Write it on an index card

27 March 2008 (Thursday)

I am a fan of index cards and always have been. However index cards always end up being only a tentative experiment for me – from the days as I child where I would try to “categorize everything” into cards (I had several index card boxes with partial categorizations) – somehow this frustrated my parents greatly (Now as a parent I can begin to understand this).

I tried the ‘Hipster PDA‘ index-cards-as-organizer thing – at different times in my life (yes, even before they blogged about it), but only ever for a while. It’s fun while it lasts (till my backing cardboard gets too bent and all my rubber bands snap ).

I’ve tried doing CRC cards, too (though never really caught on with me).

And then there’s story cards. We had a great experience with running sodaplay development with these for a while – until some of us needed to work remotely. Since then we’ve had some good experience of transferring the principles to Trac, but the mystique (and discipline!) of story cards (that derives in many ways from the physical features (let’s say, affordances, even) of index cards) is missing.

Enter Mingle, perhaps?

This is a rather exciting* looking offering from thoughtworks (which seems to be crossing the consultancy-product gap in interesting ways) which seems to combine the virtuality of a trac-like system with some of the power of index cards. Plus oodles of optional process-y stuff (that trac largely eschews).

*’exciting’: perhaps only understood in context, and maybe only if you are a process-anorak (oh dear, that must make me one). 

In some ways, I like the look of Mingle (I have to admit I haven’t tried it out, but only looked through the tour). However as a micro-business, with tiny (1-5 person) teams, all it does for me is increase my frustration with trac – don’t get me wrong, I do love trac, but it is aiming at a slightly different audience –  opensource and product-management, I’d say, rather than project iteration management.

But Mingle’s not aiming for my segment of the market either, as at least evidenced from the price point. It is just too steep a hike away from even the most luxurious of hosted trac offerings. And in any case that price is license-only (unhosted).

The per-user pricing also hits if you are project-focused (which red56 is) – because the team needs to include one or more customers, each of which need to be a team member (interestingly the customer isn’t really a part of most of the tour – are index cards meant to be only part of the development ‘back room’?)

This probably adds up to a request for a different product – hosted, aimed at smaller companies, and probably with some of the issue tracking features of trac as well (after all a bug/enhancement ticket/issue is part of the pipeline towards becoming a story  – though some (notably 37signals) disagree). Perhaps someone will write this application, launch a hosted service, sign me up and start billing me for it – or just tell me about it (send me one of those index cards with pictures on the back).

One odd thing that strikes me about Mingle – a ‘project collaboration and management tool for Agile software development’. Isn’t agile meant to be about “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”? How do we measure that against promotion in Mingle of  features that “make it easy to ensure adherence to project compliance”?


6 Responses to “Write it on an index card”

  1. Badrinath Janakiraman Says:

    Hello – thanks for mentioning Mingle. If you are a small team, I hope you are aware that Mingle is actually free to download and use for upto a 5 person team? There is even information on our forums on how to configure Mingle to use less resources than it would out of the box, in a manner more suited for small teams of around 1-5 people.

    I hope you get another chance to try it out, especially since Mingle 2.0 is just around the corner.

  2. Badrinath Janakiraman Says:

    Also – on a related note, we would explicitly like to mention that Mingle cannot run your project for you. People are the core – and interactions between your team members and customers is what will make a project succeed or fail.

    Where Mingle helps in this regard is in its cutomizability, which allows you to take words, and conversations that a part of *your* team and *your* process, and make the tool use them too. In this sense, Mingle adapts to your process, and thus enforces project compliance, because it is after all, your project that Mingle is customized to behave like. Your project doesn’t need to be mingle-compliant, but mingle can be compliant with your project instead, serving as a central repository for your team’s conversations and activities, and allowing emergent trends and behaviours to be known by everyone on team, thus serving as a information radiator that everyone understands.

    If you would like more information about Mingle, please feel free to contact us on our website at studios.thoughtworks.com, and either download an evaluation copy or view screencasts, or request a demo.

  3. Sidu Says:

    Interestingly, Mingle does not promote adherence to any particular process – rather, its primary value lies in its ability to support constant process change (every iteration or every iteration, even).
    Any project compliance norms would be imposed by the team that uses _that_ instance of Mingle, and only if that is what the team wishes to do. Again, Mingle isn’t being prescriptive here.

  4. Alex Says:

    I have just emerged from a 2 day coding and design spree, the result of which is http://nokahuna.com

    It is taking a great many cues from (my understanding of) our former soda processes. it is limited and rough around the edges but pretty exciting nevertheless. And since a lot of it is directly inspired by your processes this seems to be the right place to mention it publicly for the first time.

  5. Tim Diggins Says:

    Isn’t that wonderful – I want something, and lo and behold, it’s already done. Now, can you make it sunny this weekend too, Alex?

    Well, of course there are things that I still want from http://nokahuna.com that aren’t there, but it’s shocking how much can be accomplished by removing so much, and now (with email notifications) so much more… Keep up the good work.

  6. alex Says:

    Thank you so much! I am off to work on the weather now …

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