Why Improv didn’t succeed, Part Deux

Seems like a dredged up some "old" (you know who you are) Improv fans with my earlier posting, so I thought an additional comment or two might be in order.

First off, lest it be misunderstood , in no way do I feel anything but totally proud about Imrpov as a concept and a product. I hope it is not inconsistent to feel that way, and yet agree that for a variety of reason it was not successful, as a product.

The concept of an alternative (not replacement) for a spreadsheet for real financial modeling is, I think, quite sound. (Yes, I can do page layout in Microsoft Word, but if that's my purpose, PageMaker is better. You could make an analogous point about PowerPoint and PhotoShop.)

By the same token , if what one is building a real financial model (i.e. a business plan or an integrated set of financial statements) then a product like Improv would be far superior. I say like Improv, because that was over 10 years ago, and it certainly had room for improvement at the time.

I received an email from Peter Murray, CTO of a company called Quantrix. They have created a new application called Quantrix Modeler in the spirit of Improv, which has continued to improve and http://www.quantrix.com/r-section-2.phpthe model. Here is what Peter said of my posting [slightly edited for length]:

Dear Pito,

I was interested to read your response to Adam Bosworth's talk @ ICSOC'04.

The Improv model is not "ancient history" yet! At Quantrix, we believe there is significant value in the Improv inspired approach to building complex models - and our customers are proving that out. There is no question that the free-form two-dimensional-grid based approach is useful in many cases. However, as soon as the calculation begins to get complex or the model is utilized through time in many iterations, our customers find that Quantrix is a more powerful tool.

Our theory on the reasons for the demise of Improv follow more the line of thinking in your final paragraph, rather than the idea that the product is somehow inherently flawed:

1) Lotus was positioning Improv as a spreadsheet replacement, rather than a specialized tool to better perform an important subset of tasks currently performed with a spreadsheet.

2) Lotus was in the throes of a heroic battle for survival against Microsoft's Excel - causing undue pressure on the company to make its product portfolio clean and understandable, and to organize all resources behind the flagship product. Introducing new technology costs in a scenario such as that.

Quantrix is employing a patient approach which identifies niches where the pain on traditional tools is great and the relief from a more scalable, transparent solution is palpable. As we progress, we are listening to users and building in new / better functionality - and thus making the product more attractive to a larger audience. In fact, we have folks from all kinds of disciplines who have sought out an alternative solution to the traditional spreadsheet - financial planning / budgeting professionals, equity analysts, business consultants as well as engineers, scientists and policy researchers. We even have customers working on genome analysis with Quantrix.

So, rather than ancient history, we prefer to think that - in this case - "what's old is new again".




And just to close the loop, here is what I responded:

Overall, I agree with that analysis.

Of course, I would hope that the Improv model wasn't ancient history! I was referring to the particulars of my experience at Lotus. I can be critical of people who live in the past and relive long past experiences so I am always careful of that myself. That is a totally closed chapter for me and I wouldn't have even thought of it until I read Adam's story. My feeling was that at a very high level he was hitting the nail on the head.

The notion of something being "inherently fatally flawed" seems relative to me when applied to a product. For example, if I tell you I have designed a great new televeision but I don't include a screen, well it's fatally flawed. But if I told you the same thing was a radio, well, you see where I am going 🙂