A major publishing company — Simons International — has contracted with the Working Minds software development firm to design and build a customized publishing tool package. As worked out in the requirements, the package has two components, the desktop publishing functions for laying out, testing, and iterating all aspects of the final publication design, and a set of collaboration tools which support the splitting up of a single publication design job among various members of a group, the tracking of the contributing individuals’ progress, interactions needed to coordinate related pieces, and the final merging of all the pieces into a final product. The notion of collaborative editing is a new strategy for Simons that they hope will improve both the productivity and job satisfaction of their employees.

The contract specifies that Working Minds will deliver an initial prototype of both components in 6 months, for the fee of $100K, and that for the following two years, Simons will pay a $3K/month maintenance charge for continued updates, fixes and enhancements to the two components. Although Working Minds has been in the desktop publishing software business for several years, this is the first time they have tried to include collaboration functionality. They are excited by the challenge and by the opportunity to move into the fast-growing area of collaboration tools; at the same time they are relieved that they will be able to deliver both sets of functionality gradually over the next 30 months.

At the 6 months deadline, Working Minds delivers on time two prototypes: Design-It contains the desktop publishing function, and Coordinate contains the collaboration tools. Simons eagerly begins working with the new software and finds Design-It to be an excellent product which immediately gives Simons a competitive edge in the publishing world. However, the Coordinate tool suite is highly problematic: its user interface is confusing, it is poorly integrated with Design-It, and it introduces new and unexpected communication overheads in the management of group projects. Both firms continue to struggle with the new software for several months, Simons providing user feedback and Working Minds making constant changes. Because Design-It was in good shape from the start, almost all maintenance activity is directed at Coordinate over these first few months.

However, the acceptability of Coordinate does not improve, and after six months, Simons carries out a thorough internal analysis of the situation. They conclude that the Coordinate software shows no sign of meeting their needs, and that it is creating more problems than it solves. In fact after careful consideration, they decide to drop the new collaborative editing model altogether, returning to their former work practices not involving collaborative project work.

Simons’ financial officer recommends that they simply cut in half their monthly maintenance payments to Working Minds, asking that further development of Coordinate be discontinued, and arguing that the Coordinate component makes up approximately half of the code that was delivered. The manager of Simons’ Information Systems agrees, though he suspects he will have a fight on his hands with Working Minds, who all along have viewed this project as their big chance to move into the hot software territory of collaborative systems.

Should Simons cut its maintenance payments in half?

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