*In Progress*

This entry is not a formal review. It is just some quick notes I wanted to track as I researched project management software. Hopefully others with similar situation will find the information a useful starting point.

Project management can get complex very quickly and software to help manage projects is very useful. Even small projects can become tricky to monitor, especially when they are on a fast track or involve a lot of research dependencies. A recent project I am involved in fir this criteria perfectly.

I need to track a number of small (in many cases 4-8 hour tasks) that are experimental in nature. These tasks may or may not work out as hoped. To make matters worse these experiments are interrelated and spread across multiple people. And finally, they need to tie into the larger project so decisions can be made as to when to switch tracks and use different technologies.

My goals for project management are a mix of task management, resource management, critical path analysis and communication. This would seem to place me in the Enterprise class of software. But my projects are small, often no more than 30 – 90 days and involve only a handful of people. The issue is that those people are scattered across multiple regions and the projects are highly integrated. To make matters more complex my clients require, and deserve, accurate and reasonably up to date status reports. Spending $500 per user (MS Project) plus a server is out of the question. I need a more reasonable solution.

Software (or web services) billing themselves as project management are often just task management systems. For my purposes a project management system must include resources, task dependencies, resource leveling and as a bonus critical path analysis. Most existing systems do not handle this. Once you add collaboration features all but the most expensive ($1,000+) seem to fit the bill. And those are usually so complex that they require a full time project manager just to keep up with all the jargon. Fine for large projects but not so good for small.

The most well known software for handling project management is MS Project. Today, that is about the only mid level, if you can call a $500 package mid-level, available. I do remember the day when there were many, many excellent choices. The reason why MS rules alone is not the subject of this post, but it is a disappointing development.

Some packages have a per user cost that becomes excessive rather quickly. Assuming I have a core staff of 3, and floating staff of 10 and 10 clients a year that adds up to a lot of licenses. At most 5-7 people at any one time need to access the system, and often this is only 2-3. I need a system with more flexible pricing.

Summary of criteria:

  • Reasonably priced : Under $500 for my situation and under $100 per year maintenance
  • I prefer locally installed (web or executable) over a service but will consider services
  • Cross platform, Linux, Windows and Mac : Bonus points
  • Task hierarchies
  • Task dependencies
  • Resources, full and part time
  • Tasks should be definable to hours (although days may be acceptable)
  • Calendar per resource : Bonus points
  • Resource leveling : Adjust end point if tasks are all assigned to a single user even if they have no dependencies
  • Collaboration : Per project View, Update, Add task handling
  • Critical path analysis : Bonus points

The following packages have been tested against this criteria. Many of these were found via proj.chbs.dk or Freshmeat.net.

{font-weight: bold} Package Type H D L P C Status Comments
(dark ca-no) MS Project Local X X X X NO Too expensive ($500), and requires yet another package to handle collaboration
(light ca-no) SmartSheet Service X X NO A very nice task manager with hierarchy. It is reasonable priced and I like it. But it lacks resource leveling and critical path
(dark) Open WorkBench Local X X X X Maybe Free (!) abut lacks collaboration features. It handles everything else I need rather nicely. The commerical side of this Clarity may work but for collaboration but I cannot get a straight answer on pricing
(light ca-no) Chirp (PlumCanary) Local / Service X NO I like this for task management. It is standalone with synchronization support. View/Update only users can use the free version indefinitely so that works for clients. But it lacks project management capabilities
(dark ca-no) OpenOffice Calc Local NO A spreadsheet is not a very good tool for project management!
(light ca-no) php EasyProject Web X X NO Under evaluation : Note: Must be installed locally to test, no online demo. No user calendar, tasks can be prioritized but no dependencies.
(dark) TeamElements Web / Service? X X Maybe Under evaluation : Has lots of nice features including document repository, WIKI, lists and tracker. But lacks task dependencies and calculation (est.) of end dates
(light) Streber Web X X ? Under evaluation
(dark ca-no) NetOffice Web ? ? ? ? ? Dead? Does not appear to be maintained since 2005-06
(light) TaskJuggler Standalone ? ? ? ? ? Under evaluation
(dark ca-no) Open Plan Solutions Service ? ? ? ? NO Still in BETA, no price available.
(light ca-no) phpProject.us Web X NO Not the feature set I am looking for, based on web site doc only. No online demo available
(dark) dotproject.net Web X ? Requires PHP 4.6. I am on PHP 5 so will have to run as CGI and may indicate a lack of development effort. The interface is feeling cumbersome and slow. The sofwtare is really designed for a single company systm although multiple companies can be specified. Security is tricky but dotproject can be made made to limit views to companies. Will not auto-calculate end date dependencies. Every task must be re-edited!
(light) phpgroupware.net Web X ? PENDING: Requires PHP 4.6 activly porting to 5.0.

Type: local = installed as a local executable, web = installed as web service, service = one or more components hosted by a 3rd part

Features (X = Yes, – = NO, ? = Pending):

  • H – Task hierarchy (of some type)
  • D – Task dependency (within and across activities)
  • L – Resource leveling
  • P – Critical Path
  • C – Collaboration (mutli-user via Internet)

The search continues …