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We are a small engineering firm that has just expanded from one to three workers. Earlier, the managing of projects was done by e-mail, where the user sorted each project by folders in Outlook.

Since the expansion, we need to organize this for multiple users. All the project management tools I have looked at focus on milestones, task assignments, and etc.

We need something a lot simpler. The most important part for us is to have a common list of ongoing projects, current status, and all the email communications related to this project.

We deliver software that is customized for each project (by configuration files and models), and the most common workflow is like this:

Get order, a lot of communication with files that specify the details, delivery, more communication on setup and support. Then it can be years and the software needs to be updated according to new specifications and the communication starts again before a new delivery.

I have looked for months to try and find something suited for our purpose. How should I select the right project management software based on our specific needs, and how could such software be used effectively to support our process?

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Hello, did you try searching our pm-software tag or the tools tag? There are some questions hanging around that are looking for tools. Good luck! –  jmort253 Aug 16 '12 at 0:32
    
I edited the question to also ask for an explanation of how to use the tool effectively. Answers shouldn't just merely list a product or provide a link. They should explain how to use the tool to solve the problem. Hope this helps! –  jmort253 Aug 18 '12 at 0:46
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4 Answers

Skips the Tools; Build a Process

You describe your current process like this:

Get order, a lot of communication with files that specify the details, delivery, more communication on setup and support. Then it can be years and the software needs to be updated according to new specifications and the communication starts again before a new delivery.

While this is technically a process, it doesn't seem like a sustainable one from a project management point of view. PM software, however, will not really help you until you refine your process, since software should support your workflow, rather than define it.

Define Your Artifacts and Procedures

You have a number of implicit (rather than explicitly-defined) artifacts listed:

  • Delivery schedules.
  • Setup requirements.
  • Support requirements.
  • Technical specifications.
  • Customer communications.

However, even if you had a place to stick all that data, you have to formally define what you plan to do with it. For example, what is your step-by-step procedure for turning an email about delivery into a schedule for delivering specified functionality?

Assess Your Current Process

It doesn't matter what you're doing at the moment. You just need to document and formalize the current processes and procedures, so that you can:

  1. Decide if the process and procedures are working for your organization.
  2. If they are, find a piece of software to support your workflow.
  3. If they aren't, figure out what you should be doing that's different from what you are doing.

A great deal of project management is really just process management and process engineering. Based on your question, it seems that looking at tools is putting the cart before the horse. Once your processes are more mature, then you will know what criteria are important to look for when selecting your process management tool-chain.

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My team (7 members) works very well with Google Docs + physical board + Bugzilla.

We keep the backlog online in the docs, use the physical board for the current tasks (sprint) and the Bugzilla for all the communication history, files, resolutions, etc. supported by an e-mail server, i.e. everyone receives an e-mail copy when anything is added to the Bugzilla. It's simple, searchable and free.

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TFS 2012. Create a communications folder inside your project, then save and upload all your emails and call logs into source control. Then its always there, always visible, and forever attached to the correct project.

Web Access (part of TFS) will show you what projects are running, what work has been done, burndown charts, let you create tasks, track bugs, etc.

Oh, and it is free for less than 5 users, and will scale nicely when your team grows.

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If you're okay with a self-hosted option, you could try activeCollab. It's great because it allows you to manage all your projects in a centralized space (including communication, milestones, checklists > sub tasks). As for attachments, while it has a 2MB limit, you could simply use a ftp server and reference the links/paths in your notes.

So using your scenario, here's how I would break it down:

  1. Get Order - New project on activeCollab

  2. A lot of communication with files - Use a combo of the Discussions feature (you can specify permissions to restrict access) that allows you to communicate with your team and/or clients. Files: Use FTP to store all documents in one location and reference the paths in the Discussion threads.

  3. Delivery - Project Management using Milestones > Checklists > Tasks

  4. More communication on Support - Use the Tickets feature. activeCollab also has a Public Submit module that allow clients to submit tickets without having to log in.

When years have gone by and your client needs a new software, rinse and repeat with the above steps.

Link to activeCollab: It's not free, but it's a good investment with a quick ROI depending on your volume of business

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