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Summary:

In a recent article, I talked about how the choice to use less complex software in an attempt to reduce perceived overhead for your employees can actually introduce more real overhead. The main impetus for these thoughts was my evaluation of the Axosoft OnTime software solution.

In a recent article, I talked about how the decision to use less complex software in an attempt to reduce perceived overhead for your employees can actually introduce more real overhead into your processes. The main impetus for these thoughts was my evaluation of the Axosoft OnTime bug tracking / project management software solution.

OnTime is a defect, feature and project management system primarily designed for software development shops, designed to become the hub for all information related to your projects.. Out of the box it works in Agile / Scrum environments, and is feature rich, including integrated wikis, work logs, customer portals and a helpdesk, as well as task and other incident tracking.

OnTime isn’t simple; it’s complex, and full of options and features. But while there is a lot to it, the interface is clean and logical. A successful deployment of OnTime will require some thought and a good amount of planning. The exercise might even encourage you to document and develop some best practices, and potentially identify holes or weaknesses in your workflow. But that thoughtfulness will pay off in reduced noise and improved efficiency from your team.

OnTime Console

The system is very modular — only the items you are using need to be activated or set up. It acknowledges that each feature or setting has the potential to add noise or overhead and leaves it to you to find that balance for your environment. If you want a basic stripped-down environment it can do that, but when your needs and requirements grow it is capable of growing to support you. Plus, absolutely everything is customizable so it can be adapted to just about any workflow or process.

OnTime Configuration Options

One of the things I found most impressive during my demo and evaluation is how the user roles work. The permissions and roles aren’t just present for the sake of security — they also are integral to keeping the noise level down. In conjunction with routing rules and workflow definitions, items move through the system logically and only present themselves to people when they are actionable. The system hides what the users don’t need to see until they need to see it, and lets people focus on only what they need.

While focusing on the granularity is great, there are also a tremendous number of reports and great visibility into the overall project. Track time, resources, project status — all aspects of your project can be sliced and diced to view your data and status.

OnTime is one of those products that I really would like to use for my business, if only my business was a better fit for it. I love the way it handles incoming emails and generates support tickets. The integrated project wiki would allow me to compile the business knowledgebase I’ve been contemplating. The task management options are amazingly detailed and flexible. I’m also a big fan of process and workflow automation as a means to bring efficiency to a business and OnTime seems to excel at defining and enforcing effective process.

While a free single user Professional license is available, the cost and time investment to implement the hosted solution with the bells and whistles I would want for my business would be cost prohibitive and my circumstances don’t warrant the extra overhead. For even small development shops though, particularly those focusing on creative deliverables, OnTime is a thoughtful, powerful and flexible solution.

Multiple version levels of OnTime are available to match your requirements, from the Express version for small teams up to an Enterprise version for maximum flexibility. You can also choose between a locally hosted or a managed hosted environment.

I had some trouble setting up the SQL database on my local machine, so for my evaluation I’ve been working on a hosted database using a locally installed Windows desktop client. A web client is also available but I find myself more frequently working through the desktop version.

OnTime is complex and so won’t be the right fit for everyone, but its thoughtful design makes it easier to put together just the right set of options and features needed to accommodate your workflow and your particular requirements.

How do you feel about using more complex software, like OnTime, as opposed to stripped-down, simpler apps?

  1. If you’re already set for complexity, and for maybe assigning someone to manage the system, you could do worse than drupal + Storm. http://drupal.org/project/storm

    Note that it’s free like beer.

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  2. The steap learning curves of complex software or webapps is a problem for most small companies. I work with professionals and entrepreneurs to work smarter and it’s the time they have to invest that holds them back.

    With these complex programs I would like to see some kind of role- or profession based settings to choose from.

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    1. Mark,

      Absolutely, it’s a constant struggle, I see it with my small business clients as well. One of the things I like about OnTime is that while it does take a bit of tweaking by someone in the know, you can set up very simple process and interfaces down the line. The complexity can be hidden to a point with the hard work being done behind the scenes.

      thanks for the comment,
      sb

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  3. The objective is to find the software solution that matches your need. I run into small businesses with very complex processes that need to be managed and other large enterprise customers that need one process with low complexity to be managed. Software solutions that can find a balance between having a powerful engine yet remain easy for the end user are going to be successful in both cases. If a software solution is tailored to a particular niche, it might enable the opportunity to provide something that is very easy to deploy and utilize, but the trade off is that the end user has a hard time customizing the solution to their specific organization’s needs. It all comes back to what is the business need in the short term and long term.

    We strive to provide the balance here for project and task management software with JobTraQ. http://www.jobtraq.com

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  4. Scott, thanks for the review. We are always striving to make complex things simple and today we announced one of the most exciting tools that project managers have seen in a very long time. It’s called a Project Planning Board. It’s a visual card-based view of work items. I can’t describe it easily in words, but the first video on this page does an amazing job of showing why the new Planning Board will not only simplify project management to the Nth degree, but it will change the way you work:

    http://www.axosoft.com/ontime/beta

    It’s very well worth your time.

    Hamid

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    1. Hi Hamid,

      Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about OnTime and your development philosophy. It’s really given me a lot to think about when I do product evaluations for reviews and for client implementations.

      I had a quick glance at the Planning Board but will take another look this week.

      sb

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  5. It’s interesting to know that Scott worked more on the offline (desktop) version than the online version (meaning the latter wasn’t that good), which I think is the version that should be more polished, especially at this day and age.

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    1. One should be careful making inferences like that as that is certainly not the case. Actually the OnTime web client is virtually indistinguishable from the desktop client. For me it was mostly just ease of launching the program from the desktop icon.

      sb

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