There’s Basecamp. But that would be too obvious, and their pricing scheme gets fairly steep for more than a few projects.
I’ve been looking for the perfect project management web app for a while, both for work and home projects, but every time I get bored with evaluating similar feature sets, reading two-year-old reviews posts and comparing subtly-different pricing schemes. This post is partly to help clarify my own thinking.
I think the perfect project management web app would have the following attributes:
- Clean, clear and uncluttered interface. Giving the correct emphasis to the most important information.
- Collaboration features for clients. This I see as vital for escaping from email. So many conversations are broken by Outlook’s poor threading or not knowing who needs to be CCed in. One central place to comment on design artefacts would be so much better.
- Delegation features.
- Speedy. Even fractions of seconds waiting for pages can cause frustration subconsciously.
- File versioning. Avoid getting confused by new logo v5.png, or worse new logo final final final version.png.
- Media player for MP3 uploads. Maybe this is a little hopeful.
- Affordable pricing. Go for the long tail guys!
- Data export. Don’t want to be trapped into one product forever.
- Calendar sync. All my dates in one place please.
So my search started a while ago with some Google and Delicious searches. Turns out Smashing Magazine’s article from a couple of years ago is a good starting point though some of these have more emphasis on issue-tracking, time-tracking and invoicing. Here is my own round up:
Tried this one at work. Well specified and some nice features such as replying back to email notifications to add comments online, and an Adobe Air time-tracking app. In the end, couldn’t quite get to grips with the user interface. The small icons didn’t give enough context to the objects they represented on the screen and I didn’t feel like it helped me to filter the information whether a file upload a task, sub-task or comment on any of the above.
GoPlan is a project management app made by a team based in Portugal and they offer some very affordable plans with plenty of storage space. Their home page looks attractive and uncluttered so I signed up on their slightly-hidden-away free plan. Inside, the interface is also uncluttered. In fact almost too uncluttered. Or is it so well designed that they have duped me?
I was put off a little by the speed of page loading, https doesn’t help but they really should be using CSS sprites for their visual elements, icons and buttons. It just cuts down on all those expensive https requests.
ActionMethod from NY company Behance is another clean-lines app. They also have an Adobe Air app that is effectively a more responsive version of the online version. I like the interface, easy to use and their Action Steps (tasks) are a reference to Dave Allen’s GTD paradigm.
They have nice features for delegating work and then following up with a ‘nag’. This would save time writing emails saying “hi dave, any chance you could, err, possibly give me a quick update on the foobar task you’re working on?”.
The only thing I’m unsure about is how to effectively involve clients and third-parties. Their pricing structure is by user rather than by project or storage so I would be unwilling to commit without being clear about this.
Deskaway is an Indian-developed product that I signed up to recently. My first impressions were good, they’ve clearly borrowed a few things from Basecamp, and that’s not a bad thing.
A lot of time has been spent in adding help videos and tips to each part of the interface and all the forms and workflow have been well thought through. Also noticeable is the speed, AJAX seems to have been added in the right places and the server is also zippy.
I can add users from outside the company and it will send them a customisable introductory message. I can sync to my calendar via iCal. I can sign in using OpenID and even access straight from Google Apps.
I just have a couple of concerns. On a technical note the page is running in quirks-mode, which seems a little odd these days, and the page is massively dependent on nested tables. I can live with this but it makes me wonder how extensible their framework is, and whether they are keeping up with recent thinking in front-end design. The other slight disappointment is the handling of image uploads – why not have a decent lightbox preview? And why do JPEG images get a (rather small) thumbnail preview but not PNG images? If I use the system to show off the latest widgettyzoombah.com redesign it doesn’t showcase the images well.
So no happy conclusions yet. Ideas, tips and speling corrections welcomed.