The Search for Project Management Software

I’ve been looking for project management software to help run my consulting business. I have a small number of customers and a larger number of prospects. Some of the work is paid and some is unpaid (like moving prospects through the pipeline and developing prototypes and proposals) but in either case, I needed to prevent work from slipping into the cracks. Functionally, I needed, at minimum, the following capabilities:

  • Create a list of tasks
  • Establish durations for tasks
  • Create dependencies between tasks so that when one task is delayed (and they often are), dependents are automatically shifted. I had used Basecamp before, but it does not allow creation of such dependencies between tasks.
  • Group tasks into projects
  • Display a Gantt chart of  projects

This seemed like a reasonable set of requirements, considering Microsoft Project had these functions in its first version.

I also wanted it to be

  • web-based, so that other employees could use it when I eventually hire them.
  • free or cheap because the business is relatively poor in cash

There were a couple of good reasons why it could or should be open source.

  • The business is relatively wealthy in technical expertise (mine).
  • I envisioned customizing it and linking it into other systems.

My network query (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) yielded almost nothing. Google searches yielded a wiki page with a long list but a dearth of reviews or recommendations. Which to choose?

Since so many open source projects use SourceForge, I hit on the idea of looking for the top downloads in the project management category. OpenBravo seemed most promising because it has been downloaded a million times, over five times more than the second-place software. It claims to be a full-blown ERP system with accounting as well as project management. It runs on Tomcat. Unfortunately, my hosting relationships do not make running Tomcat software easy, so I decided to look further down the list. (In a weak moment, the engineer in me succumbed to not-invented-here angst, and briefly considered the benefits of converting the code to Ruby on Rails.)

OpenGoo was fairly easy to install, but lacks the task-dependency feature. GroupOffice seemed slightly harder to install, but also lacks this feature. I tried eGroupWare, which has an even more complex install, but I couldn’t get the project management function to work as required. The documentation wasn’t very helpful, having apparently been translated from German.

Finally, I settled on OpenProj, from Serena Software.  It is desktop-based, but at least it has the familiar interface and functions of Microsoft Project.

Tags: Business, Technical

Updated at: 22 July 2009 3:07 PM

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