How, you may ask, did we arrive at the decision to give our product away for free? The debate on what to charge, distribution types (hosted, web-based, etc.) and how to continue to develop the product, has gone on since development started in March 2004. After more than a year of deliberation, we decided to create our software under the freeware (as in beer) licensing model. There’s no doubt about it…This was a gamble that Victor and I made and an investment in terms of blood, sweet, tears…and of course money and labor hours, it was a time in an entrepreneur’s career that you feel something in your gut, and you do it (Jack Welch talks about this in his new book, Winning which I would recommend).
So how do we develop a free product? We’ve decided to prioritize the development of features over deployment on different DB/App server/OS combinations. Although we’ve had to limit ourselves to only one distribution at this time, the energy we’ve invested focusing on consumer-demand for specific Scrum features has resulted in a product that more and more organizations are finding to be a highly-effective tool to help them manage projects. However, I know of more than a handful of customers (big and small) running ScrumWorks on Linux as well as Apple’s Mac OS 10, 10.3 and 10.4 right now, so it is do-able, however you’re a bit on your own. In support of our product and the Scrum community, we continue to have other great free resources like our wiki, forum, and blog posts (authored by folks, like Victor and Kane, who really enjoy putting their experience with development into writing, support, and advice for the community).
We fund all of this great free stuff through projects we do in the services space. We aren’t funded by venture-capital or investment banks, so we exist solely through profit margins and are growing organically (like a tree or something – since August of 2000 when we incorporated Danube Technologies, Inc.). Things have been great this year in terms of both growth and profitability—as the saying goes, after a lot of hard work we got lucky…and by lucky I am talking about having a great staff and doing enjoyable work and being in front of the right customers in the right time providing value every day. If we were funded through outside sources, we could do what some are asking for (and our business would probably be quite different too) by offering multiple deployment packages, additional mgmt reports, possibly a business model similar to something like SugarCRM or JBoss, Inc. My guess is that then we couldn’t offer freeware either (as the venture capital and investment banking community isn’t in this for the ideal of promoting Scrum as the superior project management methodology).
Self-funding gives us a lot of freedom and allows us to support smaller businesses through free tools without limiting our capabilities in the large-corporate/enterprise environment. For larger customers we offer integration services where we have our developers working with client teams, onsite. Getting ScrumWorks integrated when you’ve spent millions on mission-critical request trackers, bug trackers, developer IDEs, etc. can be challenging at a larger institution (it’s challenging at a smaller institution as well, but somehow we boot strap it) and our developers have the expertise and demonstrated success to make it happen. If you or a customer of yours is interested in integration services, let us know by using our contact form.
The reason we’ve chosen our current business model is that it works. It works for us, our employees enjoy working in this environment, and our clients continue to be impressed by the results they are getting. We’re focusing on Scrum as a vehicle towards project success (as we’ve tried a lot of other things over the years) and it’s what works for our projects and it’s what works for our customers’ projects. I know Victor and the entire team have fallen in love with Agile (partly because it’s made for fewer headaches) over the years, and this love affair manifests in ScrumWorks and in Blog posts and the excitement that fills the air when we talk about process improvement with a customer (seeing their ‘ah-ha’ moments). Unlike a lot of companies in our space, we come from a project, not a staff augmentation background and since we have significant experience managing software projects of our own, we have know what works and what doesn’t, from a developer’s perspective. In addition, our ScrumWorks developers, process mentors and coaches as well as the vast majority of our onsite, long-term, Agile mentors are full time employees of Danube, not partners of circumstance. Building and maintaining a team of Danube employees was a part of our business long before ScrumWorks was developed.
On a side note, we know from experience how important invested teams of employees are to a project. In a previous life Victor and I tried the offshore model, and for lack of a better characterization, it’s a loser (financially, business wise) and we consider offshore Agile a complete non-starter. We know that there’s pressure from larger consultancies to go offshore to save the customer money, but who cares if you’ve saved you’re customer 40% if the project needs to be done 4 times or if in the end, the project fails due to communication problems (when all the while as consultants you, better than most understand these risks and take your customer down that road anyway)…not to mention the time constraints customers may have…If you’re planning on having stakeholders in one place, developers in another, BAs in a third and Q/A in a fourth, I would suggest that you reconsider how you’re conceptualizing people…People aren’t resources and they sure aren’t hardware that can be ‘swapped’ in and out…setup a server farm here…setup a cube farm there. To understand why off-shoring isn’t the answer; I suggest that workers and managers read Slack, by Tom DeMarco.
I hope that the incredible number of ScrumWorks downloads is an indicator that more and more people in the development community are starting to be more concerned about effectiveness in their projects, in their workforce, and in their companies, rather than simply focusing on meaningless statistics about efficiency. It’s great to see the number of customers downloading a product that we created essentially to be a better tool for our own developers, on their projects. And I hope that as we continue to add features to ScrumWorks, more and more companies will continue to download and use this freeware, without the inconvenience of getting their purchasing departments involved! I’m in contact with members of the community requesting full licenses almost daily now and it’s a great feeling to have them thank us for contributing to the Agile/Scrum community and for being there, ready to help out if they need some extra horsepower or help explaining Agile/Scrum to their PMO. Some are big, some are small, some are in the public sector and some in the private sector, but all ScrumWorks users have the same thing in common—a curiosity and a drive to improve process.
I know our competitors in the paid space and open source space fairly well, and seeing the daily downloads and requests for full licenses, I think we’re doin’ all right. For example, XPlanner has provided great software for years and since Victor and Michael met with Stephen Bate (original developer) face to face at XP Universe in Calgary back in August 2004, I’ve heard very good things about them from Victor and Michael as well as customers who choose Xplanner over ScrumWorks.
“In the long run, we’re all dead”…well, famed Economist John Maynard Keynes may have been right, but that doesn’t mean we at Danube haven’t been thinking of the future. Our intention is clear in my mind…we need to continue developing ScrumWorks since the more we develop, the better our service business does. It’s a clear correlation illustrated on our P/L each quarter. So in addition to telling the story of ScrumWorks here, I hope that I can dispel the rumor that we’ve killed the project or that it isn’t important to Danube or our customers. I don’t know where that rumor started, but I’ll ring the neck of the guy when I find ‘em J
But all joking aside, ScrumWorks is important to us and it’s our intention to continue developing into the future. It’s great in terms of marketing and establishing a relationship with a customer. And although in the long run we’re all dead, in the meantime let’s work on meaningful things and have some fun while we’re at it (Michael, thanks for teaching me this). Keep your eyes open for new features within ScrumWorks, including management reports (something that a Chicken or a Finance Guy could understand), IDE plug-ins, etc. Come back and drop us a line if you have questions.
Of course, please feel free to continue this discourse with me, by posting here.