This post was originally published in April of 2004, but since the archives from that year are only accessible via search engine I thought it was appropriate to post it again with the “relaunch” of Kinja. If you were around back then you may recall that I got hammered in the comments because I didn’t understand the project and something like what they were trying to build should have taken 15 months.
Well over a year now we get a redesign and some other new things. Imagine what these guys could accomplish in 5 years ;-).
Summary: Trying to figure out how a project takes 15 months.
I read a story a couple years ago on the project development of Microsoft Word 1.0. Bill Gates thought that he could design and develop the product and have it shipped in 12 months. To say the least, this never happened. It took at least 3 years for Microsoft to finally get it right and have a product that they were capable of shipping. (Disclaimer: I searched for this information again and was unable to find it, so I am going on memory, which may be poor.)
The problem more than likely involved project management. Without a solid project management structure, almost any project is guaranteed to fail, even the small ones. Don’t believe me? How many of you out there still have “unfinished” personal sites? We don’t think about project management when it comes to our own sites, but even when we are designing something just for us, there is still a process that is followed.
In a past life, and hopefully future life, I was involved heavily in project management. First let me iterate that software project management is different than website project management (that is another entry though). This is one of the reasons why I am always curious about the thought process of a designer. I enjoy learning processes and finding ways to make them more efficient. That is what good project managers do (I think).
Yesterday, Kinja launched (why pick April Fool’s Day?) and the web was abuzz with discussion on its features. I however was focused solely on one subtle aspect that was in every announcement. From Nick Denton’s press release:
Kinja, a project we’ve been working on for more than a year, has just gone live.
Other sites were more specific and gave the project time as 15 months. 15 months is a long time for any project. Some ERP implementations do not even take 15 months. In any case, if a project is in development for 15 months there are two conclusions that can be drawn: 1) It is going to rock everyone’s world or 2) The project management was a bit off. After playing with Kinja I am going to have to go with number 2.
I understand the purpose of Kinja is not for power users, but for people who would not normally be exposed to blogs. It does its job fairly well. However, I fail to see how something like this takes 15 months. I even raised this question at Kottke:
I am still trying to figure why something like this took 15 months to develop. That is ridiculous if you ask me. Were they constantly changing the focus of the project or something?…
I admit I should not have said ridiculous as I am sure there was a lot of hard work put into this project by some respectable people in the industry. In response to my statement this is what Meg (the creative director) had to say:
I am still trying to figure why something like this took 15 months to develop…
Well the first four months it was only me, doing research, interviews, requirements documentation, stuff like that. Then for 3/4 of a year it was only me and Mark, the lead tech guy, full-time. Only since last Decemeber has the team had two other full-time members.
That is ridiculous if you ask me
But you don’t really know the requirements, do you? You don’t know the platform or the architecture, so you really have no idea how long the project should take given the resources ($ and human) and the requirements. I’m not trying to be defensive here, just want to clarify. It always cracks me up when people look at something and say, “Oh! That shouldn’t have taken so long!” when they don’t really know what’s been built.
Kinja looks very simple on the surface because of the audience for whom it’s been designed. It doesn’t have “filtering/ordering”, it doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles. But there’s an amazing platform that belies the simplicity of the UI. And that’s where the potential of Kinja lies. Hopefully it will be realized.
Meg is an individual who has been around the blogging scene from its inception and garners a large amount of well deserved respect so my words here may mean nothing seeing how I have been blogging for less than a year. However, I would like to point out the requirements that Kinja seems to have and find out where 15 months is coming from.
- User accounts (username and password)
- Personal Feeds
- Bookmarklet for easy addition of site to your Kinja account
- Search sites for feeds
- Seven pages on the home project site
- Robot to continue checking updates on feeds
That is obviously a quick rundown and I am sure I am missing some points, but those seem to be the major requirements. The blame here rests on Nick Denton’s shoulders. The guy starts a company, an internet one at that, where speed is everything. I can see how one programmer would take some time to develop all those features. I think Nick should have brought 2-3 more programmers in immediately. If Meg spent 3-4 months on requirements specs and whatnot, then surely they had to be complete enough to quickly develop something.
So in hindsight, I have to add a third reason for a project taking too long: 3) Lack of resources. That seems to be what Meg was dealing with and hopefully she understood that and let the client, Nick, understand that. That is what project managers do.
But Meg is right in saying that I don’t know what has been built, of course unless I look at what is presented to me. I still believe this shows the lack of poor project management in this industry. We have too many people coming over from the software development side and trying to implement the exact same processes into web development. It does not work. This will be covered in next week.
In the end I am just going to use this entry as an excuse to introduce a new category: Web Project Management. In this category I am going to discuss project management issues from a website’s standpoint. This will be helpful to everyone from the freelance designer to the designer working on a team of 20 people.
15 months…just not seeing it. Oh well, anyone here work with good project managers?
UPDATE: A lot of people seem to be taking this the wrong way. It was to discuss project management overall in the web industry, not an attack at Kinja. Kinja helped to remind me of the problems that are faced by project managers. In any case I have emailed an apology to Meg (in which she offers a great explanation in the comments of the hurdles they faced) and Nick and would also like to extend that apology to anyone else who has taken offense to this entry.
So the 2005 question is was it even worth working on a project that had fallen off the map? Was it worth making the interface 5x worse? Mike Rundle thinks so.