Sciforma's VP of Solutions tells us about his work at Sciforma

Los Gatos, 4 May 2015
Sciforma's VP of Solutions, Fabien Herelle tells us about his work at Sciforma, including how Sciforma went from version 6 to 7.

SaaS implementation

Hi Fabien, what do you do at Sciforma?

I am the VP of solutions: I lead the team in charge of creating and developing what we call extensions. Extensions are a layer of configuration that we put on top of Sciforma’s platform to provide out-of-the-box features to our customers. For example, we have the Project extension made for Project Managers, the Portfolio extension made for Program or Portfolio Managers etc.

Sciforma offers a library of extensions, which are like pieces of puzzle that we put together to create the best solution for each customer.

Describe the work you had to do from Sciforma 6 to 7.

Because of the technology change between Sciforma 6 and 7, we had a very tight time frame to develop the new extensions. Therefore our main goal was to ensure that we would at the very least offer the same functionalities as the Sciforma 6 extensions. We also wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and start fresh by improving the user experience and re-thinking the architecture of our extensions. In order to facilitate the navigation of the extensions, we wanted to organize the extensions by role and make all the features that a user may need as convenient as possible.

For example, in Sciforma 6, we had Project Scheduling, Change Requests, Issues, or Financial Analysis features provided by different extensions whereas these items are all connected and useful for a Project Manager. So in Sciforma 7, we decided to combine all these features together within everything in the same extension, Project.

Another important topic for us was the User Interface. Moving from a Java based application to a web application represents a significant paradigm shift. The expectations for a web application as well as the related standards are completely different and it was important to understand and take into account how our customers would use Sciforma 7.

We spent many hours brainstorming, creating wireframes, and prototyping in order to optimize things like the navigation, element positioning, or the number of clicks to create an action and to define our new design best practices.

Regarding the User Interface, where did you get your inspiration?

Our goal was to create a visually clear and simple to navigate but professional looking design that would define Sciforma’s identity. Because of the nature of Project/Program Management we realized that our users may spend a significant amount of time in the Sciforma 7 application to prepare their Projects, define the content of their Backlogs, and managing Resources. We wanted to create visuals that end-users could work with for hours without getting visually weary was therefore a strong requirement.

While being creative can be good, users appreciate the warm feeling that a familiar User Interface offers. For this reason, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at many web applications and studied web design standards (like Material Design by Google). Lastly, we wanted to make the transition smooth for users coming from Sciforma 6 to Sciforma 7, so we decided to keep a continuity with the previous design of our extensions. The feedback from our customers helped a lot for the creation of the Sciforma 7 User Interface.

I am guessing you have a team helping you do all of that. Can you tell me more?

Definitely! I’m lucky to work with amazing people who are creative and are improving our solutions on a daily basis. Our team is made of four profiles:

We maintain a continuous collaboration between these three roles to find the best combination. The last role is our End-Users: getting their feedback through interviews was crucial.

We had an interview with Joel, Sciforma product manager a couple of weeks ago, how do you work with Joel?

Like an old couple: we have a common passion, need each other to work and have disagreements once in a while but seriously, we work very closely with each other often we compliment each other and are constantly communicating about our ideas. The architecture we chose for Sciforma is very unique and powerful. Our goal was to provide a product ready to use and at the same time, a product that can be tailored to our customers’ needs and Joel and I are responsible to maintain the right balance.

Usually, we (Solutions team) start by identifying specific needs for improving an existing extension or create a new one. Then, we bring Joel into the loop, explain our ideas so he can work his magic and design features that will help us but also provide more generic capabilities. For example, I will tell Joel we need a red pen for a customer, he is going to conclude that someone else will ask for a blue pen so we should provide a pen with several colors.
This is how we think. Since the beginning, we have thought about the big picture and tried to answer the broader needs. This provides a lot of flexibility to our customers.

Which extension took the most work?

Probably the Project extension because it is the biggest but also the most used by our customers of course.

What is your favorite extension?

Agile is my favorite extension. It was one of the first extensions we created and I actually used it to manage the development of all the other extensions. It was great to put into practice the Agile Extension as it made me realize the benefits and added value we provide to Sciforma 7.

Which extensions will your customers like the most?

I would say the Resource extension. Despite having a key role, Resource Managers are not always provided with the features they need to manage their teams. Our extension changes that and I know Resource Managers will love it!

What do you think makes the difference between Sciforma and its competitors?

We offer our customers the opportunity to purchase Sciforma as is and ready to go, or totally customized to their needs. You will find a lot of products out there which are very good at what they are made for but don’t allow you to grow or think out of the box (or require huge budgets for configuration). With Sciforma, you can start with very basic features and as soon as your organization grows in maturity or needs, Sciforma will provide the tools that you need. No need to look for another system again, Sciforma is able to accompany you for a very long time.

Now that Sciforma 7 is released.. What’s next?

For me, Sciforma 7 is only a starting point, not an achievement, it actually opens an unlimited scope of possibilities. We can enhance and develop our mobile support, expand our library of extensions, and also develop new Applied Solutions which are a combination of extensions targeting specific markets.