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Web Based Project Management – What a Nightmare!

My first task at omelett.es was to research project management applications to try to find something which would help us organise our project more efficiently and effectively.

When looking for a system I was considering the following key criteria:

  1. Support for multiple projects
  2. Support for multiple users
  3. Flexible management of milestones, to-do lists and tasks within a project with the ability to add dates to each
  4. The ability to track time against tasks
  5. The ability for clients to interact with the application

This list of criteria may appear relatively simple, however I was surprised that not one of the 10 applications I looked at in detail fulfilled them all.

Most surprising of all was that none of the applications appeared to allow a date to be added to milestones, to-do lists and tasks. You might wonder why all of these elements need a date, however on complex projects you cannot assume each to-do list or task within a milestone can be completed in any order. Without the ability to add these dates, you are left with the option to either not schedule every task or group of tasks as finely as you would like, or to create hundreds of milestones and to-do lists to try to gain this granularity of planning.

We eventually narrowed the choice to three potential systems:

  • Intervals
  • ActiveCollab, and
  • the dreaded Basecamp

Intervals appeared to have good planning and time management capabilities and provided a high level of configurability. Their main product focus is clearly time recording and the provision of management information to be used for invoicing, however it did appear to over complicate the application and took the focus away from the project details. Furthermore there didn’t appear to be any provision for client access which was a desirable feature.

Intervals

ActiveCollab looked very shiny and feature packed, again with good planning and time management capabilities. However their pricing model was different to the majority of the applications as it followed the more traditional model of licensing the software rather than paying a subscription for a hosted service. Moreover, it results in the hassle of having to organise hosting for the application and paying extra for updates and support.

Active Collab

Basecamp is probably one of the most well known online project management applications providing good all round functionality. Some of the task planning features did appear slightly illogical, for example not being able to assign dates to tasks, however their model does appear to based around having many milestones with attached to-do lists which isn’t ideal. The time management elements are very well integrated into tasks which I can see being useful.

Basecamp

After considering these three options we reluctantly went for Basecamp. It is the best of a bad bunch in my opinion. It does provide a relatively painless way to do most of the things we want to get out of a application however it also tells me that there may be a market for a project management application which gives more flexibility in managing tasks.

We’ll be reviewing this decision over the coming months, but for the moment it ‘scratches an itch’.

6 Comments

  1. [...] As we found recently there has been much discussion recently in the tech sector about project managment tools. From Chinwag’s uk-netmarketing list, to PHPWM, there are lots of tools available, but none that seem to quite fit everyone’s needs. Huddle’s solution can be a good fit when you need the collaboration tools, and there are offerings from Intervals, ActiveCollab, and Basecamp too. [...]

    TechCrunch UK » Blog Archive » Collaboration web apps to beat the Credit Crunch / 26 Aug 2008 / 9:41 pm

  2. Sign up for the private beta of Producteev.com, we might have what you need!

    iLan / 26 Aug 2008 / 9:53 pm

  3. @iLan thanks, I'll check it out.

    Jake Stride / 27 Aug 2008 / 7:17 am

  4. I still find Trac to be a suitable solution for this - each customer gets their own seperate instance with login details etc. When creating tickets you can use the DateFieldPlugin (e.g. http://trac-hacks.org/wiki/DateFieldPlugin); Dates can be assigned to Milestones, and using e.g. our VirtualPlanner (http://virtual-planner.palepurple.co.uk) you can maintain a high level, unified view across all projects and distribute work as you see fit. The only "hack" is that you treat tickets, bug reports, to do items etc all through Trac's ticket system - which will probably lead to redundant fields (although nearly all the fields are optional, and will take sensible defaults).

    David Goodwin / 27 Aug 2008 / 8:30 am

  5. We use Jira,Fisheye and bamboo they are awesome! http://www.atlassian.com/software/jira/

    MuTe / 04 Sep 2008 / 5:55 pm

  6. Thanks for reviewing Intervals. I wanted to let you know that Intervals does include a client level user. It's labeled as the Executive user. As you've demonstrated, though, users are having a hard time figuring that one out, so we'll be overhauling the client user level and labeling it better to help people find it. Thanks again for the post.

    John / 09 Sep 2008 / 10:12 pm