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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Project management as a service, the transcript

I recently posted Melissa's video interview with Mauricio Maisterrena, industrial engineer and creator of Projects AI, a full Web-based project management system built with Alpha Five Version 10.5.

But if you prefer to read the interview, I had it transcribed. Keep on reading to find out why Alpha Five developers should test the beta version of Projects AI.

You'll also hear why Mauricio decided to build a project management application, how it's different from other apps such as Basecamp and Primavera Project Planner, and more.

Melissa: Hi, everyone. I'm Melissa and I have Mauricio with me today. Hi, Mauricio.

Mauricio: Hello, Melissa. Thank you for having me.

Melissa: Oh, no problem. Now, Mauricio, pronounce your last name because I'm going to ruin it and I don't want to do that. So what's your last name?

Mauricio: Maisterrena. Or Maisterrena, people in the U.S. pronounce it like that.

Melissa: All right, well that's a much better job than I would have done, so thank you. So Mauricio did a full Web-based product management system in Alpha Five Version 10.5, called Projects AI.

It'll soon be available as a SaaS application through Alpha Software, and video demos will be posted on the Alpha Software blog that will show you what it's capable of.
But right now we're in a beta test mode, and we want to invite Alpha Five developers to give it a test drive and tell us what they think.

So I invited Mauricio to join me on Skype to tell you about his app. So, Mauricio, there's a lot of project management apps out there. Why did you decide to build one?

Mauricio: Yeah, well, after I did some research looking for a project management solution, I have found there was a gap between the very high-end of project management solutions out there that are very complex. They were more complex than what I was looking for.

And then there is this other kind of over simplistic applications like, let's say a Basecamp, or things like that that aren't right for your daily small projects, that if you want to manage a project more professionally, you are going to miss some of the professional tools that you normally use for management projects.

So this application fits in that gap, in that gap between the super high-end, super expensive applications and the very commercial ones.

Melissa: So tell us about the application. Who did you build this for?

Mauricio: Well, this application is for the general public that wants to manage their project with an easy application, but yet they are going to get some professional tools. They don't have to use all of the tools that we've provided in this application, but there are some very interesting tools.

Like the game chart, or like the calendar, that everyone knows how to use them. So it's very easy for them to understand how the application works. So our main targets right now are basically developers and construction companies, I think, are the most common to manage their projects with these kinds of applications.

Melissa: Okay, yeah, and it's interesting that you said that it's for developers, and I know they have some unique needs. But before we get into that, let's just talk a little bit more about product management apps, and can you tell me what is it that all project management apps have in common first?

Mauricio: Yeah, well, they basically all manage tasks in some ways. That's the thing that every product management application has. Then you have -- on one side you have the desktop application like, for example, Microsoft Projects that they are very focused at building the game charts of planning.

And then you have the Web applications that are more focused on the collaboration, and in those applications you get more tools, like document management for example. So they all basically manage tasks and documents.

Melissa: Now what's unique about Projects AI? I know that you said developers can use it, and the construction industry can use it, and I'm sure you're going to reach out to a larger community as well. So tell us about what makes it unique?

Mauricio: Well, the thing that differentiates this from other project managements, I already mentioned some of this, is it is not super complicated, but it is not very simplified in the way that you don't have the required tools to professionally manage your projects.

For example, if you take Basecamp you will find a game chart there. So for a professional project manager you will most often need a game chart there. So there are many tools that are simple, that are the most used by project managers.

We didn't -- all the tools that are available because the application gets overwhelming, and we don't want that. Because when you're actually managing a project, the people that are going to fill in the forms are, for example, let's take a construction project.

The people that are going to fill the forms are basically field supervisors, so they have to be in the field actually supervising the construction. They don't want to be in the office doing a lot of typing and stuff like that, so it has to be fast.

And at the same time the freight managers, they need up to date information about the projects. So we are, like, selecting the most-used tools so that it is not over simplistic, but it is not that hard to implement on a company or in a small business.

Melissa: Right, that's interesting. And so, Mauricio, you talked a little bit about how it compares to Basecamp and some other project management apps, and why it's unique, but why did you get started on this project? What made you take time out of your busy day to build this?

Mauricio: Yeah, well, I work at a foundry company, and we were looking for a project management solution. And we found something like Primavera, like Microsoft Project, and some other applications. But we didn't find something that was suited for us because those applications were very complex.

So we made a custom application for our needs. And then I saw that we were not the only ones with those needs, so I basically started a side project and did this from scratch.

And that other application I built for the foundry company was made on Alpha Five Version 8, and this new application, Projects AI, is built on Version 10.5 and has an SQL as a backend. So it grew off the need of having an application like that, and that is the reason I started this.

Melissa: And what do you do at the foundry? Can you tell us a little bit about your career?

Mauricio: Yeah. Well, I am a project manager, and there we have a metal foundry where you put the sink, you put the silver, gold and other metals. We refine some metals. So I'm in the engineering area, and there we manage projects.

Like when the plan needs to grow, we manage all the construction that needs to be done in order to let the plans grow. And they are basically the kinds of projects we manage there.

And I personally I am in charge of the software in my department, so I was the one that was in charge of seeking that project management solution, and that is why I didn't find one that was really suited to our needs.

Melissa: So you're basically an engineer, but you're also a project manager who needed better project management software, and so you started looking and you turned to Alpha Five which is great and wonderful to hear. Now, when you were looking, did you look at any other platforms? And feel free to be as technical as you want. Name names if you'd like, because I'd like to know what other platforms you looked at before deciding on Alpha Five, and then why you chose it.

Mauricio: Yeah, well, first of all I'm an industrial engineer, so I'm not really -- I wasn't a programmer. I started looking for a database solution like five years ago, so like many people I think I started looking at Microsoft Access.

And I did some basic stuff there that the thing that I was looking for was for a Web-based application, and Access didn't have the tools to do that. So I keep searching the market and I saw confusion, it was said to be an easy application to use.

I wasn't a programmer at the time, and it was too complicated for me at the time because I didn't know anything about -- well, I knew some stuff but I wasn't really a programmer.

So then I found out about Alpha Five, and it really was like magic. When I press the Web application button, and everybody could see my application, so there I was right there. The other things I liked about it that after that I started learning programming.

In this case it was Xbasic. And the tool is not -- I didn't find a wall, because sometimes you buy some applications to do some work without programming, that if you start programming you're going to find a wall.

And you can progress, and the application is going to give you more options and can practically lead to any application that requires a database, so I really liked that about Alpha Five.

Melissa: That's great. And were there any other features, like the codeless Ajax? You know, how much programming did you actually do for Projects AI? Did you use a lot of point-and-click, or did you write your own code? Just a little curious about how deep you dove into it.

Mauricio: Well, I'm going to say that for Projects AI I think basically it would be 60 percent point-and-click and 40 percent programming, because I really have some custom stuff written.

So right now if you asked me if I'm a programmer I would say yes, but five years ago I would say no. But Alpha Five has been -- is not only a tool for building applications, it's a great tool for learning programming. I found that by using it.

Melissa: Great. And so when you were using it, I know you said that you didn't hit a wall at any point, but did you hit any road bumps or anything? Anything that left you questioning some stuff, and where did you turn to get help?

Mauricio: Yes, I did a couple. Many times I did find some of those problems. One of those was when Alpha Five released JavaScript. JavaScript, I didn't know about it and I didn't know how to program in JavaScript so -- but I liked it. I liked what you could do with it.

So that pushed me into learning JavaScript, and now I know how to program JavaScript. And I think that the greatest thing, one of the greatest things, of the Alpha community is the forum. It's very has many people collaborating, and you almost always get their answer sooner or later.

Melissa: That's good. And now, Mauricio, I'm just going to switch back a little bit to the app and, for the developers watching this right now, we are opening Projects AI to the beta testing for Alpha developers to come in, give it a try and let us know what they think. Can you give me a 10-second pitch, or why should Alpha Five developers bother trying out your Projects AI?

Mauricio: OK, so I have done custom jobs for some other people that use Alpha Five, and one very recurring problem is how to follow the progress of what the, in this case I was like the contractor, was doing. And then they start asking for more and more and more things, and it's like it was a little project and it ends being a great project, and you don't know where you stand at.

And the client doesn't know where the project stands at. So if both had a Projects AI account, the client could add a task for the contractor, in this case the developer, and the developer can obtain how the tasks are going.

And if they need to download some file, they can do it right there in the application. They can see their accounting -- of when the project is going to be finished and things like that are very useful for us developers.

Melissa: OK, that's perfect. So now just to let the viewers know, you do have two video demos of Project AI which walks you step-by-step of everything that it's capable of doing, which are really useful and we'll embed those videos into the blog for easy access. They're also available on Alpha's YouTube page which is Alpha Software Inc. But, Mauricio, for developers who would be interested in using the tool, where can they go to use the beta version right now?

Mauricio: OK, they just can go to and start a new account, and they're in.

Melissa: All right, wonderful. And where should they send any feedback to?

Mauricio: If they want to contact me, they can do it with

Melissa: OK, wonderful. All right, thanks so much, Mauricio, for introducing us to Projects AI. Any idea when the finished product will be available to everyone?

Mauricio: Well, if everything goes as planned, in about six weeks we're hoping this to get out into public.

Melissa: Well, stay tuned to the blog to find out the latest news on Projects AI. And thanks again, Mauricio, and take care.

Mauricio: Thank you, Melissa. Goodbye.


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