Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Interviews Patric Palm on Hansoft and HansoftX

Patric Palm on Hansoft and HansoftX


3. Tell us a little bit about the history of the company. Where have you come from and where are you going?

Yes. You know, we started out at Sweden. We’re based out of Uppsala just north of Stockholm. The history of the company is probably a little bit different from some of the other vendors that we see here in the floor because we came out of a game development. My two fellow co-founders, they were part of the team that started and they built a very famous game development studio. What happened was that when they were making games for previous generation of consoles, the first Xbox and the PlayStation 2, you could make a fantastic game with 10 or 15 guys in a room.

Game development is also by definition, very, very agile. You always need to have it playable. You always need to have an incremental delivery that you can touch and feel. But when they were starting to make games for what was then the next generation, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, team sizes grew. You need 40 people, 100 people, 200 people to make one of these games.

What we basically started to have then is really team of teams making this greater product. And everything became quite chaotic to have this aligned. So they were thinking, “Well, there must be some tool that can help us with that.” The problem was that most of these tools were either kind of the boring planning tools, planning and tracking tools, or they were really kind glorified ticket trackers, I’m not going to point to any specific tools in the market. So they thought, “Okay. Well, there must be something better.”

Game developers, very often, when they don’t find a technology that they want, they create it themselves. And I met these guys a bit earlier. We we’re working on some deep AI stuff for the financial market, that never really took off, but we really clicked as a team. So we sat down and we talked about this problem and we realized that everyone is going to have this issue because everyone is going to start making games for this next generation.

That’s actually what we started the company on. And that was our first version of Hansoft in the market. Then obviously, we discovered later that this challenge of having team of teams making a product where it’s not only enough that it ships on time and budget, it has to be awesome, it has to be fun, that’s not a unique challenge for game development. So this is how we then crossed over into electronics, space industry, telecom and so forth.

Shane: You’re dealing in some pretty interesting industries that a lot of people wouldn’t recognize that there’s a lot of Agile development going on there.

Yes. Obviously, hardware and software together is one of the very interesting challenges. I mean, one of the things that we always focused a lot on is to not be kind of too dogmatic about the method because, in practice, most organizations, they’re quite organic. They are at different stages of maturity in different parts of the organization. And they might even use very different methods. Some might be using Scrum, some a bit of a Kanban approach. Some are transitioning to Scrumban. But then you might have guys using traditional waterfall scaling.

Hardware and software development is a very interesting area where some of these companies that we have worked with, what they’re really trying to do is to bring those departments together. Some of the newer companies, perfect example is of course Tesla, they kind of got it right from the beginning. They really built a hardware company from the ground up as a software company. But most of these companies, they have a legacy. They’re coming from a situation where this is very divided and they have to bring it together.


4. Working in this interesting space, what are some of the trends that you see? Also, what are some of the challenges that you’re seeing out there?

Well, when it comes to enterprise Agile, I think that’s where we see both the trend and the challenge very much. I mean last year at this conference, us vendors and many of the talks, they were about Enterprise Agile. Many of the frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, DAD, they’re becoming more and more popular. Right now, there’s obviously a big debate about it and the certifications and all that. I don’t necessarily think that’s a negative thing. I think it’s good with the different certifications that are happening because it’s really like any education, where if you have a good certification or a good degree from a good university, it doesn’t tell that you have the skill to do something well, but it’s a good start.

So if an organization says, “You know, we would like to do Enterprise Agile” sending people to get certified with SAFe is probably a good idea, but it’s just a start. Of course, this is the same discussion as we have some years ago with Scrum certification. It’s the same kind of story here.

That’s obviously kind of a very big topic right now, and it’s a big topic also for us that are tool vendors because we are the ones putting in different functionalities to support this. But this is also where I think many of the challenges comes in because there’s a method side of this and there’s a tool side of this where if it’s too inflexible, it actually becomes a problem for that kind of continuous improvement. For example, as tool vendors, many have done many acquisitions. It means that you have something which is kind of glued together and it might not be super flexible or that you’re dependent on consultants or that you do a proper implementation, and it might be great for six months.

But then most organizations just start tweaking. They find a little bit there the best way to do things. But then very often, tools become a bit of an impediment. So that’s the tool side of it. And then of course, many of the speeches here has a lot to do with -- there was a word used yesterday that I’m not going to use in an interview but let’s say people that are very dogmatic about, “This is exactly the right way to do it and any step away from that is not going to be great”. And the big problem with that is that, well, if you start doing it that way, one, you might not be successful, and two, if you have executives where again a lot of the talks here is about how do we get the right buy-in from the executive level, when they start hearing things like that, they’re going to be like, “Well, I’m not so sure about this stuff.” It’s a trust question there.

Shane: Building that trust and maintaining that trust.

Yes. And to build that trust, you have to show that you’re professional because most executives know they didn’t become executives because they’re -- well, some maybe do that because their father was an executive. But in most cases, you have done something right to get to that position. Most people have seen a lot of stuff before and recognized the pattern of what kind of dogmatism and they will also be allergic to it.


5. Great! So we’re at the Agile 2015 Conference. Hansoft is one of the vendor sponsors. What’s happening with your product and what’s happening on the sponsorship floor?

Yes. Well, I think on the floor, in general, what’s happening is that as I said before, the big trend this year is really Enterprise Agile. We are doing our contribution to that as well, which is at this conference, we’re launching Hansoft Enterprise Version 9. So this is the product that we have, all these customers in these industries that I described before in aerospace and game and telecom and so forth. So that is now coming in Version 9.

A lot of the discussions we’re having with current customers and potential new customers is basically how does our offering differ from, let’s say, something like Rally or Atlassian or VersionOne. So there’s a typical discussion that we would have with that product. But then we’re also launching an entirely new product as well, a little bit of a sneak preview at this conference.


6. Well, perhaps we can tackle the first question first. What does distinguish your product from the others?

Well, I mean, typically, what our customers say are kind of really three things. The first thing has to do with the backlog management on all levels, team, program, portfolio, where one of our unique selling points for over ten years is that Hansoft feels more like playing a video game, it’s in true real time. It doesn’t matter if you have 10,000 people working together. It’s going to be different instances. You got a big organization. And then say that you take one of these crazy large products at an organization like one of our biggest customers. They are maybe between 500 and let’s say 2,000 people actually working on the same product. It’s crazy large. It’s not even large scale Agile. It’s like super large scale Agile.

Now, if the tool itself doesn’t kind of break down in its speed, it’s that fast, it’s brilliant. So it’s the first thing. The second thing is how you can work with team empowerment within that kind of product backlog thing. That’s really important. And the third thing ties into the previous thing that we talked about before on the continuous improvement where in our case you don’t need a consultant or let’s say the IT department to help you with customizations. We actually put it into the hands of the actual end user.

So that whole product backlog management is probably the first thing that people bring up. But then of course, you have things like we were the first ones to introduce business intelligence. We call it really actionable metrics. It’s something we did in the end of last year where we basically took functionality similar to Tableau or QlikTech. I would put it into the tool to really what we call a democratized business intelligence.

It’s not only the executive level but also the program level and the team level can enjoy this kind of functionality without any extra cost. And then of course, it’s the mixed method thing, which had been our unique selling point for many years. You can run Gant-scaling and Scrum actually side by side, which is great for hardware teams working with software teams and so forth. But that’s probably the one thing we’re kind of already most famous for.


7. You mentioned you’ve got this new product. I think you said your code name was Hansoft X. Any sneak preview you can give us about what’s coming there?

Yes. Well, we are actually demoing it on the floor already now. Since awhile back, people have been able to actually use it live. It came on the App Store last week. The growth of organization signing up and starting to use it has been absolutely amazing. We don’t even announce the real name for it yet. The thing with this product, it’s quite different from our offering. To begin with, this is entirely Cloud-based solution. It has a different pricing model. This is a freemium product. It’s free to use for as many people as you want for as long as you want. And what you pay for is more advanced features and controls.

So it’s similar to something like for example, Slack, which is a very interesting play, very disruptive right now. We absolutely love it, and Slack and Hansoft X will be integrated with each other. But then the big difference is really the philosophy behind this, because I’m not going to call it anti-SAFe but it’s a very different approach to the kind of structured approach that we are having with our own product and what the others are doing. This is more of an organic approach where it doesn’t matter if you are someone in the marketing team or an executive, if you are going to use this on your tablet or if you are a software developer or let’s say a program manager. So it’s basically, it’s simple enough for anyone in the organization, but it still has the power to satisfy the needs of most software organizations.


8. And this tool is the similar sort of thing, lifecycle management?

We very purposely choose to not label it that way. After all the vendor briefings with an analyst, they put one of those down because you will be able to run SAFe and LeSS and so forth in a very, very good way in this tool as well. But for us, we really try to kind of get away a little bit from all the software developer lingo. This is really something, kind of the whole organization rather than just the software development organization.

I mean some people we have shown this to and we kind of done examples and they started playing around with this, I mean they are replacing tools which is very far from what we’ve seen on the floor here that the people are using on executive level in organizations which is entirely different. I mean we have people in NGOs that have started to play around with this for their shared products where they work in a distributed organization in the whole world. No one is getting paid. You need to be careful with your time.

One of my favorite examples is that we have two guys in our own team that’s getting married this fall. What they did was that they basically, as a test, gave this tool to their future wives and said, “I’m not going to give you any instructions, but please plan our wedding here.” Now, we can now have a discussion about it if that was the right thing to do. Maybe they should be a little bit more involved themselves, but that’s in our discussion. Anyways, the point was that it was so interesting to see how these two persons actually kind of picked up what they did. We learned a lot about actually this thing that we have created ourselves, but just to see how they intuitively started to organize these weddings using this tool.

Shane: Cool. Agile wedding planning.

Agile wedding planning.

Shane: Patric, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today. It sounds like some really interesting things happening there.

Super. It was a great pleasure being here.

Nov 18, 2015