The Perfect Project Management Tool – Part 2
28th February 2013
In my previous post on this topic, I asked the question of whether a perfect project management tool exists, that combines all the elements required for managing a project.
For us in GCD, this includes:
- Document management – storage of spec docs, contracts, change lists, technical documents etc.
- Resource management – being able to allocate one or more team members to a project and a set of tasks within that project
- Task management – creating, reviewing, closing
- Key dates – deadlines, milestones, customer meetings
- Budget and time tracking
- Bug and issue tracking
Providing all these requirements and more, with a slick and well designed UI, is a tough ask. I had a look at several different tools, but with very specific criteria in mind – I wanted one tool that handled EVERYTHING. I came across some fantastic tools – Mindjet, Smartsheet, Asana and Version One are worthy of a mention. But in the tools I tried, only the following seemed to cover the specific criteria I had.
Zoho Projects (http://www.zoho.com/projects/)
- Document Management – allows for upload, linkages to google drive or creation through its own document creation software. Documents can be tagged and categorised as required
- Project wiki – perfect for keeping all those technical specs, server information, FAQs, common issues etc.
- Powerful task management – create milestones, and a task list for meeting that milestone. Set % complete against task. Filter tasks on team member, status or priority.
- Powerful bug tracking with customer interaction an option
- Comprehensive time tracking with ability to record time ad-hoc or against tasks created
- Poor multi-project overview – simply displaying task and milestone overviews
- No option for storing project budgets or contingencies
- Lack of any form of resource management or project scheduling
- Uninspiring UI
As a multi-purpose project management tool, Zoho Projects is very impressive. Although the UI is uninspiring, it is still easy to use and I got up and running with one of my projects very quickly. There are some great features – the wiki element was particularly impressive, a simple idea but executed very well. Also it was great to see a bug tracking module integrate seamlessly with the projects. Overall, Zoho Projects is a very impressive piece of software.
- Projects home screen that gives a very good overview, per project, of budget spent/remaining, deadlines etc. Statuses can be allocated to a project
- Impressive task management – allocate tasks to a project phase, with each phase having a budget allocated to it. Tasks can also optionally have a budget attached. “Predecessors” feature means you can specify, per task, what starting that task relies on
- Solid document management – upload a file, categorise it, label it
- Tracks time and budget together
- Amazingly customisable in terms of what columns to show on each screen
- Grid option for all forms, making data entry faster
- No resource management beyond allocating tasks to an individual
- No bug or issue tracking facility
- Uninspiring UI – usability has been sacrificed for customizability
Overall a very impressive system and not a lot in the negative column. The customisation options make it appear that you can make Quickbase into anything you want it to be, essentially giving you access to all the raw data and doing what you like with it. The lack of any form of bug tracking is a disappointment, and I couldn’t see a way to allow your customers to interact with any of the project data. Overall, another strong candidate but as a multifunctional PM tool it probably comes in behind Zoho Projects.
Work Etc (http://www.worketc.com/)
- Multi-project hierarchy – create a top level project, then multiple sub-projects, then projects within that if required – results in a very powerful multi-project overview
- Strong emphasis on budget and time tracking
- Support case feature fully integrated into a project or sub-project that could act as a very strong bug-tracking tool
- Permissions based system means customers can be included as part of project team with limited access to project data
- Seamlessly intergate documents, reminders, events and to-dos into any level of a project
- Clunky UI – the multi project level means you can get a bit lost and there is a lack of thought gone into speed of entry and re-organising project data across the different screens
The lack of any real negatives outside the clunky UI would present Work Etc as a very strong PM tool – this is true, but the UI is definitely a problem. It may be a case of getting used to it, but in the time I spent trialling Work Etc I found myself constantly losing where I was, lost in a multitude of options and layers. That said, over time you would assume this would become less of a problem and if this was to be the case, then Work Etc comes highly recommended as in terms of features that I was looking for, it was not lacking.
- Fast, intuitive and attractive UI
- Impressive task management that included ability to have discussions within a task, including uploading of documents
- Text document feature for recording notes at any stage of a project
- Flexible document management
- Emphasis on collaboration, both within team and with customer
- Poor project overview – nothing more than a gateway to access an individual project – stating you have “25 to-dos” or “3 events” is pretty meaningless
- No time tracking or budget management
- No resource management
- No bug tracking
I really liked Basecamp – out of all the tools I trialled it was Basecamp’s interface that impressed me the most – a great example of simplicity and a minimal UI, bringing the information you need in front of you. Adding info was quick and intuitive, and there were some impressive features. However, when measured against my wishlist, Basecamp seemed to fall short in a number of areas. This is not surprising, as it is not designed to be a PM tool for software developers – hence the lack of bug tracking or time tracking against tasks. But the emphasis on collaboration was very impressive, something lacking in both Zoho Projects and Quickbase.
It is clear the market is saturated with a huge amount of PM tools, with a mixture of those that try to do everything and those that do individual jobs very well. There was a feeling in the tools that I tried that when trying to focus on all areas, the UI and user experience suffered – individual tasks were slow to input and organise. Basecamp had far and away the best UI but was lacking in a few key areas that the other systems mentioned here were strong in.
Does a perfect PM tool exist? Maybe – but I haven’t quite found it. Combining the feature set of Work Etc and Zoho Projects with the fluid UI and experience offered in Basecamp would probably do it for me. However, I feel I have only scratched the surface of what is out there, so if you happen to come across a great multifunctional PM tool please get in touch!