Are you looking for the best open source project management tools out on the web? Well, look no further, because I've done the research for you! In this article, I'll share with you three solid open source project management tools I've seen in my time as a project manager.
But let's begin with a more fundamental question. Why do you need an open source project management tool? Perhaps you already have Microsoft Project - doesn't that meet your needs?
Well, I suspect not.
Let me explain. Back when I was working in a global investment bank as a project manager, one of the things my team ALWAYS struggled with was issue tracking, especially during testing of software applications.
While I could create nifty project plan in Microsoft project, the monitoring and controlling of the project often requires a dedicated software tool. It's just not enough to rely on the project plan alone.So I hunted for a project management tool that provided task management, file attachment, a forum-like capability for my team members to discuss issues online. I also looked for user rights and the ability to tweak the tool slightly to my preferences.
The answer to these requirements is an open source project management tool.
Definition: An open source project management tool is free-to-use, has the ability to track and assign tasks, attach documents, maintain discussion forums and also open issue tickets. The developers of the tool also distribute the source code freely so that the user community can extend its functionalities.
Online sites like Basecamp and Huddle are, in my opinion, NOT open source project management tools. Those two and other sites like them offer project management tools in the CLOUD. Which means your project data is stored on e.g. Basecamp's servers.
Now I know this is an issue for many banks, especially here in Singapore - where regulation requires that you store bank information on-premise (i.e. on the bank's computers within the bank's building). In such cases, you should go with a project management tool that can be installed and have data stored on-premise.
So how do you know if an open source project management tool out there is any good? Well, here is a list of criteria which I jotted down. A good open source project management tool has broad functionalities, is easy-to-use, has great support from the community and is also a mature solution.
But this is harder to get right than you think. I've seen many software programs loaded to the hilt with features but they are not what a project manager needs.
And remember - ultimately, a lot of the work we do as project managers centres on collaboration. How many of the functionalities I listed above are “collaborative” in nature? That's right - almost all of them.
So, in terms of functionality, a project management tool will succeed if it focuses on collaboration and also offers a menu of features that is “just right” - not too much, not too little.
Redmine is an established open source project management tool. It has some neat features like task management, document attachments, an in-built wiki, among others.
A screenshot of Redmine
I logged on to their very nice demo website and created a test account to check it out.
After trying out the application for a while, three items stood out for me:
Strong task management and ability to attach files - One of the most important roles of a project manager is to assign tasks and track their progress to completion. Normally, you might do this with a pen and paper - not the best option because you can't broadcast the progress on the task to others in the team. Redmine allows you to create and assign tasks which are viewable or editable to everyone on the team. This ensures information is free flowing and allows better chances of project success.
Tip: Always communicate project issues to the broader team. When I assign tasks to an individual team member (e.g. Mr A), I like to also broadcast that assignment to the rest of the team. That way, if they have something on their minds that affects the task, they can let Mr A know. This kind of collaboration is best supported by a project management software tool.
As you might have guessed, this is NOT a good idea. Project notes and progress updates, as well as any changes to issue statuses should be stored in ONE central location. Redmine allows you to do that by timestamping every action that a user takes in the system.
Ok, what didn't I like about Redmine? Here's the scoop:
But somebody should tell the developers to compress everything into a single-click install package! I think that one of the things that stops many people from using open source tools like these is the difficulty of installation. Simplify the installation and I'm sure more people will start using the tool!
Alright, the next open source project management tool I looked at was ProjectPier. It's a simple project management tool but compared to Redmine, it's a little less polished.
A screenshot of ProjectPier
Let's look at ProjectPier's functionalities.
Time Tracking - One of the key metrics a vendor firm has is “billable time” - time spent by my consultants on client projects. I like that ProjectPier has a “time” module to allow the project manager to keep track of time spent on the project by each resource in the team.
User Interface. The user interface implementation in ProjectPier is, to be blunt - pretty ugly. I'll give you an example. When I checked out the user access rights screen for my project, to I found (to my horror) the security options were laid out horizontally across the top of the screen. Nobody should implement a screen like that! I think this is a high priority enhancement that should go straight to the ProjectPier development team.
Achievo is advertised as a web-based project management tool. I think it is targeted at small businesses and has a pretty good feature set.
A screenshot of Achievo
It has been in development for some time so expect its features to have stabilized.
Setup - Here's a neat thing I found within Achiveo - the ability to customize drop-down lists (e.g. categories of projects, industry, holidays) right within the web application. I didn't see this in Redmine or ProjectPier.
Document Attachment. Ok., I didn't observe any document attachment capabilities in Achievo - I suppose it is something they're still working on. The Achievo developers should take note because this functionality is fast becoming a given in applications of this type.
If a cloud-based solution is not suited to your company and you're considering an open source project management tool to install into your company, then do consider Redmine. I think it is especially powerful for small projects that need to get up and running quickly while maintaining a clean, centralized project database.
Until next time, good luck and manage those projects well!
Are you wondering how to break into a Project Management?
Would you like to understand how others have successfully switched to a PM career?
Or discover what skills, certifications and domain / industry knowledge are required to excel in a PM role?
I’ve written a practical, easy-to-read guidebook that will help you find your best path to Project Management – one that leverages your unique skills, experiences and career background to your advantage.