5 years of Yesplan: Eddy looks back
Did you believe, 5 years ago, that Yesplan would be in the position it is now? What went differently than expected?
Yesplan had a long previous history in the Vooruit arts centre. A couple of attempts were needed, but in the first year and a half prior to the establishment of the company behind Yesplan, the first version – called Nextplan – had actually been fully developed, from concept to final product. The basis of this product is still intact.
I and many other people stood at the Yesplan cradle within Vooruit. Together with Henk Catry, then product manager, I took care of the actual implementation. We took care of everything, from design to final product. This involved many interviews with stakeholders and people who would use the software in all sorts of departments, and many sketches.
Our partners in crime were three software engineers who wanted to exchange their academic career for something more tangible. For a whole year this small team worked on an agile manner on the basis of what we have now. That this is still going strong 5 years later is something we have always believed in, but where it got us is nonetheless fantastic. I am still grateful that we were given the necessary space and chances at Vooruit.
Even then it was clear to us that there was a real need for such a product. In our minds it was inconceivable that other organisations should not have to meet the same challenges. I myself had experienced this need as an employee at Vooruit. I had various functions, sometimes simultaneously: stage technician, sound technician, IT worker, multimedia designer and website manager. In that way I worked in various departments, from operational services to the marketing and communication department, where I was very directly or rather indirectly involved with various aspects of the organising and producing of events. But also with the challenges: defective information streams, wrong communication, overbookings, last minute changes, the desperate looking for the most recent version of the correct spelling of the performance’s title, that kind of thing. It really determined the way we went about that first version of Yesplan and the concepts we introduced then.
We always believed that this would result in a beautiful product, but to see that we actually achieved this after 5 years is really nice!
What were you doing 5 years ago and what are you doing now?
5 years ago I started as Interaction Designer and I was responsible for the visual design and users’ experience of Yesplan. I did this through sketches and prototypes, but also in production-ready HTML and CSS-codes. The real code however – the back-end, the software design, the corresponding architecture, the programming and all the attending complexity – luckily we have other specialists for that 🙂
Designing software is a rather complex business whereby it is essential that the entire team building the project works really well together to achieve the desired end result. Good software has to be tested as soon as possible in the environment in which it is used. That is why we start working in the browser as soon as possible; remember that Yesplan is a web-app. This makes it tangible, and allows us to immediately experience whether the things we invented are actually working, or what the problems and challenges are, both technical and with regard to user-friendliness. However, it does ensure that the designers at Yesplan must be of a reasonably high technical level.
At the moment I am Yesplan’s Product Director: I lead and manage the product in function of the needs and problems of the market in which we are active. In doing so, I closely follow the entire product cycle (strategy, concept, design, development, documentation, evolution and end-of-life). As such I determine which product our users need to solve their problems, which features should be developed for this, and their priorities. Together with the Interaction Designer and Software Engineers we are a close-knit team which is responsive and complements each other. Together we ensure that the needs of the user, the possibilities of the technology and the requirements for a successful business are balanced.
Why was Yesplan relevant 5 years ago and why is it still relevant?
Yesplan was relevant 5 years ago because we solve real problems that organisations are faced with. We promote cooperation and sharing information within the entire organisation, and we do this in a manner which connects to our target group. In order to let Yesplan evolve further in the right direction we keep abreast of what is topical among our users. You stay relevant by solving real problems in a good way. I think that many problems are still to be addressed 🙂
What was the idea at inception? And how did that idea grow during the last 5 years?
Initially we wanted to make a user-friendly product, which could be flexibly applied and which was easily linked to. But above all we wanted to make a product which offered a solution to the challenges of the organisations that started using it. We wanted a good solution which could be used in many ways, without the need for expensive made-to-measure software packages.
The concepts we initially introduced were based on the functioning of the Vooruit arts centre and the activities within that organisation, but with the approach that it had to be possible to translate this for other, similar organisations. We always reflected on how a certain problem could be dealt with in a generic way, without overly defining or limiting.
This approach has not fundamentally changed; I think that is the strength of our solution. We seek out the common problems of our users, and reflect if this is something we can resolve. Next we investigate how we can solve this in a good way, and whether this gives added value to Yesplan. And if it looks as if we are on the right track, we continue.
Allowing a product to evolve creates additional challenges. From the day you give the software to the users you are involved in this. You don’t want to drag along unnecessary baggage, but you still want to protect the basis of the product as much as possible. It is a continuous balancing act, with much trade-offs and challenges.
As to the substance of the product, what did you not expect to be developed, that has? Which matters have influenced the product in which direction?
Actually we do not have a strictly delineated idea of what may or may not be developed. We are largely led by needs; which does not mean that we can’t envisage the road we want to follow, and especially the things we do not wish to get involved in.
From the very start we were convinced that one cannot be good at everything. Doing a bit of everything, but not doing anything really well, is not the way we function. Our core, a tool to plan and manage events, materials and co-workers, to chart the costs and revenues of the events, and building blocks which help you optimize the information streams within the entire organisation, that is what we concentrate on. That is why Yesplan is an open system, easy for integration; we do not build everything ourselves, but integrate with parties which are good in their own field.
What do you think is the best that has been made / achieved after 5 years of Yesplan?
The team behind Yesplan! Everyone, from the people who introduce and present Yesplan to the organisation, to the people who guide the implementation, the support, the product team… everyone who meets them agrees: the passion, the commitment, expertise and accessibility of all these people is a main and important asset.
Which features were deleted from the roadmap, and why?
There are very many ideas which we generate, and our customers also have many suggestions. Sometimes suggestions are immediately implemented, but those are the exceptions. Most ideas and suggestions are immediately put on ice.
It is very tempting to immediately engage with the new and attractive ideas. But what we want to avoid is that the ‘most heard’ (be careful with this, you never hear everything) and the most recently heard suggestions, or the suggestions of those who shout loudest, win over the solving of the most pertinent problems. A certain cooling period or some reflection on every idea usually is beneficial.
What also plays a role is that there actually are no ‘small’ features. However trivial an adaptation or addition may seem, in practice it often is not at all. The impact may sometimes reach surprisingly far. And the adding of too many bells and whistles causes an uncontrollable mass of ballast in the long term, which does not benefit the whole.
Which customers have most inspired Yesplan to innovate in some aspects?
All our customers inspire us; each in their own way. Innovation is in the small things.
What are the dreams for the future? Where will Yesplan be in 5 years?
In 5 years we will be a worldwide player in the sector, the international market beckons!
What do you think is the best Yesplan anecdote?
There is a rumour that the illustrious precursor of Nextplan [Nextplan is the original version of Yesplan] received the nickname “trekt-uw-plan” (“you’re on your own”). Supposedly because the software was not user-friendly, and was not doing what was expected. I really don’t know who launched that name… but it did inspire the Vooruit art centre to deal with things better after that. And the rest is history… 🙂