiki in which you can store frequently used information and discussion boards. But again, FogBugz is not just for software teams. Here’s an example:
On my Web site I have a form that allows someone who wants to use my consulting service to contact me. This form actually sends the e-mail to FogBugz, and FogBugz automatically creates a new case for the e-mail and assigns that case to my assistant. My assistant can then contact that person, and enter notes into the case to keep track of anything that’s discussed. When an appointment is set up, she creates a GoToMeeting link, sends a PayPal invoice and schedules a time and date. She then closes the case. Until the case is dealt with, it’s going to appear in her “to do” list, so it can’t be forgotten.
I use FogBugz with my personal assistant for all sorts of tasks, both business and domestic; buy replacement bolts for my Thule ski rack (the case contains links to the Thule Web site, part numbers, and so on); pay the JurisPro advertising bill on a particular date (you can schedule cases and get reminders); find a new tax accountant (she can store names, numbers and recommendations in the case); send Client X an invoice; and so on. It’s a fantastic way to keep track of literally thousands of tasks, both large and small, and the details associated with those tasks.
There are, of course, a few little areas in which the software could be better – nothing’s perfect, after all. But here’s the amazing thing: When I e-mail Fog Creek asking, “Have you thought about adding this or doing that?” What happens? Within hours I get an e-mail from them asking if I would talk with their developers to explain how my new feature or modification would work.
I’ve worked with hundreds of software-development teams over the years, and Fog Creek is by far the most responsive and indeed “receptive.” Criticize most pieces of software and the developers, or their filter, the tech-support team, will give you the cold shoulder; criticize FogBugz, and the developers say, in effect, “Tell me more.”
Take it from someone who’s used thousands of programs during a 30-year span and hated most of them; this is a fantastic bit of software, built by a team that really cares about usability.
Peter Kent is an e-commerce consultant in Denver. He’s currently working with e-book software company DNAML, www.DNAML.com, to introduce its products to U.S. publishers.