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I'm looking for a tool to aid in managing the development and maintenance of a single web app. It will mainly be used by one project manager and one or two external developers. Until now we have been mailing an Excel spreadsheet back and forth for tracking tasks and progress, which is not sufficient for a number of reasons. This project has no formal development methodology, and the tool shouldn't require a lot of knowledge on any methodology.

The tool should:

  • Be simple to adapt to
  • Allow the follow operations on tasks: categorizing, activating/inactivating, prioritizing, estimating time needed and scheduling expected completion and required completion
  • Offer email alerts for new critical tasks or changes to critical tasks
  • Be web based, hosted
  • Be cheap or free
  • Allow exporting data for safekeeping
  • Bonus: Powerful enough for future expansions of the team and operations
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Do you use Visual Studio? –  Andrew Clear Aug 28 '12 at 19:26

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you are serious about your second bullet ...

Allow the follow operations on tasks: categorizing, activating/inactivating, prioritizing, estimating time needed and scheduling expected completion and required completion

..which I think includes MUSTs for me, regardless of one team to manage sanity of a large list of items, I would look to one of the agile backlog tools that are built around the idea of variable scope and prioritization instead of schedules.

I wouldn't get to overwhelmed with all the extras on some of the bigger options, since they can do the basics very well.

That being said, I would recommend Rally, VersionOne or Pivotal Tracker as they do offer a free version for up to some number and one project, but obviously you can then move up if you grow.

I wouldn't rack your brain to much on which one is the "best" since your team will pick one up and you will figure out how to make it work for you, especially for the basics. You would also be setting yourself up to start measuring your velocity or thru put as communicating progress and amount that can be done in a period of time become more important (if it isn't yet)

I would avoid any spreadsheet application that requires you to cut and paste to reprioritize instead of drag and drop motions.

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Have a look at Trello, a relatively new tool developed by Joel Spolsky's company Fog Creek (the powers behind StackOverflow and the Stack Exchange network). I'm using it to manage special tasks with several of my employees, and it works very well.

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Thank you for the suggestion. I've checked it out, and while it seems like a very simple and useful tool I might use in other projects, I'm not sure it's suitable for this. There doesn't seem to be a good way to assign different types of data (like estimates) to tasks without using comments. I might have to look for something a little more formal. –  Tormod Dec 8 '11 at 9:25
    
Another contributor mentioned Bugzilla. My company actually used Bugzilla for years to track our backlogs and defects. It's free and worth a look. We eventually grew too large and needed more workflow management features, and moved to the commercial VersionOne product. –  Larry Silverman Dec 12 '11 at 23:06
    
VersionOne is free for small teams, and I'm considering it. Would you recommend it if even if I don't need the more advanced functions, or would you start out with something simpler? –  Tormod Dec 14 '11 at 14:06
    
Tough for me to say. You'll have to make a judgement call. Even with 30-odd people using VersionOne, we're barely tapping its potential. If it's free, there's nothing to lose trying it out. You can export all your backlogs and defects to Excel very easily if you decide to jump ship. –  Larry Silverman Dec 16 '11 at 21:16

You can setup one of the free issue tracking systems available on the web. Bugzilla and Trac are probably the most popular free systems. On the plus side they have task categorization and support email alerts, but they require some effort to setup and maintain. These systems are designed primarily for programmers and helpdesk employees and integrate well with popular development software. This means that the programmers will probably find it easy to use, while it may not be entirely suited for the project manager.

If you want free software that focuses more on project management take a look at the project management software listed on Wiki (Note: list contains both commercial and free software). Unfortunatly, I have no experience with this so I cannot recommend anything.

The simplest solution may be to convert your Excel spreadsheet to a Google documents spreadsheet. This is free, web-based, simple to adapt and allows you to track changes to the spreadsheet. You can also send an email to all the document's collaborators, but you have to do that manually.

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Google docs has crossed my mind. It's certainly easy enough to switch to, and at least we won't have to mail things back and forth. Thank you for the wiki references, I will be researching some of those tools. –  Tormod Dec 8 '11 at 9:33

My team uses Pivotal Tracker, and in my opinion it meets all of your criteria. However, it does presume that you want to use an agile development methodology, though for the most part you can ignore the agile features that you don't want to use.

Exploring their public projects is a great way to see it in action and may help you to visualize whether you can fit your processes into that framework. Also, I highly recommend reading through their workflow explanation.

Note that Pivotal Tracker is completely free for public projects, otherwise it is relatively cheap (only $7/month for the team you described).

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I would recommend a combination of Pivotal Tracker and www.burndown-charts.com. You will get your categorizing and sorting with PT. For the metrics and analytic, go with burndown-charts. Pivotal Tracker has an API so you can export your data if you need to.

They are both very cheap.

Disclaimer: I am part of the team who made the burndown-charts.com app ;)

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