Adopting a new project management tool – Stories of failure and success

Whoever has the arduous task of introducing a new project management tool in a company must always come up against some resistance and try to overcome major obstacles.

In fact, it is commonly known that any procedure changes in the workplace can throw even the most open-minded individuals into turmoil.

But there are some tricks to follow on which your success or failure may depend.

In this article we are going to show you how you might deal with change processes when introducing a new project management software in your company.

Our support to companies in adopting new project management methodologies has already surpassed twenty years of activity, both online and by consulting on site.

So far, we gained enough experience for us to to identify specific patterns of success and failure and we want to share some with you.

During our work as consultants, sometimes adoption succeeded and sometimes failed.

But in general, we think that most of the time success or failure did not depend crucially on the tool itself, but actually depended on the attitude of people involved.

What we are going to show here can be valid for any kind of tool. Either if the tool is a simple shared spreadsheet or even a physical whiteboard on the wall, not necessarily a fully-developed software system.

Our list will begin presenting failure patterns and then we will show some success stories.

In the end, we will give you 10 tips to keep in mind when introducing a new project management methodology in your company.

Failure Patterns

Frustration when choosing a new project management tool

1. Users do not use the new project management tool

In our experience the first cause of failure in the adoption of a new project management tool is not the discovery that the solution chosen does not accomplish a specific task.

It is rather the mere fact that users do not use the tool.

After a while, mangers have to acknowledge that their team is not going to adopt the solution proposed and this is probably the worst scenario.

One way to prevent it is to wonder, right from the beginning, whether is it realistic that people in your team are going to welcome the change.

Some questions you may ask yourself are:

  • Am I asking too much?
  • Is this solution simple?
  • Is it quick?
  • Are there visible advantages for the users?

If you consider this from the start, there are better chances that you avoid this pattern.

2. We’ll start using it when everything is in place

Another frequent failure pattern we have noticed is represented by the statement: “We’ll start using it when everything is in place”.

This is what we call a priori failure. In fact, in this case the defeat begins before the adoption of the tool.

In fact, saying that a new methodology will start only when everything is in order, predictably means that you actually never start.

As it is commonly known, perfectionism can be counter-productive.

3. If you don’t get a complete data coverage, what you’ll gain is worthless

A belief that frequently causes failure is that either you get a complete data coverage, or what you will be gaining is worthless.

This means, in short, that partial data is useless.

This is in our experience a big mistake: partial data is way better than no data.

If you start with just a few information, you will always have the chance to increase them during time, heading towards a more and more complete work coverage.

Try it out and let us know if this is true.

4. Software replaces human management

An almost superstitious belief in adopting such tools is that software might replace management.

This is never true, but actually the opposite happens.

A good new project management tool can help you analysing, finding patterns, exploring ongoing situations, improving collaboration.

All of these factors will enforce management instead of replacing it.

5. Migration of past habits into the new project management tool

Yet another mistake originates by hoping to migrate all the current methods in use in the company to the new system.

This often means projecting the bad habits, which can be also determined by the limitations of the tools used in the past, and moving them to the new system.

This mistake makes you miss the great opportunity provided by the introduction of new tools, i.e. the chances of reforming paths, of thinking out what can be changed or removed of old habits.

Most often the company’s greatest advantage is the acceptance of a reformation process, instead of the adoption of the tool itself.

6. Theoretical over practical advantages

One last pattern we want to share with you is this: the tendency to put the advantages of a new project management tool before the relationship between people and new methodologies.

The human factor is in fact what you should actually take into greater consideration, because team cooperation is the key for success.

In this perspective, starting with a small motivated team is more important than all the functionalities of the tool which you will chose in the end.

Success patterns

team collaboration in selecting a new project management tool

1. Present the tool differently to different people

The first one is a technique we have seen used in winning situations, which is to present the tool differently to different groups of people.

Even if what you introduce is in some way a centralized formalization of working practices, the nuances in which you show it to different people can make all the difference.

The way you present a software to the IT department must necessarily be different to the way you present it to others, as for example the group of promoters.

By adapting your presentation, your expectations in usage from that group, and the advantages you see in some specific aspects, you will make it easier for different people to understand what will happen once the system is put to work.

Generally speaking, what you need is a collection of data and information, but you do not need to get it in the same way from everyone.

2. Take the opportunity to improve processes

Another thing that successful managers know is that introducing a new solution is an opportunity for opening discussions and not for giving impositions.

Giving the chance to anyone of discussing the way the tool will be introduced may be a way for gaining respect and establishing new communication channels.

Do not forget to grab this opportunity.

In fact, not being asked for opinion is one of the main causes for dissatisfaction in the workplace.

3. Better work quality is an advantage for everyone

A point you should try to make clear in every discussion is that quality at work ends up helping everyone.

This is not just a propaganda slogan but it is the evidence in our experience and probably in anyone’s experience.

Workplaces where the attention to production quality is higher are the places where the life quality of individuals working there is higher.

4. Start simple and proceed one step at a time

Le’s support this point with a short story that happened to us once.

We were proposing our solution to a bank and our contact was smart young manager.

He invited us to a large committee meeting whose agenda was the adoption of our tool.

Every department had its own requirements and especially the IT department asked for some integrations with the existent solutions.

Our client, the young manager, said yes to anyone but after the meeting he actually told us not to do any of these integration and set up the tool as it was.

He started with a small motivated team and used a simplified project management methodology.

After the first group started, another group joined and in the end all the bank adopted this new solution in its simplified version.

His approach has had a great success.

We did some integrations later, but nevertheless he managed to get started quickly and without too many complications.


And finally, here are our 10 short tips that you should always keep in mind when proposing a new project management technology to your company.

  • Start with a small motivated group
  • Start simple, avoid useless complications
  • Put real data in the new system, right from the beginning
  • Poor and scarce information is better than none
  • Complete system integration may never happen, still your company may benefit from the new solution adopted
  • Do not delay reform while waiting for… [put any strange requirement here]
  • Reject bizarre ideas coming from a single user. If this person is the CEO (as it happens most often), answer positively but then postpone actions. At further enquiries answer: “Yes, we are going to do it, but not just now.”
  • Do not be mislead by developers and by technical details. Remember what matters in the end is people’s attitude.
  • Listen to women. In committees, women’s observations and contributions tend to be more concrete, since they seem to have a more realistic picture of human behaviour at work.
  • Remember: it is more a question of people than a question of technology.


The solution that we have been proposing for the last 20 years is a highly complete software: Twproject.

It is a very versatile and flexible software tool which adapts to all ways of working.

Its introduction is therefore very simple and it will further help you to overcome all resistance issues and to pursue the path of success.

This innovative solution covers all project management needs, from the to-do lists for workers, to the overview pages for project managers, to specific reports for board management.

It allows you to start step by step, taking advantage of a portion of the features at the beginning, and refining them over time.

If you want, you can do a free trial, keeping our series of advice in mind, and then you can let us know what you think and if you are going to propose it to your team.

Avoid failure: try Twproject.

The project milestones: planning objectives and results

Milestones or project milestones are management tools used to define a specific point in the project planning.

The points define, in fact, the beginning and the end of work and mark the end of an important phase of the work.

Milestones in project management can be used to symbolize all started and finished stuff.

If a milestone focuses on the main points of project progress, it becomes useful as a planning tool.

Just as the tasks break down a larger project into manageable parts, the milestones split a project into milestones.

So, when starting a project, milestones can help immensely with programming.

Milestones are usually present in project management software, and of course also in Twproject.

They have their own specific icon in the Gantt chart function, and are diamond-shaped.

Project milestones: the planning

Project milestones are a way to estimate the time needed to complete the project more accurately.

Hence, they become essential for precise project planning.

With milestones, you can better calculate project planning by segmenting it into more manageable and easier-to-control time intervals.

They are also a flexible tool for planning.

With a little bit of flexibility, they can do much more than act as mere indicators of the project phases.

For example, milestones can be used as reminder of important meetings or to report other interesting events, such as workshops or training courses.

They can represent also the moment of invoicing customers.

In short, using this diamond icon is a great way to make sure everyone is aware of upcoming deadlines and upcoming important meetings.

Naturally, milestones can indicate the deadlines for anything related to the project.

Project milestones: Keep track of progress

Part of a project’s planning is the ability to monitor and keep track the progress of that program in real time.

Milestones are a way to see both at what point is a specific single activity, and the general state of progress of the project itself.

This is useful when dealing mainly with stakeholders.

In fact, these are generally not interested in a detailed report of the project progress.

What they want to know is if the project moves forward or not as initially planned.

Milestones are ideal for this type of report because they show the main phases completed.

Here at Twproject, for example, we use milestones to define the release dates of the software. This helps us being aware of how many features we can add from time to time in order not to stray the release plan. But this is just one of the many ways they can be used!

Plan your milestones!

In Twproject you can plan your project by highlighting the milestones. Thanks to the interactive Gantt you will always know if a delay has an impact on the milestones and you will be notified immediately.

Try Twproject now!

Project milestones: Simple task or milestone?

Discern between what to consider a simple desired dates and what to consider a milestone can be difficult.

More projects are complex, more difficult is to recognize the difference between simple dates and milestone.

To resolve the doubt it is essential to ask itself the following questions:

  • Is this a dates that can be rescheduled or not?
  • Will this affect the final deadline?
  • Is this an important moment in the project that will indicate future progress?
  • Is it an event that has an impact on the project?

Answering these questions will help you understand if we are talking about a normal date or a milestone.

Basically, the most important events of your project must be reported as milestones, so that they can be easily visualized and mapped by the project team.

Project milestones: Why use them?

Milestones can improve planning and execution in different ways:

1) Monitor deadlines

No plan is complete without a list of deadlines. The best way is to use the milestones to indicate them.

The milestones, as already mentioned, are usually marked as a diamond-shape icon in the project planning software.

Hence, this icon represents a delivery, a presentation of the deliverable or in any case a deadline that mustn’t be forgotten.

2) Make it easy to identify important dates

Are there important days that may have an impact on the project?

Perhaps a training course for the project team or a workshop?

Or a meeting with the stakeholders?

It is important to keep in mind all these events in project planning.

These are events of such importance that they can have an impact on the whole project and it must be easy to identify them.

3) Identify potential blocks of the project

Many projects rely on work produced by external teams or partners in order to progress.

If these external factors are not monitored, the probability to forget or not following them increases.

So, if you are working on a project that depends – even – on someone or something of external with which you do not have frequent contact, it is important to list these results as milestones.

As we have seen, milestones are a very useful project management tool.

It is also an easy-to-use tool for project planning and reporting.

In Twproject a milestone always coincides with the beginning or end of a task, this because normally a milestone is linked to a delivery or a kick-off phase.

In order to support the team in achieving the goal, Twproject also sets up a milestone notification system.

The notifications make even easier the work of the team that will automatically receive the alerts of the activities expiring or delayed and they will complete the tasks.

By default the alarm (milestone of the neighboring task) is 3 days before the milestone, but it is also possible to change it from the configuration pages.

Reaching and overcoming a project milestone is also good for the morale of the team and of the project manager himself.

This is why every tool (like the alert) that facilitates the task is always very well received.

In Twproject, milestones can be linked to project phases via different types of dependencies to best reflect the actual project implementation.

See how much Twproject’s Gantt chart can help you in the planning and performance of your projects:

Watch an overview about the Gantt diagram and its miestone in Twproject

Now it’s your turn to try to map your project with milestones in Twproject and see if they help you better understand deadlines and deliveries

What are your waiting for? Try Twproject for free for 15 days!

Set the milestones of your project.

Enterprise Project Management – Twproject

You have great teams, we will help you making them happier. Twproject do not push you to use a methodology. No additional effort is required to use Twproject; you drive, we follow.

Twproject is a high-end project and work management tool. You have great teams, we will help you making them happier.


Twproject is built to adapt to your working methods and operative environment; it give you a full set of instruments to stay informed on project progress, budget, and scope creeps. Twproject facilitate work offering you the right place to “collect” information, store documents, take notes and whatever else run around a project without effort.

Be free

Twproject do not push you to use a methodology. You will be free to use a classic waterfall as well as a Agile or a Prince2 approach. No additional effort is required to use Twproject; you drive, we follow.

Above all, control

Complex projects, several teams, issues, budgets, milestones; how to keep everything under control? There is one answer only: collecting feedback, any kind of feedback (status changes, date changes, work done, issues opened, notes, discussions etc. ), from where things are done. This point is the crucial factor; only if you get actual information from the “base”, managers will have significant data to get the right decisions. This requires that your software need to be widely adopted. We spent several months to make Twproject UI nice and friendly, making it useful to every users profile. This is why Twproject has a very low “rejection” rate.

Security, not jails

Enterprises are complex; organizational charts, permissions, grants, delegations, bosses and customers. The refined security role based model covers any kind of requirements of access/visibility on projects; just assign resources on tasks and Twproject will do the rest. No effort is required to setup a security structure that fits your company needs. More than ten years of adoption success stories tell us that this it’s true!

You will be able to set access from a single sub-task to the complete project in few clicks. High security standard are used for data encryption, control access, enforce password policy, but do not duplicate you efforts if you have already setup your network security: Twproject uses your LDAP, Active directory, file servers, or DMS with one click. Read more about Twproject security here:


Add, adapt and stretch

Every company has its own “mandatory oddities”: Twproject is built to extend the basic set of features by adding custom properties on task, issues, resources, costs and every main entity.

Users can make its dashboard “a la carte” adding its preferred widgets. Custom forms, wizards and reports will complete the set of feature Twproject  offers to fit enterprise’s needs.

More on Twproject flexibility here:

Make your IT happy

Twproject runs everywhere. It is built on Java and run on all the most used servlet containers. “Compatibility” and “connectivity” are our keywords.

Twproject installs in minutes on every operating system. You can use your company’s preferred database. Twproject is the IT world’ preferred  product.

An easy data structure, API, schedulers, and connectors will allow you to let Twproject talk with your existing ERP, CRM and accounting systems.

Don’t have an IT or you want to spare upgrade and maintenance costs? Use our per-customer dedicated servers on Amazon cloud.

Ready to give Twproject a try?

One try is worth a million words.

Twproject 5.4 now available

New free features and a new site

We are very happy to announce that after a long period of development we have just released Twproject 5.4 (build 59600).

This new release includes a relevant redesign of the interactive Gantt chart, moreover we improved the interface usability of the entire application, fixing most of the bugs signaled through our support forum (thank you!).

This release also contains a major internal refactoring focused on providing better access to Twproject trough an API that will be released soon.

Some additional fields have been added on the database schema, now supporting custom fields on resources; it is also functional to maintaining custom orderings in Gantt chart. As usual the upgrade procedure will perform all necessary steps automatically.


Gantt Chart


The new interface has been rebuilt using HTML5 and SVG, giving to our users a brand new usability experience.

We lets you navigate the grid using your keyboard, in this way editing and creating task will be much easier. We also introduce the fixed header to help users interact with complex trees. Task and dependencies can be selected and removed directly from the chart side.


The Gantt chart is now really easier to use. You can manually link projects creating dependencies, task names are displayed beside each task, task days are shown while you are enlarging or reducing tasks.


The new Gantt editor also includes critical path identification. Critical path computation can be turned on and off and is updated automatically with your tree changes.




We think that team communication is essential for task progress and for this reason we enhanced discussions’ strength giving new visibility to this feature.

Now is easier to create conversations and contribute. Users can initiate a new discussion on each task, so that will be easier for workgroups to discuss about specific task matters. Subscriptions and notifications keep your group up to date.


twproject mobile


Minor changes and a really nicer skin.


Minor features and bugs

  • Added paginator on bottom page lists
  • Added isPersonal and isUnavailable in agenda’s small editor
  • Added custom fields on resources
  • Fixed header and footer on worklog week
  • Main menu can now be opened in new tab
  • Redesigned Copy task feature for a more intuitive cloning procedure.
  • Fixed issue filter with duration>0
  • Fixed agenda search bug on private event
  • Fixed issue order on Kanban
  • Full search for Task: filter is now preserved
  • Fixed moving issue assignment bug
  • Fixed public page bug
  • Minor bugs fixed


Twproject Shop

Since Twproject 5.4 you have direct access to Twproject shop in order to easily increase you number of user licenses or update your license expiry date. The new license will be generated and sent to you within few minutes. If you are using our cloud solution, your environment will be automatically updated.

A brand new site for Twproject and guide

We are also very proud of our new Twproject website released last week. We worked really hard to make all information about our software features available to customers in a simple and intuitive manner.

Buying Twproject is now more simple and fast, licenses are sent to your email address immediately after purchase and Amazon dedicated Instance are instantiated automatically too, in a few minutes.

We completely redesigned our guide that is now a dedicated site to help all our acquired customers finding answers on their work management problem.

Teamwork 4.5 released: a major free upgrade

We are really happy to announce this major release update. As you may guess from the length of this announcement, this update will improve your Teamwork in almost every section, providing more modeling tools and functions. The web browsers’ enhanced capacities (in particular those of Firefox, Safari and Chrome) are used in depth to give users a better experience.

This is a free upgrade for all users of version 4. Get the installer / upgrader here:

The main features of this release are:

– Issue managing by dragging – “kanban” like.

– History of issue assignee, status and task change (better help desk and issue scaling support).

– Customizable issue statuses.

– Better graph and agile / scrum handling.

– Cross links between tasks / issues / resources / agenda events / meetings / boards.

– In-place popup editors.

– Operator load computation has become much smarter.

– Greatly extended user guide with real case work “mappings” to Teamwork, and a new section on performance optimization.

Layout changes

Several pages that up to now were popup windows are now windows in place, which improves their usability: issue editor, custom forms, workgroup selector.

Several text areas now support internal links (e.g. T#MYCODE#), web links (, smiley’s, absolute URLs to images.

New features


Issue statuses – customizable. New issues statuses can be created. There is a page for managing issue statuses (which before version 4.5 were fixed):


And for every status not only its color, but most importantly its business logic behavior is determined from this editor:


Whether it should “behave” when asking user feedback as an open status, as close, whether it should ask for comments and / worklog when entering a status.

So typically if your status is something in which the issue enters at “end of life”, it should be marked “as close” and “ask for worklog” too should be enabled.


Issue change history. When changing a status, task or assignee on an issue, the editor will ask for a reason, and the change will be recorded on the issue. And in fact there is an additional tab on the issue editor, “history”.

Issue organizer “Kanban”. Issues can be now be organized in a completely visual way by dragging and dropping them: filter the issues in which you are interested in, and then select the “organizer” button.


clip_image010 Now you can also enable use of external codes on issues (admin -> default for projects).


The usability of the “customize this page” function has been improved: all portlets are always visible:


And it’s easier to drag them in the dashboard. Moreover it is easier to access the general page / portlet disposition page: just click “all users”. clip_image014

There is a new additional starting page: help desk support.

Operator load and planning. This was the user request:

“refine the operator load showing the effective load taking in consideration worklog done. E.g: 100h estimated on 20 days, done 10h in 10 days the resting 10 day must have a load of 90h not 50h like now”

Also take care of unavailability.

Use the new operator load on plan, load by day, end wherever it is meaningful

Operator load textual: put worklog with totals and pink holydays. Use striped background

Advanced users

– The examples in the distribution and the documentation now cover also “custom wizards”: see section 14.4 Custom wizards of the user guide.

Minor improvements

– More kinds of documents are now full-text indexed; these are the extensions now supported:

“.txt”, “.rtf”, ”.log” “.pdf”. “.htm”, “.html”, “.zip”, “.war”, “.jar”, “.xls”, “.xlsx”, “.xltx”, “.xlsEmb”, “.doc”, “.docx”, “.dotx”, “.docEmb”, “.ppt”, “.pptx”, “mpp”, “mpx”, “.msg”, “.msgEmb”, “.vsd”, “.pub”.

Also custom fields are full-text indexed.

Here are several user requests fulfilled:

– “Add worklog approval monthly screen” -> We will add bulk status change in worklog search / analysis

– Expose issue id in editor and list.

– LDAP authentication cascades to system one.

– Develop a resource snapshot.

– Sort File Storage Document Listing.

– Make “add document content” in a rich text editor.

– Please put a link to a task on the agenda event : we actually did much more by having full internal links.

– Need to add subscription event for when a new version of a document is uploaded.

– Display agenda items in planByResource like in worklogWeek.

– Search for specific custom fields.

– You can have a customized help message in the “help” page, just add in the labels CUSTOMIZED_HELP_CONTACT.


– Notes on issues are on the main tab and self-resize.

– Issue assignee selector got simplified.

– Now you can create subtasks as sub-fluxes.

– Counters can now be reset and deleted.

– When changing a task on an issue, notify the new assignees.

– Since version 4.5 custom fields support also “typing” of data. E.g. “cost,20,java.lang.Double” will add a custom field of length 20 and type “double” (a floating point number).

– Holiday settings: now you have year-specific settings.

– In issue list you can now filter by task type.

– Resource print includes my assignments.

Bug fixes

– Check why in the assignment notification we add a link to the task even if the resource has not the rights to read task … .

– Meetings are not full-indexed.

– Index custom forms data.

– Create issue from task editor menu does not launch creation nor filters???

– Issue multi edit: bulk change gravity do not close actions clicking “close”.

– Fixed MIME for teamworkMenuPlusCss.jsp,

– Issue cloning did not raise events,

– Fixed various combo positions in bulk update screens in case of scroll.

– Summa is not saved on document link and file storage on tasks and resources.

– A fix for Oracle on Resources with no surname.

– An operator may change his own password even if cookies are enabled.

– Do not notify disabled users.


Technical points

– In order to optimize memory usage,


If you log as administrator and go to the label management section, open the “label rules” container (it is closed by default), and say if you want to have only English as language, type EN in the enabled languages field and select SAVE.


– Teamwork 4.5 is no more on quirks mode – we dropped support for Internet Explorer 6 – and pages are in HTML 5

Important for upgrades. Several JARS have been updated, added and removed. If they are present these JARs should be deleted by hand from WEB-INF/lib:

o commons-collections-2.1.1.jar

o commons-logging-1.0.4.jar

o poi-3.0.1-FINAL-20070705.jar

o jcaptcha-all-1.0-RC3.jar

– Added -server configuration to the Java JVM distributed.

– If using HsqlDB you can make a dump of the current log by hand from system check instead of having to wait Teamwork restart:


Notes for updating to 4.5:

Any custom filter on issues will need to be redone as the issue statuses are a lookup field.

Unfortunately all document list attached to discussion points of meetings will be reset.

P.S. We’re building the beta of a new online service – called Licorize – a cocktail of Delicious bookmarking and light to-do management. If you’d like to beta-test it,  just send an e-mail to with “Licorize” in the subject or body – we will soon give you access and also a year of free usage to your entire group.

Teamwork release 4.3 available for download

Teamwork 4.3 multi-Gantt view.
Teamwork 4.3 multi-Gantt view.

A free upgrade release for all users of version 4.0-4.2, this release includes some major extensions of functionality; while there is no “revolution”, this kind of release makes your “Teamwork life” more comfortable. Several features requests from the feedback service have been fulfilled. Also the user guide has been updated.

Download this release here.

Multi-Gantt support

This was motivated by this request: “Manage graphical Gantt-type overview of all projects”. We then realized that all it needed was the filtering power of projects search together with a Gantt style visualization. So this is what we’ve done: we added an additioanl visualization of the search results. So for example you can see all your root open project closing in 2 weeks in a Gantt style view.

Also all the Gantt scales have been extended to 5 years.

Import from CSV – Bugzilla

Import of issues and resources from CSV files: issues get imported from the Bugzilla CSV export format, but of course in this way you can import from anything.

Collapsible project trees

Projects trees can be collapsed and there are options to keep them open by default etc. . This was this request; thanks to Halil for the first implementation.

More Twitter integrations

Twitter integration with any action and there is a new portlet for filtering tweets on any topic: see the user guide, section 8.3.3.

Little improvements

– All notifications have in the subject the task they refer to, if it exists (this request).
– Display log on descendants (this request).
– Balloons have no more the confusing Roman number.
– Use  darker gray on Gantt duration background – better prints.
– Search analysis worklog: make the field “action” larger.
– In resource list there is no more the bothering default filter by company.
– Snapshot of a task can be edited.
– Search analysis worklog: make the column “action” larger.
– Issue multi editor: if there is a task on the issue and you have an assignment on it, let the watch icon appear even if the issue is not assigned to you.
– Experimental: supporting SSL over LDAP (LDAPS)

Bug fixes

– Issues didn’t get indexed any more for full text search.
– Order in company news doesn’t work.
– Portlet news doesn’t show news ordered by order factor.
– Resource hourly cost sometimes gets set to zero.
– Meeting: drag&drop multi editor doesn’t work for the just inserted.
– The link to resource drawn by the smart combo if the resource is from another area on which you have no right you see the link but you get an error.
– Search of a string containing ” in issues looped the application.
– Sometimes the rollover menu opened in the wrong direction.
– If you change the allowed file storage roots, disable links to old locations.

Technical notes for upgrade

This release build is 11250; it contains no database schema changes for all users of 4.2.10080 and following. As it contains an issue full-text indexing fix, you should reindex your data: see 17.4 of the user guide.

try darker gray on gantt duration background

Notes on usability, game mechanics, and Teamwork’s evolution


The work documented in this post was ignited by receiving the first video tests from and other sources (by the way, Usertesting supplied valuable feedback for a very cheap price), and about at the same time watching a video where Amy Jo Kim from Shufflebrain does a great and inspiring presentation showing how some game mechanics are used by successful social software.


Teamwork 4 was realized after studying several texts on usability, and even inventing new techniques, see for example

Smarter search and recent object functionality

Managing with lists vs. managing with trees

But our internal speculations lacked the ideas that may come from an independent fresh look; we received a lot of positive feedback from new users of Teamwork 4, but the problem is that those that do not understand your software, don’t usually give you feedback. So we submitted Teamwork 4.1 to several testers that were first-time users. Then, looking at the testers’ video, these were full of surprises, and quite… painful to watch! Poor users!

Putting together feedback of the testers and the idea of the prime importance of positive feedback from the software, in particular in early usage phases, we designed a new release of Teamwork which we hope should be friendlier for both the first starter and the daily user. Here we document some of the differences. I hope that being this a concrete example of usability evolution, it can be of some interest for those who are working on web application usability in general.

The criteria which we used for evolution of the interface have been inspired also by Amy Jo Kim’s work from Shufflebrain who in this presentation shows how some game mechanics are used by successful social software, and this may inspire in general who is designing any kind of application:

Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Mechanics to Functional Software

This is filled with interesting ideas and observations; to me what results more interesting is not so much the extrapolation of the specifics of game mechanics, but looking at ways to involve with feedback the user in its first steps in your application, and then guide the evolution of it. It is clear from the speech and Q&A part of the video that she has a wide usage and behavior culture which is only partly expressed there.

Limits of game techniques

Looking at human beings as reacting to behavioral stimuli is taking an extremely partial view, which has little explanational mileage, but not zero.

It is true that games tap in primal response patterns; but that is also their limit, at least for games that use proximal metaphors (body movements) and not reasoning, collecting, quantifying. Collecting and quantifying means inserting strings and numbers; something at which Mario Bros. like interfaces are vary very bad at; like using the iPhone keyboard for a lot of data input. But collecting and quantifying is what is most important for a huge number of applications, and where the proximal metaphors simply won’t help.

In playing games, often the player is happy to use “low level” skills; in planning work, not so much. That is also why simple stimulus – response – reinforce metaphors can be effective in gaming, advertising, but not elsewhere; we are not (fortunately) always that stupid. It is surely false that the most powerful way to manipulate human behavior is to do a variable response schedule: a good argument to a responsive crowd can do better than any behavioral proximal stimulus. But that would take us far, on the failures of behaviorism (this is old stuff from the 50’s). Still, when the users of any software are in their first steps, the response patterns of the application matter a lot.

On the Business of software discussion group I’ve recently seen a discussion on a tool for visually collecting bookmarks. The developers chose to develop a desktop client before developing a browser plugin (!); this to me is a clear mistake in adoption path strategy, which does not consider the critical point of lowering the adoption path as much as possible for such a secondary tool. Seeing collecting bookmarks as a “game played in the browser”, makes it immediately that the separate client idea is disastrous!

My point of this section is just that the gaming metaphors can help, but in limited forms and cases.


The task given to the testers was this:

  • enroll to demo
  • create a project
  • assign yourself to it
  • create a resource
  • assign it to the project
  • create a child task
  • create some issues
  • register some worklog
  • search for a task
  • create a to-do

Going through this, they met some difficulties, which we tried to overcome, and we document all this in this PDF:


(1.5 MB – lots of screen shots).

Some ideas in the PDF can be generalized; additional  “behavioral reinforcement” tricks which we put in place:

  • Whatever first tests the user does, he makes a % increment
  • the “user score” (which was already there) has been structured in “badges” (which in our case are balloons of different color)
  • operators are associated to a “color”: so say sticky notes coming from them are immediately distinguishable

Progress feedback always increasing.

Users are associated with a color.

Users are associated with a color.

N.B. The changes to which we refer are not released yet (May 13th, 2009); the demo and the downloadable version are those before changes, the new release (Teamwork 4.2) will be available in a couple of weeks.

Additional references

The World’s Largest MMORPG: You’re Playing it Right Now