Sorry, Makers. Project management software wasn’t made for you.

The ones who find it valuable are rarely the ones who create value.

Overwhelmed Maker

There was once a man named Ricky Business. In the same way vultures circle their meals, Ricky had no shame about capitalizing on the opportunity that other people’s work presented.

Along came the computer revolution, with engineers that specialized in computer stuff. That computer stuff was just waiting to generate profits, and there was no way in hell that Ricky was going to simply let the engineers make decisions about what value would be provided to his customers. LAWL!

Ricky Business, Head of Sales and Business Development finding this hilarious!

And though business was good, Ricky wanted more money, and more sales, and more market share. But he didn’t just want ‘more’. Ricky wanted it all.

To accurately predict when his market domination would happen, he would need to know what was going to be built, when it was going to be completed, and how much money it would take to get there.

But that damn creative process: it wasn’t easy to measure, and learning what people truly find valuable would require exercising that thing he found so elusive: empathy. Ehh, it would be easier to just not worry about that… at all, thought Ricky. It would be better for ‘everyone’ if business continued to direct development under the sole mandate of “what’s the least we can do that they will pay us for?”

This is the environment in which project management, as we know it today, was incubated. With a high cost of entry into the industry and an insatiable thirst for more, feeling a sense of control was important to him. In the end, all the processes and software to manage these projects were designed for the ones in charge — Ricky with the cash money.

But that was 30 years ago.

Makers can do more now.

Today, with a few hundred dollars in software, makers can do what would have previously required a fully staffed business department. But instead of having software for small teams capable of creating immense value every single day, we’re left with bloated software built for the Fortune 500. The most mature and developed products in the marketplace head fake like they’re effective for teams, when in reality success is being measured by arbitrary business objectives.

It’s not that the software creators don’t care about teams or makers, they just 🤑care🤑 a lot more about providing value to the people who pay them the most.

The crux of the issue is that teams are expected to use these tools as a way to create together, and are left trying to ‘frankenstein’ solutions that were crafted for the benefit of suits into a workflow imagined for artists. It’s an infuriating contradiction to measure your team’s success by metrics like velocity — the speed in which we deliver to the business — when your team values nurturing relationships and allowing individuals to develop into proficient, nimble, and trustworthy decision makers.

When the team’s health is the priority, outcomes that are beneficial to everyone at the company will occur. You’re welcome, Ricky.

Just because it’s being used doesn’t mean its working.

If you’re starting a new company or team, don’t just pick up any old software. They usually come stacked with features that you’ll feel compelled to use because they come with the ‘Pro’ version, and may give you a feeling of ‘Pro’fessionalism as an organization. It’s worth challenging your team to be effective without adopting unnecessary features and ceremonies from your industry that have become the status quo.

Cuz f*ck the status quo. (Sorry, Mom)

Just because successful companies have used these tools doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Teams need clear communication about status and priorities, and to relieve themselves of the compulsion to check their notifications every 3 minutes so they can actually get shit done.

Speaking of the status quo, let’s not pretend like the rise of ubiquitous chat or to-do list apps really bridge the gap well either. The exhausting yet inexhaustible cycle that most teams are familiar with is:

  • Everyone is messaging on Slack literally all day, where conversations in channels climb over each other like crabs in a bucket.
  • Individually, we then have to synthesize these chats and in-person conversations and meeting notes into more notes that we put into our personal to-do lists.
  • Now all those pieces of information are siloed in separate task lists, so no single person really knows who is doing what or why they’re not working on the task that I’m dependent on.
  • Finally, we all head back to Slack to rehash a bunch of conversations we’ve already had, except we forgot a bunch of stuff, but we end up settling for confusion instead because piecing together the context of these conversations through the search UI or scrolling up for 30 minutes is literal hell.

This is the rosiest depiction of the actual experience, and it’s still a maddening pile of crap.

We need to build software for teams, not managers.

At Backpack, we’re building a product to help our team become a better team.

I believe that the critical component of success for any organization is an effective team; one that is built on trust, one that communicates clearly, and one that gives it self the time, respect, and focus to get shit done.

We’re a small team. We have no managers. We trust each other to do what we say we will do. We know where we’re going, but we don’t know exactly what we’ll be building in 6 weeks, let alone 6 months.

We need our conversations to stay in context. We need shared tasks that are spawned from those conversations. We need tools that are designed to help us stay in flow and focus on priorities.

We’re creating that for ourselves with hopes that in the future it will be valuable for other teams as well.

We’re trying, because the other option is resigning ourselves to our current circumstances.

For me, resignation has never been an option.

If you want to go deeper on this, please reach out! I’d love to hear about your experience with this, and learn what you would find helpful.

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