Saturday, January 31, 2009

Online Project Management Apps

Many people on Twitter ask for recommendations for a good online project management solution. There are many such web-based applications out there, and it really depends upon your needs and intended project approach - are you "agile", do you want to use "scrum" or "kanban", or are you PMI all the way. Do you want it SaaS, or self-hosted? Do you need time tracking? Should a wiki be integrated? The list goes on. My requirements to make it through the "first cut" were:

  • app is web-based and so is accessible anywhere.
  • app is relatively bug free and stable.
  • app developer has some history and do not look like they will disappear tomorrow.
  • app is not linked to a single platform (that is, it can be accessed from a PC, Mac or Linux system, for instance) or a single technology (for instance, that it "requires IE and ActiveX").
  • app supports Japanese for data entry, export to CSV or other formats, and in reports (I did not need the UI to be Japanese, necessarily, but the input and output should support Japanese characters).
  • app has time tracking.
  • app has custom fields, especially for time tracking.
  • app has email integration preferably in- and out-bound.
  • app has acceptable reporting.

Just below is a list that basically supported the above, or I felt were interesting enough to look at in more detail, even if the app did not make the cut - for example, "it must be free" or "it must include invoicing". I suggest you make a list like that to weed out the ones that won't work for you. Then you can start concentrating on really fine-grained items like:

  • app allows entry of "time remaining" rather than the asinine practice of entering percent complete.
  • app allows entry of estimates, from a task, rate-type, or "phase" perspective, and a printout of those (because even agile teams have stakeholders).
  • app is not just a list, but has some level of workflow tracking built in as well.
  • app does not lock you into only one way of doing things, but rather allows you to approach things from your perspective.

Online PM Solutions that Passed my First Cut

For your reference, here's the list of "first cut" solutions (for me, that is) where I started examining in more detail (and in alphabetical order):

Other Online PM Solutions

There are many other ones that I looked at, but were not quite what I wanted or needed. This does not mean they won't work for you or are inherently bad. For your reference, here's a list of some of the others (in alphabetical order) that I thought were good but that either lacked something I needed or that I simply did not have time to assess properly:

Note, many of these apps have ways to get a free version (limited by number of users or projects for example), are free for open source teams, or, are open source to begin with. I hope this article can be a starting point for your search for the perfect PM app. Enjoy!

23 comments:

Teramis said...

Thanks very much for sharing your footwork on criteria and first pass screening. We have similar needs in a tool and you've just saved me I don't know how much time in hunting around for the right project ap. Thanks!

Rick Cogley said...

@Teramis - you're quite welcome. I wanted to write it down to benefit others. Glad it may be of help.

MarcomMom said...

Rick, another project management system that meets all your criteria is Project Insight. Completely affordable for companies of any size, yet some really huge organizations use it (Honda, NASA, Target, Gap). www.projectinsight.net

Specifically on the Japanese requirement, Project Insight lets you input any language including Mandarin and Japanese (‘double byte character’ languages). So, you can input tasks and projects in Japanese. It's integrated with Outlook, and all task lists, Gantt charts and reports can be exported to Excel, MSProject and XML. Metafuse, the company behind PI, works with Symantec Japan, so they're definitely doing something right.

Rick Cogley said...

@MarcomMom - thanks for the tip!

For reference, another one I got via an email is PSNext. http://www.sciforma.com/page?id=4

Regards,
Rick

Michael Dubakov said...

Some tools were new to me and I've checked them. Suddenly I discovered that I am looking at one more BaseCamp clone. Several tools from the list almost identical to BaseCamp. That's sad...

Rick Cogley said...

Hi Michael - yes, and there were even more basecamp clones than I cite here. Some were simply the exact same thing with maybe a cosmetic difference. 37 Signals does make good software and good interfaces, that's for sure, but I always felt left a bit wanting by what wasn't there. Certainly don't need another basecamp clone, when the original does not fit my needs.

jjriv said...

Thanks for compiling such an extensive list, and thanks for including Intervals in that list. It was good to correspond with you during your eval.

Rick Cogley said...

@jjriv - my pleasure, and thank you very much for your support. MyIntervals is a really impressive app. The way you estimate in it, which I understand from your forum comes from the way you do things in your industry, is a bit different from what we are doing, so I am in a holding pattern trying to figure out my exact process, still. :-)

Rick Cogley said...

@Michael Dubakov - by the way, the inline editing in TargetProcess's latest version is a dream come true, as is the complex "sub report" feature. I saw the hours your team spent on the latest release - wow! That fact alone is justification as to why one should simply invest in an already-made solution rather than trying to build it oneself (unless you are a developer!).

Priyanka said...

Hi Rick,
I invite you to try our free plan service
http://www.deskaway.com/live/account/signup.php

DeskAway is a project management and collaboration service based in India, we have many features including twitter like staues updates and automatic email reminders.

Rick Cogley said...

Hi Priyanka - I did evaluate Deskaway, but I had forgotten (so many systems). I took a look again at it, and remembered why it would not work for me. The timesheet feature is a little bit too basic, in that there is no linking to tasks (only milestones), no ability to indicate role or rate-type, and no custom fields. One of our main detailed requirements concerns overtime, which is admittedly hard to get for anything but a dedicated timesheet app, but, you can "fudge it" with roles or rate-types.

Regards,
Rick

pretty_sn1 said...

Hi Rick! I tried a few tools from this list but finally settled down on DeskAway. Its a nice tool with a good and neat interface. Most important - its prices are not too high and also the features provided are good.

Rick Cogley said...

@pretty - I would say the features of DeskAway are basic, and pretty generic.

As I mentioned, it might be right for certain groups, but not all and it wasn't for me. Yes, there is time tracking in it, as pointed out, but the time tracking is under-developed as a feature and not well thought out. DeskAway developers would do well to look at Time Tracking apps like Replicon WebTimesheet or ClickTime to see all the things that people looking for time tracking, are looking for.

As for price, it's nice that DeskAway is inexpensive as you say, but if you are a PM, and you can't figure out that sometimes you need to pay for what you _need_ to have, better find another job because you'll always be stuck on the cost treadmill. Some things are worth paying for, if they save you time. As an example, if I used DeskAway in my firm, it would cause us to lose time every invoice cycle. Any savings would be irrelevant, and lost because of the large amount of human processing time it would take.

Furthermore, if you are a team using Agile or Scrum, you're going to want something that helps you with those work methods. DeskAway isn't a bespoke system for those, and so the Agile team should rather be looking at Agile tools like TargetProcess, which is flexible enough for even a non-development firm like mine to use. If for example and on the other hand, you are a small web shop, you might like MyIntervals, which even covers invoicing, something which is rare for these apps. MyIntervals is very smooth and well-done, but expects a certain process for estimation.

My point is, the decision process for choosing an app like this is complex, and I think it is worth putting the effort in to try to figure out what fits with your work methods and with your existing engagement contract agreements, and where you might adjust to fit the tool.

Regards,
Rick

Bibuska said...

I guess I can suggest you to try ProjectOffice.net. It is also an online PM tool. I'd love to hear your opinion. If you want you can even write me an e-mail @ biljana.pesevska@seavus.com.

Siddhi said...

Hi Rick,

Have you checked out Silver Catalyst - http://www.toolsforagile.com ? It's a *lightweight* agile/scrum tool. It's currently in beta. Do try it out and let me know your thoughts.

Daria said...

Thanks for checking Wrike out! We'd be glad to hear your feedback on the solution.

Rick Cogley said...

@Siddhi - thanks for visiting and for the tip. Interesting and simple app, Silver Catalyst. It does not do time tracking, so for me it would not be so good, but I think it would be good for teams that time tracking was not an issue for. -- Rick

Rick Cogley said...

@Daria - if you mean how did I find the Wrike solution, I think Wrike has some interesting and unique features. I like the way you can slice and dice views of your data and the dynamic gantt - that's very useful.

I have led projects in which email was the go-to tool, despite my trying to get people to use online systems, so I can see where Wrike would work in that situation. However, I feel that email is not the right tool for collaboration in general, much less project management, as a principle. So, I prefer to try to stay away from it. I know that goes against the basic philosophy of Wrike, but I could probably get the best of both worlds in Wrike if it were not for some important points.

Wrike had time tracking, which was key for me, but, I could not get reports with the custom fields I need (related to overtime entries for time entries), nor add custom fields / columns. So, it felt a little _too_ simple.

Further, the estimation for tasks in Wrike is weak, in its current incarnation - there's only the duration field, so you are unable to show "here's the original estimate", "here's how much time everyone has booked", "here's how much we think is left" which are the three key things you need to show clients for project tracking.

Percent complete is a mistake to use and is basically meaningless when you do PM - you need to get your team to give you the "what's left" figures, or you'll never really know the status, and clients appreciate a "remaining effort" figure more, because it converts into all-important money amounts!

I hope this gives you an idea of why I felt Wrike would not work for us.

Thanks for reading.

Regards
Rick

Hannah Suarez said...

Cheers, I came across your blog entry via Twitter. There are more than a few that I am interested in so thank you for sharing this as it has helped me save time in looking for a PM software from scratch

Rick Cogley said...

@Hannah - thanks for stopping by and I am glad it was of help.

Sincerely,
Rick

Jackline said...

Hi Nice Blog .If your time is less valuable, then it is probably less worthwhile to time tracking system.

Dan Merica said...

I think proofhub (www.proofhub.com) definitely deserves a mention on this list :) I won't dive too deep into all its task management and collaboration features, but I'd highlight that it has an interactive interface. So, it makes planning projects on the go really quick and handy.

Rick Cogley said...

Hi Dan. Thanks. FYI I moved here: http://rick.cogley.info/articles/2009/02/12/online-project-management-apps/