I started thinking about Mentat in response to the chaos of project management and task handling in my own life as an entrepreneur. While there were tools available for planning projects, keeping notes, prioritizing, and bug tracking, everything was disconnected. I needed a way to capture these thoughts from anywhere, without breaking my stride. Keeping track of what needed to be done and communicating it to the team was sometimes more work than the actual tasks themselves. Mentat was the solution to handle everything I needed to get done, in one place, where everyone could view and contribute for their part.
I have long wished for a way to capture my thoughts on the go. Ideas come up for me all the time, or I realize that there’s a movie I want to rent out, or some grocery item that I need to pick up. I invariably end up drawing a complete blank when I’m at the video, grocery, or record store. By 2002 I was convinced that life could be a whole lot better if I could find some sort of system that was a kind of private journal that I could read and update from anywhere.Furthermore, it didn’t seem like enough for them to be simply captured. The capture mechanism needed to create a document that I could just start editing once I got back to my computer. Even more, what I really wanted was the ability to jot down addenda to ideas that I had previous captured.
Whatever form this took, to be perfect, I needed a document format that I could create at my desk or on the road, that could be further edited or at least commented on, at my desk or on the road.
Then in 2003 Arcessa, the last company I worked for as an employee, was sold and laid all of us off, and I started consulting under the aegis of the research and development company that my wife and I had started. Within about 8 months I was doing a lot of project management work with many different clients. Within a few years we’d hired employees and were handling multiple customers.
For the first time I started having to deal with more project information than I could comfortably keep track of in my head.
At first, I turned to specific project management tools like Microsoft Project. As I moved steadily into the Apple camp I started toying with Mac-friendly tools like Shared Plan Pro, which were available on many platforms, and sucked on all of them.
Then we started using GForge, a collaborative development tool forked from an early release of the SourceForge project. GForge offered the ability to setup multiple projects with different members and create bugs, tasks, and feature requests, along with a very large assortment of other features that we rarely used.
GForge also provided each user with a home page, which showed them all of the items the had as a gigantic laundry list. Along with the user’s tasks it included items that the user had created and assign to other users. We frequently used the system to capture items that we intended to handle *eventually*, but the system included everything associated with the user.
The result was an incomprehensible morass of tasks, bugs, and assigned items. It was virtually impossible to tell which items were actually relevant and which ones were merely noted in the hopes that we might someday have an opportunity to address them.
Over the next two years I became familiar with Getting Things Done and Circus Ponies Notebook. GTD was simple but brilliant, and Notebook was the best application that I could find for doing GTD on the Mac at the time.
The final straw came when Omnigroup released Omniplan, their answer to Microsoft’s Project. It was a nice application, and we bough several copies immediately. Our process still sucked, though, because we found ourselves trying to string our process across several different products:
- Project Management
We used Omniplan to define our project tasks. Unfortunately this meant that Garrett Kelly usually owned the main copy of the plan, and distributed it out to each of us if there were any major changes. Unless he wanted to walk around and touch base with each member of our team, or pull us all in to frequent status meetings, we’d have to 1. get everyone a copy of Omniplan, so that people could make their own updates as they happened and 2. have one person consolidate those changes into a centrally located document so that everyone else could refer to it.
We saw this part of the process repeated at many of our customer’s offices.
- Project Task Management
In this part of our operations we used GForge collaborative development environment to track the individual tasks defined in the project plan, along with all of our feature requests and bugs. This was awesome, in the sense that it provided us with a comment thread for each task, along with automatic email notification of changes in task status, new comments, etc.Unfortunately, it was necessary to manually create a new GForge task for every item we have defined in Omniplan.
- Personal Task Management
Each of us have a lot of duties to attend to, and we all wear a lot of different hats. Once I learned about GTD, I started trying to use various products as my trusted list and personal planning tool, including Microsoft OneNote (arrgh), Omni Outliner, and Circus Ponies Notebook. None of the other tools available at the time really came close to the features offered by Notebook, which included the ability to define tasks with due dates, priorities, and a collapsible hierarchy.The problem with this, of course, was that it added a third layer into which we were required to manually write up our tasks in order to start working. Furthermore, any progress, notes or comments that we documented in Notebook were not reflected in GForge or Omni Plan without additional manual revisions to the data in both of those products.
So there we were, with 3 great tools, and no real way to coordinate them, and no satisfactory way to access them remotely (GForge was accessible by browser, but the user experience on a mobile device was terrible) and my employees disliked the overabundance of controls for handling a simple task entry.
In developing Mentat, we sought to combine the necessary features of several project and personal task management applicationss, while maintaining a simple, powerful interface for speedy task capture. Creating, prioritizing, and filing away tasks should save work, not impact work.
Furthermore, team communication was paramount, meaning everyone on the same project should have the access and see updates as they happen. No more double booking or inefficient printouts and walk-arounds.
Mobile support should be handled in the same simple, quick and easy way, making the project omnipresent, wherever you need to access it.
Mentat finally bridges all the gaps, keeping us all in sync and up to date on projects and streamlining task handling. Whether its remembering groceries or movie rentals, tracking product development, or managing your entire work team, I hope you’ll share the same cathartic, stress-relieving sense of finally having everything centered and under control that Mentat manifests for me and my teams.
Filed under: mentat by Daniel