Voo2do Discussion: Sharing my story

I just posted the following message to the Voo2do Discussion Group; feel free to respond in the comments below or join the group.

Hi Everyone,

As the developer behind Voo2do, I’d like to welcome you to this new discussion group. My goal here is to listen and learn from users of Voo2do, in order to make Voo2do better.

I want to do this by better understanding what’s working and what isn’t. I don’t mean this in a strictly-software way; I’ve always thought that Voo2do is more about teaching and facilitating a process, and the web application is one way to do that. So I’m especially interested in learning about how you use Voo2do, and what brought you to it.

I’ll start with my own story. The event that started me toward Voo2do was a stern meeting at work. You know, the kind where two of your superiors sit you down and tell you how you’re screwing up. And this wasn’t some pointy-haired bozo at a throw-away job. These were two
senior engineers, smart guys I respect, telling me how my blithely missing a deadline had messed up a bigger plan.

“We know things sometimes take longer than you first expect”, they said, “but we count on you to tell us when things go off track. You need to pay more attention to your deadlines, and communicate any new information right away, not just when it’s already late.”

I felt like a failure. But I also knew there were a lot of people asking me to do different things, and I was losing track of what was due when and to whom. I started looking for a system to track all that, and found Joel Spolsky’s “Painless Software Scheduling” [1].

Joel lays out a very simple system — set up a spreadsheet with columns for the feature, task name, priority, original time estimate, current time estimate, along with time elapsed and remaining. I started using this system at work.

For the first time I had confidence that I wasn’t inadvertently slipping past deadlines. When someone came to ask me to do something, I’d stop and think about it, and I wouldn’t promise to do it until I could put it in my spreadsheet with a time estimate and deadline that felt honest and realistic.

The difference was dramatic, and I didn’t have to have another one of those talks.

After a few weeks, though, my spreadsheet was cluttered. I kept having to reorganize tasks so they’d show up the way I wanted — ordered by deadline and then priority, with completed tasks in a separate section. And I wanted the same system for projects I spent time on at home, although the spreadsheet file was at the office. I wanted a way to add notes, and maybe something that didn’t look as sterile and boring as a spreadsheet.

So I started working on Voo2do. I made it my mission to keep the system as easy and appealing to use as possible, which was challenge for my techie mind — I’d never though so hard about color schemes or help text. I launched it in August 2005, and it quickly exceeded my wildest expectations for popularity.

Since then, I’ve continued maintaining and using Voo2do. As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t added any significant new features in a couple of years. I’ve been focusing on other projects, but now I’m drawn back to working on Voo2do and reconnecting with the other people who use it.

I’d love to hear the story of how you’re using Voo2do, and where you’d like to see it go in the future.

Thank you,
Shimon Rura

Footnote:
[1] See Joel Spolsky’s “Painless Software Scheduling”. Joel now says that Painless Software Scheduling is made obsolete by Evidence Based Scheduling, but that’s mainly a judgment on its power to predict a release date for software built by a multi-person team. On an individual level, the data each person needs to track is pretty similar.