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Planzone future user interface: an interview with Jean-Luc Bernette, research manager

Planzone future user interface: an interview with Jean-Luc Bernette, research manager

6a00e54ee3654e88330120a5970260970c-250wi1. Hello Jean-Luc! Please tell us a bit about yourself. What is your professional experience? What is your position at Planzone? How long have you been on the Augeo / Planzone team?


I started working for Augeo Software in 2000. I started working on the product Augeo5, which is a heavy project management software and for the last couple of years, I am in charge of the development of the new product, Planzone.I am responsible for the functional product, which means I am the link between customers, the marketing and the development team. This is a position I like because it requires a dialogue with all the parties involved... each in their own language.

Before Augeo, I worked at Cap Gemini for 12 years. I had the luck to explore various functions (developer, project manager, consultant, architect, engineer business ...). Finally, I realized that what I really want to do is to build a product from A to Z: doing market research, an analysis of user needs, the definition of different stages of development, writing detailed rules of operation, the study of ergonomics, coding, testing, validation ... I really enjoy participating in all these stages. For me it's like a construction game!

2.  How would you define the value of this project - Planzone?

About 3 years ago, Augeo understood the need to diversify our offer. The product Augeo5 is excellent for structured enterprises that have to set up an approach to project management. However, this only represents a relatively small number of potential customers. There are many more enterprise structures, where people need an easy accessible tool to organize, plan and collaborate. This could be a whole company, but might also very well be only one department, team or agency...

We found the same need in SME’s, associations ... The challenge for us was to find a common ground, a coherent set of features that address these various organizations, that do not necessarily have a culture of project management, but who simply want to be more effective in their collaborative work. In addition, these people cannot afford to put up a heavy product in their computer system, primarily because of the complexity and obviously, the operating costs.

This is the reason we took the program to a hosted online solution (full site).  We built Planzone that combines collaborative tools with our expertise in project management. And we are excited that it works! Today we have a variety of clients (agencies, marketing consultancies, architects, R & D labs, SME’s, schools, governments, communities, associations ... I even use Planzone for the management of my shared property!).

3. Can you explain your work in general?

Like for Augeo5, I am again in a position I like: right in between all the Planzone stakeholders.

1) I work with a support team to analyze the feedback, concerns and suggestions from our customers.

2) I work with the marketing team to study the market, the competition and the trends. I also help them manage the communication of the product (website, blog, newsletter ...) and define the broad guidelines of the evolution of the product (roadmap).

3) I work with the development team to precisely define the content versions, prepare detailed specifications of the rules of operation and the user interface (everything is in the wiki on our own Planzone!). We discuss architectural style solutions and I also participate in product testing. I also coordinate the translations of the product (Planzone is now available in 6 languages) and of course, answer all those interview requests.. ;-)

4. Your main project (currently) is developing a new UI - how did you begin to identify new needs? What is the purpose of this UI?

For a web application targeted at users that are not information technology professionals, and are located across a variety of business cultures, the User Interface (UI) is of the utmost importance for success. It is useless to have very sharp features if the simple functions are not easily accessible and if the user does not understand the logic of navigation and presentation intuitively. In the current version of Planzone, the UI has been in long research and development, to respond to the limitations and especially to feature the best web 2.0 practices.

However, Planzone now exists for almost 2 years and on the web, technology evolves very quickly. Innovations made by some software can very quickly become industry standards. Within Planzone, the evolution of the functionalities has resulted in a small loss of the intuitiveness aspect, compared to our initial graphic chart of the product.

Finally we have our users, who often comments on relevant product ergonomics. For all these reason we decided that it would be wise to start a project for a new UI in 2009.

6a00e54ee3654e88330120a55facd5970b-250wi5. Do you work completely by yourself?

In the construction phase (started in April), I worked together closely with an ergonomist (a researcher at the University of Lausanne) and a designer. Following this, our team studied the technical feasibility of various proposals of the designer and we planned the various stages of development. We begin the first phase this summer; this will lead us to a first version in October and a final version in December. No worries, the "new UI" is a project, entirely run in Planzone - like all our team projects!

6. What problems have you encountered during the development of this UI?

One of the main difficulties is the diversity of our users and their use of the product. Our golden rule is to emphasize simplicity. But it's very complicated to build up software that looks and feels easy. It must allow a certain degree of customization for advanced users, without disrupting basic user needs.

It is also a real technical challenge. Planzone is a full web application in which many rich interactions are realised. With the t
echnology AJAX, it is far from the HTML of Web 1.0! The problem is that demand has increased. Today, people expect to find a richness of the UI we have in desktop applications.

To get there, it takes a lot of skill and finesse at the code, not to mention the need to support a variety of browsers (Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8, Firefox, Safari , Chrome ...). Fortunately we have a very sharp development team. Especially Patrick, our notorious chief tester – he won’t let anything through!

7. For Planzone, you work using the SCRUM method. What is the link between this method and Planzone?

The Scrum method is an AGILE development method that perfectly suits a software development structure like the Planzone team. The principle is to organize the work into iterations called sprints. Planzone sprints take 2 weeks. At the beginning of each sprint, we define what is going to be realized in detail. We have an evaluation method that ensures that the amount of work is consistent with the availability of the team during this period.

At the end of the sprint we make a retrospective to show everyone what everyone did and we identify the areas of organization that could pose a problem so they can be solved quickly. During the sprint we do not change direction! If we have a new idea, we put it aside until the next sprint. This way, we limit the risk of information loss, while having good reactivity. Using this method, we publish new versions regularly (every 3 months) with a functional content and a consistent level of exceptional quality. The SCRUM method is very collaborative. Every morning we have an early meeting of 10 minutes where everyone says what he did yesterday, what he will do today and said if he has problems or needs assistance. It's a very effective communication and motivation of the team and it solves problems very fast. In terms of human management, it's great. It’s a pity I did not know this method before Planzone!

8. In three words: What does Planzone mean to you?

Team, Quality, Vision

Jean-Luc, thank you for this interview!

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