Web-based Project Planner Tools Galore!

Organizing your projects is essential to success. For years, Project Managers have used tools like Microsoft Project and OmniPlan to manage and organize projects for corporations. While these are the tools they use traditionally, there are a lot of limitations to these products, including the fact that contain clunky and unattractive interfaces. If you already understand how to use them, either because you’ve been forced to use them, or because you’ve actually been a project manager, then it may make sense to continue to use them. However, if you’re new to managing projects, or you don’t have time to really learn how to make these tools work for your projects, then alternatives exist that may just prove to drive the success of anything you’re trying to accomplish.

What constitutes as a project?

First, you want to understand what a project even is. In my opinion, anything that requires several tasks to occur is a project. For example, re-organizing your home or creating a spending budget are small projects. Building a website, or even starting a business revolving around building a website is certainly a medium-to-large sized project. Making a phone call to apply for a credit card is not a project. It’s a task. Keep in mind that any major activity requiring successive or related tasks is most certainly a project, and could benefit from some kind of project management.

What is project management?

In simple terms, project management is the act of organizing and managing a project from research (identifying requirements, researching on the web, identifying solutions), planning, to implementation. With projects requiring several people to be involved, this requires managing allocation of these tasks to various people, and following up to ensure the work has been completed. Time management is key, as inter-dependent tasks will be affected by slip-ups. A good project manager can take these sorts of things into account when the research and planning stages begin, to provide time buffers for standard problems.

The reality is, if you’re an entrepreneur, or you’re just trying to solve some problems around your home or workplace, and you’re actual occupation is not project management, then managing your project can be tedious. It can be even more difficult if you’re responsible for many projects that are all important for the success outcome. You’re not a project manager, and you have better things to do with your time than learn difficult management tools, or create one in Excel.

What tools can help with project management?

Thankfully, you’re in luck, because there are a lot of simplified tools that are available today on the web that can help. Most of these services offer a free trial or a completely free account that have limitations on the number of projects or people that can participate. It gives you a good opportunity to get a feel for the services, and actually use them to get something done.

Best Project Planning Services:

Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the original online project management tools to have surfaced over the last couple of years. It was designed by 37Signals, who also created several other interesting and useful web applications like Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, Ta-da List, and Writeboard. Unsurprisingly, they invented Ruby on Rails as a by-product of all the hard work they’ve done creating their products. Not only is it admirable that they’ve contributed the framework (translation: their framework also equals their best practices) to the public domain, but the success of Ruby on Rails has likely driven them a lot of business to their product lines. Too many companies ignore the fact that their IP (intellectual property) can be used to increase revenue is several different ways (companies like to focus solely on the products they create, and ignore the potential of selling/consulting using their frameworks, best practices, experience). But let’s focus back on the Basecamp product.

Pros:

  • Free account is available.
  • 30-day free trial is available for premium plans.
  • Dashboard consolidates information about your project.
  • To-Dos let you define action items or tasks.
  • Milestones let you track key moments of time for your project.
  • A time tracker exists, allowing you and other people track how much time they’ve spent on tasks for the project.
  • A clean and efficient design was clearly at the top of 37Signal’s priority list. They’ve made their interface very useful, and it isn’t very confusing.
  • The Dashboard shows basic calendaring details for your upcoming and past activities, such as milestones, To-Dos, etc.
  • The entire interface exudes AJAX elements, letting you make additions and changes without waiting for pages to constantly refresh. This translates to saved time!
  • Premium plans allow real-time chatting, messaging, and interactive writeboards between all the people on your project.
  • Premium plans also allow you to control who has access to various features of the site.

Cons:

  • The free account is very limited. You can not upload files to the project, and you can not have additional people as part of your project.
  • No advanced project management features, such as gantt charts, or detailed task management.
  • Plans are priced slightly higher than other services, arguably rightfully since they’re one of the first successful sites.
  • No concept of Tickets. As you develop a product, you will inherently discover bugs and problems. You really need to keep track of these as tickets, and then be able to associate them with tasks to fix the problem.
  • No integration with conventional planners like Microsoft Project or OmniGroup’s OmniPlan.

goplan

Goplan has a few things that Basecamp doesn’t. It is currently one of my favorite ones, but that is because their free account gives you a chance to really put their service to use, and Tickets are important for my needs.

Pros:

  • Free plan is very usable (2 projects, 15MB file uploads, 4 users)
  • Feels very similar to Basecamp, so it’s easy to learn.
  • Your project can have Tickets that users submit, so you can track bugs.
  • Your project can have a blog, so your team can share news and information with each other.
  • Your project can have notes, for more generalized information tracking.
  • A Dashboard exists to consolidate activity across the project.
  • Like the others, you have Tasks and File uploads.
  • A developer API exists, allowing you to extend and integrate their functionality with your own application.
  • You can subscribe to various feeds of information using calendaring software.

Cons:

  • No integration with conventional planners like Microsoft Project or OmniGroup’s OmniPlan.
  • Not enough use of AJAX functionality.

unfuddle

unfuddle has a fun design. And if you are writing code for a website or software project, they have Source Control (Subversion) as well. I personally do not like our intellectual property sitting on a remote server that we don’t control, so I don’t use this service. My big concern is that if their systems are compromised, your intellectual property is bound to get stolen. Otherwise, it’s a really pleasant service, that offers most of what goplan and Basecamp offer.

Pros:

  • Aimed at software and website development teams (Tickets and Source Control integration)
  • Free account has some things that are not available on Basecamp, such as 15MB file storage, Source Control, and RSS/iCal integration.
  • Prices are reasonable, and offer fair storage totals.
  • A Dashboard exists to consolidate information for your project.
  • Your project can have Tickets that users submit, so you can track bugs or issues.
  • Your project can have source control, allowing you to check in source control into Subversion, and track changes in their web interface.

Cons:

  • Source Control is hosted, with no current offering to integrate into a self-hosted repository. Even if it was integrated, this does not resolve the problem of your intellectual property being available to resources outside of your company.
  • Free account does not allow more than your own account, so you can not test out multi-user projects.
  • Not enough use of AJAX functionality.

Conclusion

All in all, if you pick any of these three services, you’re doing yourself a huge favor. You will have a greater chance of project success, and can keep historical evidence of your progress. None of the free accounts on these services are fully functional, but they provide a good opportunity to get a sense of the capabilities and general feel. Now that I’ve found (and used) all of them, I couldn’t imagine running even the smallest of projects without some kind of management tool.

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9 thoughts on “Web-based Project Planner Tools Galore!

  1. Timothy Miggran says:

    Well, I would say you just picked the 3 popular tools, not the best ones. I’m using Wrike http://www.wrike.com/, and it seems to be far better, than those you’ve described. It’s integrated with my inbox, so that I can create and update tasks by writing emails. It’s great in terms of graphics and task management. My favorite thing about Wrike is that I can build my own structure of projects and change it easily, so I’m not afraid to make a mistake. I also like task tagging options. May be you should have a look at it.

  2. Kevin/Timothy:

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll be sure to add this to my list and give them each a solid try. I certainly did not include every tool out there in my basic review, and I’m always open to trying tools that might have more flexible abilities.

  3. We’ve used FreeTime for over a year now and it’s great. We run a design agency and it automates all of the manual tasks that used to frustrate us – like having to fill in timesheets twice, one for the timesheet and one for the job sheet.
    It also has a time-tracking widget for our desktop, and you can put in estimates and invoices and it even has some nice graph reports that have been invaluable for comparing our clients and seeing how the business it going. I’d definitely recommend trying it.

  4. Thank you there’s some great recommendations here. From my own experience Basecamp is an excellent choice. Although open-source vesions like Project Pier, look equally as useful.

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