The reason we are working on our own resourcing tool is that we couldn’t find something out there to help us get the right people on the right teams for a bid, properly resource more than one project at a time, and project out our resourcing needs for the future. It’s not a simple problem.

Jason and I used to joke when we worked at Orbitz we were drowning in a sea of TLAs (three letter acronyms). It was funny at the time? But as the one who probably spends the most time researching tools that could make us more productive at work I find the acronym problem has resurfaced.

So to describe the landscape I thought I’d run through some of the other tools out there. Most do way more than we need, some do less, but none of them provide the right combination.

Tools for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) such as Salesforce and Highrise are successful for managing contacts. However, Salesforce in particular, tends to over complicate the sales processes and focus too heavily on promotion and marketing for our needs. And we just didn’t find using Highrise helpful to our sales process. CRM without any real contact management was useless. In the end we reverted back to an open sales thread on Basecamp.

Project Management Systems (PMS) help facilitate team communication and collaboration. There are thousands of these apps. There are lists of just alternatives to the darling of the group Basecamp. Basecamp was a successful tool because it simplified project management to discussions threads, sharing files, assigning tasks, and tracking of progress. While it thankfully leaves the Gnatt charts at home it still emphasizes task-based PMing. We assign roles, rather than tasks, because roles allow the employee to leave his or her own mark on a project. Hopefully encouraging more exploration and creativity.

When determining the best mix and sequencing of proposed projects, companies can use something called Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools. The name alone sounds complicated. Such tools look at expected cost, resource consumption and timing among other project attributes. These apps probably get close to the planning functions we intend to build into Project Ranger but they tend to over complicate projection model and attempt to help calculate the larger investment portfolio of the company. We’re a small firm. We have no need for that.

The next set of tools fall into the HR world but still overlap with resourcing in some ways. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems manage business information and functions from shared data stores. These systems tend to treat people as objects (i.e. both people and desks are considered project resources). Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS) encompass payroll, time, benefits, recruiting, etc. They track an employee throughout their life with a corporation. Talent Management is a relatively new category that helps attract, retain, and develop talented employees. These tools are all very interesting in their own right but lack the simple forecasting, integration with the small business sales process, and ability to leverage a large network of freelancers and independent contractors.

The last group I want to reference are the freelance job boards such as Guru, Elance and oDesk. In this model a company posts a role/position that is available for a project. A freelancer posts his portfolio. Both do some searches and matches are made. The problem with all of these tools is that require a great deal of searching and don’t help narrow your search. They help cast a wide net for talent but don’t help organize them during the planning phases of a project.

Are we going to cover all of this in Project Ranger? No way. Will project ranger replace our mix of Google Calendar + Basecamp + Dropbox for managing projects? Nope. But we think it will provide us, and other small companies that work like us, with better organization of bids, teams, and business planning. Sometimes the problem is finding the talent, which is why 37Signals just launched Haystack, but sometimes you have a number of needles and need to determine to right fit for the particular project. Or you need to figure out how many needles you are going to need in 3 months. This is the need we hope Ranger can help fill.

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