The latest update on the Family Tree Maker 2017 release (Read Here) is very upbeat, and positive…and completely discouraging.
The entire process of this release was not managed in a way to give any of us confidence. There is no excuse for TreeSync not working without a working replacement.
Two things I want to make clear off the bat: First, I think that eventually MacKiev will release a product that satisfies us, and does what we expect from Family Tree Maker. Second, I’ve worked in IT for over 25 years and have been a part of more software development/deployment schedules than I can count. I’ve generally worked on large Enterprise projects, and I currently work for one of America’s largest retail chains managing a group that supports technologies used to deploy over 500 software developments used to generate billions of dollars in annual revenue. So, I feel confident making observations about the process of deploying commercial software.
The entire process of this release was not managed in a way to give any of us confidence. There is no excuse for TreeSync not working without a working replacement. This is a combination of the Private Equity Group that owns Ancestry.com not having a commercial interest in whether FTM lives or dies, and MacKiev not having the team to support a major commercial software package.
PEG’s are known for squeezing blood from stones, for breaking up companies into components that make up more than the whole, while spending as little money as possible doing so. The goal of a PEG is to maximize profit for the short period of time they own the company. They buy a company for $1.6 billion, close the unprofitable ventures (even if they might later generate revenue), spin off the less profitable parts of the company, cut administrative cost-centers to the bone, and funnel all capital funding to areas that will generate the most revenue. You can see this with Permira Advisers LLP’s treatment of Ancestry.com, and while someday they will sell the business for billions more than they paid for it, they saw no value in Family Tree Maker and cut it loose.
As for MacKiev, they knew they had a hard deadline to make this work, they had one duty as a company: make sure FTM worked before that deadline.
They also know they aren’t making much money on the continuing support of FTM, or TreeSync/FamilySync, and so there’s very little incentive for Ancestry.com making it work beyond the bare minimum.
As for MacKiev, they knew they had a hard deadline to make this work, they had one duty as a company: make sure FTM worked before that deadline. It’s easy for me to judge sitting here, but if you work for an Enterprise software company you know that if you have a deadline that’s not negotiable, then you have to be ready by that date. It would require NDA’s to cover any current projects of mine, but we face deadlines set by factors like regulatory compliance, business requirements, customer requests, etc. at any given moment, and we don’t miss those deadlines. I support lines of business that generate 8 figures a day, and there’s no way we’d have a 3 week gap in functionality. A well run organization that’s staffed properly, and that’s managed to support their customers, doesn’t allow a 3 week gap in functionality.
What gives me the most pause, is that the company that’s known for Mavis Beacon’s Typing Tutor and the Stellaluna software now has a major commercial product with a passionate base, and they don’t seem equipped to support it.
I see a lot of red flags with the way this company is approaching this deployment.
Their releases seem defensive (“Urban Myths about FTM – Debunked”), or they are deflecting (“TreeSync which was retired on March 29th. And really, it was supposed to be retired much sooner”), or blaming someone else (“Q: Why did Software MacKiev shut off our syncing? A: Well actually, we didn’t. That would be Ancestry’s TreeSync which was retired on March 29th.”). There’s not much more they can say I suppose, but it would engender more trust and confidence if they were more honest about their misses.
I see a lot of red flags with the way this company is approaching this deployment. It’s clear they didn’t have proper testing setup. They were racing for an April 1st deadline, and after the target ship date their QA team was still finding showstopper bugs. On April 2nd they said they could ship anytime now, but they were just being extra careful. However, it wasn’t until 4 days later they announced they had finally setup a real-world, large-scale testing protocol and figured out how to use SMS to coordinate, and that testing had revealed more showstoppers that prevented the release. In-fact, they were addressing basic architecture and connectivity planning nearly a week after their target production release. This is not normal, this is not expected in the industry, and this is not acceptable on April 6th.
If this was the process on December 1, 2016 for an expected shutdown date of December 31st, I’d say we’re about at where we should be, although it would worry me we’re still dealing with fundamental test protocols and architecture issues this late in the game. But, I’ve seen worse, and given a team I trust I’d be ok…but the risk level would be yellow. However, to be dealing with this 2 weeks after go-live is not just unacceptable, it’s hard to understand how they think this is ok. I get that at some point, what is is, and if you’ve screwed up a deployment you just have to power through to get to the point it’s resolved, but to-date I haven’t seen anything but positive messages on how good it is that they are catching these issues.
And that’s the biggest red flag of them all. They keep hiding behind the “we want to get it right” statement, and I see people in various forums making the same point. Of course, we ALL want this software to be released when it’s right. We don’t want faulty software released early to meet a deadline. But it’s like saying you won’t sell a new car until you’re sure the wheels won’t fall off as you leave the lot. Of course we don’t want the wheels to fall off; it’s just a fundamental assumption, not a selling point!
We care about this because we love this product, we have years invested in it, and this tool is a big part of something important in our lives. When Ancestry.com cut us loose, it led to a lot of soul searching and considering the huge work to move to a new product. I had concerns about a little company like MacKiev taking over a huge project like this, but given Ancestry’s involvement, and a lack of choices, I hoped for the best. But now it seems like MacKiev approached this with little more than hope, and Ancestry’s involvement has limits. Trust is key on something we all care so much about, and these companies have done all they can to minimize that trust.
I think it will all end up ok, and I’m hopeful we’ll look back a couple of years and be happy with where MacKiev advanced Family Tree Maker. But right now it’s little more than hope, and I’ll settle for just syncing a tree.