SVET: Bringing order to project management chaos

SVET took some twists and turns. We leave this article here for remembrance of its past. Updates on their latest endeavors can be found here.

Hello everybody.  For today’s Slap Start review, I’d like to kick things off with a pleasant anecdote.  In 2005 the giant British food retailer J Sainsbury had to write off its US $526 million investment in an automated supply-chain management system. Merchandise was stuck in the company’s depots and warehouses and was not getting through to many of its stores. Sainsbury was forced to hire about 3000 additional clerks to stock its shelves manually.  Bummer.

Pretty harrowing, eh?  In the hot-shot business world, we call this “project management failure.”  This aforementioned example, admittedly, relates to a large company, but as anyone who’s been unable to even get into their Outlook Account can tell you, project management failure is not relegated to the big boys.

Project failures drains resources, alienates staff, affects the stock price, and (oftentimes unfairly) gives IT a bad name.  In fact, I’d wager that off the record, most CIOs would put their project management success rate at a measly 30-40%.  Project failure is endemic, and with organizations becoming increasingly complex, it’s not getting easier anytime soon.  It’s chaos!

Enter (drum roll)  SVET.  It’s a nifty web-based project management tool that aims to bring order out of chaos.   And I happen to like it quite a bit.

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Svet, in their own words, is essentially an online notebook which you can use to store the information for your projects. It enables you to track your working time and communicate with your team and clients. You can also make detailed reports of what you’ve done for a specific period of time.  As SVET is an online system, you don’t need to install anything on your computer.

One of the very cool things about SVET’s site is their video tour.  By being able to see the process and functionality in action, rather than in static text, was very illuminating.  I checked out the “Organizer” video which showed me how to manage my tasks.  Another nice component of the tour was how the functionality was laid out.  Instead of potentially confusing viewers with proprietary, catchy terminology, they articulate the features in an explicit, practical way:organize your work, assign tasks, time tracking, and create reports.  Short, sweet, and comprehensible.  Furthermore, each page was chock full o’ screen shots with call-outs and circled numbers with descriptive references so you know what you’re looking at, as you can see below:

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Curious to see how it all fit together, I signed up for a free tour, and was happy to see that when SVET says they’re Web-based, they mean it: even their free demo is right there on their site.  Rather than registering, getting and e-mail, and clicking stuff, all I had to do is type in “demo” as my user name and password.  Go ahead, try it!  I was taken to a neat, clean dashboard with six main headings to choose from: Organizer, Projects, Clients, Users, Reports, and Preferences.  I clicked on the “Projects” header and a sample project “New Web Site,” since I imagined this is where most of the action takes place.

The “New Web Site” project – as with all the projects – included seven areas:

  • Overview: Includes project name, client name, project creator, time spent on project, users, and tasks.
  • Tasks: Lists roles and responsibilities for team members, was well-laid out in two columns: “Active” and “Done.”  Easy.
  • Time: Tracking, down to the second, on the amount of time spent on each task.  This is extremely helpful for metrics-gathering purposes and can naturally surface costly obstacles to completing tasks – and the project as a whole – on time.
  • Forum: A place for users – project managers, engineers, end-users, etc. – to compare notes and comments.
  • Edit: Where the administrator can, among other things, add or subtract assigned users to said project.
  • Archive: Enables administrator to archive project.
  • Delete: Enables administrator to delete project.
  • Files: Where users can upload project-related material.

You can also add your own tabs to the top.  One potential example: Training material, as a huge failure point for projects is end-user error (which is why was pleased to see a support guide specifically geared towards end-users.)  To that end, the reason I was particularly interested in this Project area and the “Task” sub-section in particular is that another root cause of project failure is one of the following: ineffective segregation of duties, unclear segregation of duties, and/or lack of accountability regarding aforementioned duties.  In other words: there must be clear direction and management of employee’s roles; it must be measurable, and it must be efficiently monitored.  Well, of course! you may say – it’s common sense.  But you’d be surprised – and many organizations can vouch for me on this – how such seemingly simple concepts and activities quickly disintegrate into chaos.  Which, again, is why I was impressed with the crisp, clean layout of Project activities.

A few other features that’d be nice – which, admittedly, may be found somewhere within the tool – would be ways to track:

  • Budget: The time-tracker tool reminded me that in addition to being “over-time,” project failures are also “over-budget.”  It would be nice to track the costs – planned and unplanned – with each task and compare that against the overall budget forecast.   Doing so can raise red flags around particularly cost changes.  It’d be cool to see this in the Project Overview screen (see the bullets above) as a default tab.
  • Administrator rights: Naturally, the administrator would have control over certain tasks – deleting projects for example.  A list of such roles would be handy.
  • Voice-Over Tour: In future iterations of the video tour, a voice-over narration would be a nice touch too (not sure if other videos had them as I didn’t go through them all.)  I hear James Earl Jones is looking for work these days.

So what about the price?  Well, according to my standards, The prices seem right: $39 per month for small teams (approximately 60 projects) or $59 per month, with unlimited usage.  Again, a simple, clean price structure.  The user guide seems robust, and support is just an email away.  In closing, this simple, flexible project management tool seems to have learned the mistakes of its predecessors.  With an emphasis on role segregation, time management, and over-all project transparency, it can help small business take the pain out of managing projects.