Interview with SEP TeamWorks Founder Adam Scroggin
As Engineering Manager at Software Engineering Professionals (SEP), Adam Scroggin was in search of a better user experience with digital Kanban. The method his teams were using was needlessly complicated by its overly basic interface. Minute details were hard to follow in readouts more similar to spreadsheets than clean Kanban boards.
Adam found himself with an idea to make the functionality of Team Foundation Server co-exist with the colorful layout and design of Kanban. It began with late nights and testing with his SEP teams, but the goals that led to the first iteration of SEP TeamWorks are the same ones that drive Scroggin’s dedication to improving and sharing the product worldwide.
In the following interview, Adam describes how TeamWorks came to fruition, why it’s important to organizing tasks no matter one’s business, and the philosophy behind keeping the work item management tool free for every user.
LEG: How was TeamWorks conceived?
ARS: Our teams around the company were duplicating data in analog tools (e.g. Kanban boards) and digital tools (e.g. Team Foundation Server and JIRA). The digital tools did not have a visual component, no board. I wanted to migrate the visualization benefits of whiteboards and post-it notes into the digital world.
LEG: So you wanted to take the power of analog…
ARS: … and get rid of duplication, yes. This way the board and the digital tracking would always be in sync.
LEG: So how did you come up with the idea of TeamWorks?
ARS: My projects are all in the healthcare domain. They are big projects with lots of moving pieces; large software development teams with each developer responsible for a lot of ground. I was leaving work one Friday, wondering if I could build a digital board. I fired up Visual Studio at home and started to lay down some code. By 2 or 3AM, I had something. I could connect to TFS, get work items (represented by tickets) through a query, and display their state in columns. At that point, there was only one color, an Id and a title for the ticket.
LEG: So you saw that TeamWorks was good…
ARS: Yes, on Saturday morning I continued working on it, and so on, and about a month later I showed it to my teams and asked if they were willing to try it. [They said] yes, and TeamWorks was quickly adopted as a useful and valuable tool.
LEG: What were the benefits?
ARS: First, TeamWorks removed the duplication and, second, the visual [nature] really helps with teams that aren’t co-located. It’s fast and allows you multiple views of your project. That can be difficult to do with a whiteboard. Also, it’s generic – customizable – you can use it for Kanban, scrum or even waterfall; it is process agnostic.
LEG: So why did you want to (as a very busy SEP project manager) put it out there for the public? All that time refining, getting the word out, beta tests, new versions….
ARS: I think it is uniquely helpful and valuable, so I wanted to get it out there, plus I have this entrepreneurial side – I think it would make money because TeamWorks is so simple to use and the developer community had been hunting for a solution.
The drawbacks to selling it were:
o How to prevent redistribution, licensing issues and protection of the product
o How to handle the financial issues such as payments and refunds?
o How to provide adequate customer support?
If it were attached to SEP, which is a custom software development shop, not a product company, would these concerns damage our brand? But still, I had something good here and I wanted to get it out.
LEG: So you decided to go with free…?
ARS: Yes, and it’s been great seeing all of the downloads and positive feedback. I still get that question – “This is great! Why are you giving it away?” I have met so many users who are clients, prospective clients and fellow developers. People really like the tool; they tell me what they like and dislike and what they want to see next. We’re able to incorporate most feedback in a two week turnaround. I like making and nurturing those connections, being able to go visit all these different places and see how the TeamWorks tool is being used.
I think there is a new model of giving something of value to potential customers before doing business. People are smarter these days and expect more from businesses before making significant investments. TeamWorks is a vehicle to demonstrate SEP’s product design and software development skills to potential customers.