Effective collaboration is the result of good communication and coordination of work. So far this series has been mostly about communication tools that appeal to small teams who don’t have much formal process in the way they approach project management. Teams like that want just enough structure to organize their work without introducing much process overhead. The strength of tools like BaseCamp and OneHub is effortless delivery of functions that promote good communication without much need to formalize the way work gets done. A lot of projects happen in that kind of setting but it can be pretty casual. As organizations get larger and the number of projects in the mix increases so does the need to pay attention to business processes. A hidden gem that addresses work coordination dimension is TeamHeadquarters (THQ) from Entry Software.
THQ offers the promise of one-stop shopping for service tickets, project management and time entry functions. It is intended mainly for IT help desks and other service organizations where day-to-day handling of incidents and service requests is knit tightly with managing a portfolio of projects. Organizations like that may execute more than 100 small projects in a year, with 20 or so in-flight at any given point in time. It is a fast-paced environment where the ability to schedule, plan and track activity is important to everyone involved. In small and mid-sized organizations, where the people working in projects are often the same people responsible for delivering on service tickets, projects and day-to-day service work compete constantly for attention. At the same time, the sheer volume of work requires team members to have easy, lightweight ways to communicate with each other.
Open up THQ, and the first impression is that a lot of time and care have gone into the user interface. The expandable menus at the left of the screen control a large content pane that occupies centre stage. Functions selected within the content pane (e.g., create new task) launch forms that are well-organized, easy to use and consistent in the way they present information. It is easy to forget that this a browser-based application delivered via software-as-a-service.
Spend some time exploring and it also becomes evident that a lot of service desk best practices are built into the product. Although not promoted as a prescriptive “ITIL in a box” solution, the capability is there to support the kinds practices that service organizations are usually looking for when they are implementing the ITIL service management framework. Just as an example, service tickets include pre-built work queues that make it easy to keep track of the status of work-in-process with simple visual indicators that show when service level commitments are at risk. The same view shows at a glance which tickets have not been assigned.
The interactive Gantt chart is worth special mention. Launched from a right-click menu once a project is displayed, the project task list presents in a traditional Gantt chart format. Drag or stretch the bars and the task scheduling information updates to show the effects of the changes. Save the changes made by manipulating the chart and they become a permanent update to the planned schedule.
An innovation in the way that THQ organizes information is “One Task List”, which attempts to dissolve the distinction between tickets and project assignments for team members. The simple underlying notion is that work is work, it can be assigned to individuals as discrete tasks, and tasks need to be completed by specific dates. By connecting the tasks to higher level plans driven by delivery commitments and service level objectives the Task List becomes a medium for bringing operational and project concerns together instead of setting them up in competition with each other.
Notes and Documents are the main communication tools. Anyone who has worked in a service desk setting should recognize the value of notes on a ticket as a running narrative of what has been done and what needs to happen next. As Problem Management bundles together tickets for recurring problems, notes can also be a rich source of planning information to help determine the scope of projects that can provide lasting improvements in the production infrastructure.
Document management functionality operates in two ways. First, a simple upload provides the ability to attach documents to any ticket, task or project. As well, documents can be uploaded into libraries for creation of a shared knowledge base. A search function gives the ability to search the entire site for keywords and phrases.
Few of us can admit to getting excited about a time sheet but organization who need time control also know that time entry has to be easy to use or people simply won’t do it. The time sheet in THQ is simple and straightforward to use with an entry list that generates automatically from the task list. As well, any work times that have been entered on service tickets will populate into the time sheet automatically.
Limitations that I noticed during evaluation were mostly minor:
- Internet Explorer as the only supported browser (a trade-off to enable a feature-rich user interface)
- Opportunities to customize the look and feel of the site are somewhat limited
- Interface with MS Project is import only
Getting started with THQ is a project in itself. Beyond the free 30-day trial evaluation, implementation involves populating the database with information about the organization (e.g., users, groups, ticket categories), a must do step to get started with any integrated service desk and project management solution. A typical implementation project is 8-12 weeks, which is similar to my own experience in implementing service desk solution sin mid-sized organizations. Entry Software offers a package of training and support services to assist organizations who want to help in configuring the product to suit their own needs.
For more than a decade, Entry Software has been quietly building a solid customer base among mid-sized organizations in health care, transportation and other service industries. They offer a convincing value proposition to organizations that are big enough to need some formal process that brings service and project work together. TeamHeadquarters is positioned to provide the needed structure without the overhead of hosting and integrating separate systems for service desk, project management and time control. With more than 5,000 users in production, it still isn’t quite big enough to be included in the Gartner evaluation of enterprise service desk solutions. That said, the functional footprint goes well beyond many mid-market help desk solutions. At $360 / month for a 10-user license (unlimited tickets and projects), THQ delivers a range of functions that would simply be out of reach for a mid-sized organization if they had to be acquired through separate applications hosed in-house.
(out of 4 )
|Customize Look and Feel|
Can’t Do It
|Shared Task List||X|
|Assign Project Tasks||X|
|Track Earned Value||X|
|Multi Projects in 1 site||X|
|Roll-up multi projects||X|
|MS Project Interface||X|
|Word, Excel Interface||X|