Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc

    Light web-based collaborative project management tools

    10th January 2011

    Updated on the 5th of March, 2010 (added flowdock and pivotal tracker, and also personal experience using a few of the previously described tools).

    Back in 2007 I wrote a brief review of web-based project management tools. After that, I started using dotProject for personal projects management. I’m still using it, but for collaborative project management, communication, and tasks/milestones tracking dotProject isn’t perfect.

    I need a tool, which is

    • collaborative
    • web-based (to allow effective collaboration)
    • preferably free
    • has concise per-project activity log
    • minimal required functionality: tasks, milestones, files, and status updates.

    After trying a few things, our small team settled for now on using github + pivotaltracker jira + confluence + flowdock.

    Here’s a full list of tools briefly reviewed. I’ve been already using ProjectPier, so I’ll start with this software.

    ProjectPier (used myself)

    • dashboard: all events log
    • interface similar to Basecamp; themable/skinnable
    • all the basic features are there (milestones, tasks, task lists, messages, files)
    • modular (functionality is in plugins)
    • easy to install (requires PHP and MySQL)
    • is being maintained/developed (maybe slowly, but that doesn’t mean much)

    Not much to add. Simple, functional, worked good for a 1-person “team” (that is, for personal projects management). Have no idea how it scales to more people.

    Collabtive

    • desktop: just an overview, no log of events; project view has ‘activities’ log
    • [too much?] eye-candy, JS-reach default interface (themable/skinnable)
    • projects, tasks, milestones, messages, files
    • calendar, time tracking
    • is being maintained/developed

    Open Atrium

    • Drupal-based, thus probably the most flexible (but requires time investments to change functionality)
    • 6 features: blog, wiki, calendar, to-do list, shoutbox, and a dashboard to manage it all
    • has “recent activity” log
    • issues tracking
    • I guess it is heavier than others in use patterns: requires more clicking and typing (as it has more features), and there seem to be no concepts of milestones and projects – just tasks

    Projectfork

    • possibly Joomla-based
    • free, with commercial add-ons, themes, and maybe support
    • projects, milestones, tasks with priorities, files
    • calendar, discussion board, time tracking
    • activity stream (premium add-on)

    EGroupware

    • hosted, commercial
    • free community version is available for download
    • projects, tasks, sub-tasks, files
    • address book, calendar, chat, issue tracking system, time tracking
    • knowledge base, wiki
    • news, polls
    • interface seems very responsive (JS-reach)
    • large, feature-reach: might be an overkill where basecamp would do just fine
    • actively developed

    ]project-open[

    • not reviewed: seems even more feature-reach (complicated) than EGroupware

    Redmine

    • doesn’t seem to use “milestone” and “task” concepts
    • issue tracking, gantt charts, calendar, time tracking
    • wiki, files, forums, roadmap (similar to trac)
    • repository browser (among others, git and svn are supported)
    • is maintained/developed

    Codebase

    • non-free
    • issue tracker for git/mercurial/others with project management features
    • wiki, time tracking, milestones, files

    Ofuz

    • paid hosted version (free up to 5 projects), free version available for download
    • contacts, time tracking, invoices
    • projects, tasks, documents, files
    • tight email integration (e.g. continue discussions by email, with replies logged to Ofuz)

    RailsCollab

    • activecollab-inspired, ProjectPier-based Ruby software
    • interface (and features) very similar to ProjectPier
    • tasks and task lists, milestones, files, messages
    • time-tracking
    • development/maintenance stalled in Feb 2010

    Teambox (used myself)

    • hosted service (free up to 3 projects), community edition available for download; RoR-based
    • free plan has search disabled
    • projects, tasks, task lists, files
    • dashboard
    • pages/wiki/writeboard, discussions
    • gantt charts, calendar, twitter-like status updates, time-tracking
    • light interface
    • clients for mobile devices
    • email notifications and email-to-web functionality

    Seems best for conversations-oriented projects. A few times posted updates took lots of time to become visible to other team members (far not immediate, so comparison to twitter does not give the right idea), and page refreshes (even forced) didn’t help. Tasks system is basically an extension of conversations: once you created a task, you can only “extend” it with comments, but not edit. Personally, I found the tasks implementation too awkward to use – it might be different for writing-related projects. I liked the Pages functionality: it provides a good (easy and quick) way of organizing information accumulated by the project. Basically, we ended up using Teambox as a repository for external and internal documentation – but not for status updates, chats or planning.

    As free time permits, I would love to compile a feature table, comparing all these tools, together with subjective “easy-of-use” scores (maybe collected with a poll of some kind). Any contributions towards this simple goal are welcome. If comments fail to work for you – use the contact page.

    A few more related web-tools follow.

    Pivotal Tracker (currently using)

    • agile projects management
    • concepts: icebox, backlog, current, done
    • has: features, bugs, chores, releases; each of these can have description, comments and short tasks (all very easy to add and organize)
    • features can have their complexity estimated in points, which are then used to calculate weekly team velocity, and also to move tasks from the backlog panel into current panel

    I’m new to agile development tools, and after getting used to it – Pivotal Tracker is good. It is also useful as a place to keep the things you would like to eventually implement – just append these to the end of the icebox, and then start-move to backlog/current when determined to implement.

    Flowdock (currently using)

    • web-chat with history saved as an infinite scrollable page
    • has a concept of “flows” (similar to chat rooms in campfire)
    • tags (tab-autocomplete possible when writing messages); can be added/removed to/from existing entries
    • files can be inserted directly into chat stream
    • separate views for posted URLs and files
    • full-text search (a recent feature), and search by tags
    • mobile device support (haven’t tried)
    • various desktop notification tools for all platforms (Linux, Mac, Windows); has minimally-configurable sound notifications
    • tracks online/idle/offline statuses (e.g. idle for X hours or offline for Y hours)
    • mails can be sent to a flow, and they can have tags
    • Influx: an aggregator of external events (github, twitter, RSS, mails, PivotalTracker, Confluence and others)

    Flowdock is just… convenient. After trying teambox, present.ly and campfire, we seem to have settled on this one for in-project communication (our team currently has only 3 people, though). The most convenient feature is probably the built-in aggregator.

    WeDoist

    • collaborative to-do lists
    • tasks (maybe also sub-tasks), status updates, group chat
    • hosted solution

    ToDoist

    • 1-person projects, tasks, sub-tasks
    • hosted solution
    • opera widget at http://widgets.opera.com/widget/15372/

    SlimTimer (using this one)

    • simple (perfect? :) ) tasks-based timetracker with nice reports feature
    • hosted solution, has free plan

    Present.ly (used myself, would use again)

    • “corporate twitter”
    • hash-tags autocompletion
    • files can be attached
    • “attach text” – when 140 symbols is not enough
    • direct messaging and replies; replies can be viewed in threaded mode
    • mobile devices support (haven’t tried)
    • configurable email alerts
    • concepts helping organize data: topics, feeds, tags
    • separate views for files and links to find them faster

    Overall, present.ly is very cool for within-team status updates – that is, to keep track of what anybody’s doing.

    Campfire (used myself)

    • web-chat with “rooms” (e.g. by topic, by department etc)
    • each day is saved as a transcript of chats
    • files can be attached directly within the chat flow
    • full-text searchable
    • free use tier implies chat-stream embedded ads (can be removed with adblock+ and element hiding helper)
    • can be configured to track external resources (e.g. github commits), though those do not look as good as in flowdock

    Overall, campfire is a nice chat. The best thing they have is the event sound – probably the best I’ve heard.

    Finally, nice mantra (except for the very last phrase) from ToDoist – “The Zen of Todoist”:

    Now is better than later.
    Later is better than never.
    Organized is better than messy.
    Big things are composed by smaller things.
    Smaller things are done by action.
    Think like a person of action.
    Act like a person of thought.
    The beginning is half of every action.
    The longest journey starts with the first step.
    Everything should be made as simple as possible.
    But not simpler.
    Celebrate any progress.
    Don’t wait to get perfect.
    Deadlines and stress are a part of life.

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    11 Responses to “Light web-based collaborative project management tools”

    1. Gio Says:

      Really useful review.
      Perhaps something like ComindWork (http://www.comindwork.com/Features) is what you’re looking for, but I have to admit that it’s not easy to find something like that in the open source underground.

      ]project-open[ does a great job, though it makes use of several complex modules (like Finance, C&KM, ecc.) that may require a time-consuming configuration.
      Have you ever tried Trac?

    2. Bogdan Says:

      Thanks, Gio!

      We have settled for now on pivotal tracker + github + flowdock (I’ve updated the post with these, and also with teambox experience).

      I’ve been using Trac for a while, but that is mostly an issue tracker – even with the tracBurndown plugin (which provides a burndown chart). We are currently using github – which also has issue tracking and wiki, and also a workflow for code reviews (by doing pull requests). I think we’ll stick to github for now, even though I’ll keep using Trac for one of my personal projects.

    3. Gio Says:

      Great tools collection. Have you also tried Flowr? It’s very similar to Flowdock and I’ve been using it for a while, as a brainstorming tool. It has a powerful integration with Google Apps. Nice feature if you plan to use a Git repo like Google Code and a development platform based on Google Cloud.

      I’m looking for an integrated framework (obviously the perfection of a full-featured and open-source suite is still to come) with the basic features you’ve listed at the beginning of your article. I’ll stay on Trac by now.
      Let’s see what would be next. :)

      Thanks for your update, I’ll keep following this page!

    4. Bogdan Says:

      Flowr is much more expensive for our use. We need what flowr calls “External feed import (RSS, twitter, slideshare…)”, which is a Premium feature, and thus only available starting at 49$ / month – while Flowdock offers that feature for 19$ / month. Another premium feature – “Custom views / filters” – may be what I’m already used to in Flowdock (filtering all messages containing URLs or attached files). Evidently, Flowr may excel at some other functionalities, but for now Flowdock is a winner for us.

      Thanks for your suggestions, though – wider view never hurts.

      Regarding an integrated framework: have you tried Atlassian’s family of tools? Jira, GreenHopper, Confluence? I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but they definitely look … very integrated :)

    5. Giovanni Says:

      Hi again!
      Atlassian seems to be very powerful framework, but I’ve been looking after for something more condensed and centralized. So I’ve spotted out Podio. Maybe it’ll be up&running in a cuple of days: https://podio.com/.

      Just to let you know, since it’s a new startup project. :)
      Greetings!

    6. Bogdan Says:

      Thanks, will try not to forget to check them out when their scheduled maintenance is over.

    7. Jhon Says:

      Oh! Nice posting. I think to manage all client interactions, document sharing, discussions about quotes, etc this must be another incredible tool http://www.teamplifier.com/

    8. Jean Dimans Says:

      Hi I would like to recommend you to visit the Workforcetrack.com which has lots of business tools such as CRM, PM, HRMS and many others but the best part is that they have android and iPhone apps, so you may control and manage everything even being out

    9. William Signer Says:

      I have used BootStrapToday, and found it quite easy to use for high end developers. BootStrapToday brings intelligence and integration into the Application Lifecycle Management/Software Development Life Cycle Management and made my team highly productive.
      It has helped me to detect software bugs early and maintain code quality at the same time reducing project cost significantly and improving management ease and clarity. Let us benefit from the tool at http://zfer.us/AeiG9.
      Do share your comments on this.

    10. Steve Butler Says:

      Hi, Have you ever used proofhub for managing your projects? It is also light web based collaborative project management tool.

    11. Bogdan Says:

      Hi Steve,

      no, not really…

      Right now I’m using only Trello. Seems sufficient.

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