General information

Name: Twproject
Vendor: Open Lab
Hosting options: Web hosted and locally hosted
Cost: Locally hosted from 1 user per year at 45€ with an interestng non-expiring licence option for between 1 and unlimited users capped at 5000€. Web hosted from 53€ a month for 10Gb of storage and 10 users. The cloud versions go up in cost but that just buys you more storage, not more users.
Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Polish and Slovenian. Impressive!
Currency: No currency options

twproject's homepage

twproject’s homepage

Basic features: creating projects

New projects are created from the projects tab. You can tick to specify that the start date (which you select) is a milestone and the end date is a milestone. However, you don’t have to put the end date in as you’ve got the alternative option of putting in the project duration as a number of days and it will calculate the end date for you.

You can also specify the project type (you define the types) and you can mark it as a range of status types (active, suspended, completed, failed, undefined – not sure what use the last one would be).

Adding tasks to a project is done via a screen that looks very similar to the create a project screen. So I did get confused as to where I was: project or task? There is no obvious indicator but there is a link to the project tree, so if you do get lost you can use this to navigate and see what you’ve done and where you are.

On the projects home page you can see what’s been recently modified but you can’t see whether it is a project or task, which is confusing and would probably be easy enough to fix. If you need help, there is a good range of online FAQ and the option to ask for help via Twitter, although this didn’t seem to be working for the demo version.

Managing time and people

New resources are created from the resources tab. Once created they can be selected from within the task/project via assignments. You can specify the role that they play (project manager, stakeholder/customer/worker) and you can also estimate the number of work hours (operator load) required by that person.

There is a timesheet module which has a great feature where people can ‘clock in’: start the clock when you begin working on a task and clock off when you are finished. Interestingly, the button to start the timer is red, and to stop it is green (I would have expected it the other way round).

From the timesheets tab you can access ‘check worklog’ functions and see reports. These cover things like days missing or exceeding worklogs, worklog approval and analysis, assignment of priorities, operator load and overall plan. So if you have lots of projects and resources and want to really keep an eye on what people are working on, and where there may be potential issues (either resource capacity or budget), then you should be able to configure a report to fit your needs.

Resource calendar view in twproject

Resource calendar view in twproject

When a resource has entered time against the task, the task stays open until somebody closes it. Hopefully it’s a task that you visit often because then it will have a shortcut from your home page. Otherwise you need to go via the Projects tab: overall the navigation of this product was confusing.

You can set costs at both task and project level. You can allocate an hourly rate to resources which will feed into the cost calculations. Assuming everyone is doing their timesheets there’s a neat feature where you can get a quick update on the financials including current margin, so the reporting is really very good.

Keeping everyone together

The homepage shows your open projects, open issues, appointments, To Dos and what I’ve mostly visited, which is a helpful shortcut given the navigation challenges. It looks OK and once you’ve got used to it I expect you’d find it fast and intuitive to use. However, I think it is probably more suited to people who are experienced with using project management software and so understand the terminology such as ‘add child process’, ‘worklog’, ‘operator load’ and so on and who also know what reports they want and who are used to creating them. This might be a challenge for some less experienced project team members but nothing that they couldn’t overcome with some coaching.

Talking about your team, you can create ‘boards’ for free discussion. Once I’d created my board it didn’t appear automatically under the Docs And Tools tab and I had to refresh the page. This happened a lot – making changes and then having to refresh but it may be because I was using the demo version of the product. I created the board with a name and a description, but clicking on the link doesn’t show you the description which seemed odd. The new board doesn’t appear to send emails when things change so I think it’s up to your team to just browse through the list. It’s therefore only something you would want to use for general notice purposes.

Another great feature is the option to send a sticky note. You can send a sticky note via the system which will pop up as a post-it on the recipient’s homepage. How cool is that? You can also opt for them to receive it as an email too – but they must be in the system (I got excited and thought you could add someone who wasn’t in the system but you can’t, shame, but I understand why).

twproject sticky note feature

The sticky note pops up on my screen

In summary…

I really wanted to like this, as it has lots of data that will help users keep on track. And I like their marketing blurb. But I still couldn’t truly get on with it. I found navigating around the system frustrating and interaction with the team and stakeholders is limited. Changes and additions that are made rely on you refreshing pages (hopefully a glitch of the trial version only?). Whilst it’s nearly there with regard to what it can do, it just feels clunky and didn’t really inspire me to want to use it – which when choosing new systems for company-wide implementation is an important consideration.

I appreciate that the more information it holds and reports on means that compromises may need to be made – it’s not going to be as easy to use as the simpler project management tools, but usability should be a priority and it just feels that with a few small changes that would improve massively. If, for example, I have a note on my homepage that a task needs to be closed, a link to close it should be available from that message.

I like the range of reports that are available particularly on resourcing and budgets, but the terminology is awkward and might alienate people who don’t work in a project environment all the time. Having said that, it is detailed enough to track issues, but simple enough to get a project overview, satisfying different levels of requirement.

If some of these comments seem unfair, then it’s important to point out that the demo version is really slow which had an impact on how thoroughly I tested. It may be that navigation seems worse than it is because I was using the trial system. An alternative maybe that the vendor considers either speeding up the demo system, or allowing people to create individual trials like other software providers do. If I was going to invest in a locally hosted version I would want to give it a good go before committing that expenditure.

Right to Reply (update, 18/9/14)

I received the following response from one of the Twproject developers, once this review had been published. I’m grateful that they took the time to read the review and respond to the points I raised. Silvia writes:

From your post we realized several improvements in our site which we are putting in place now; in detail:

- The demo version is slow as it is a server shared with thousands of evaluators and hence surely can result as clunky – it is not an instance of the hosted versions we provide customers; for a speedy trial the best way is to install a local version. We are changing our website link structure to suggest this evaluation path.

- The hosted version does goes up in cost enabling more users and using a more performant server, not just more storage, but this shows only if you play with the number of users on the price page (we are changing that).

- The “help via Twitter” function was not updated in the demo version, we do try to answer Twitter support requests @twprojectnews.

- Just as a note, you can generate free trial licenses online and use them in locally installed versions (maybe this too should be presented more clearly on the site).

Thank you so much for your review, all the best,

Silvia

What do you think? Leave a comment!

activeCollab-logo-red@2xGeneral information

Name: activeCollab
Vendor: A51
Hosting options: Web hosted and locally hosted
Cost: From $25 for a small cloud hosted option to $2999 a year for a mega cloud option, and reasonable locally hosted prices too.
Languages:English as standard with the option of downloading German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Swedish. Plus you can translate it into your own language if you want following the documentation and you can set languages at user level – very helpful for managing an international team.
Currency: 5 standard currencies (GBP Pound, US Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Yen) but you can create any other currencies that you want with a few clicks.

Basic features: creating projects, tasks and people

Creating a new project is easy via the Projects tab. Click on ‘New Project’ and fill out the project form. You can specify the leader, category (adding a new category from this screen if the one you want isn’t in the list – thankfully not having to click out and go to settings first), client, budget and currency. Only Leader and Client are mandatory. Leader, I assume, is the project manager – maybe this terminology change is a nod to the current trend in the project management arena to talk about project leadership? Once created, the Project homepage gives you a summary of recent activities, along with project details on the right.

activeCollab tasks

Creating a task in activeCollab

It’s easy to set up tasks in activeCollab but you can’t set up recurring tasks as standard. If you host the product on-premise, you can buy an add-on which gives you this, but I’m not sure that it would work with the online version. In fact, this is a recurring theme for extra bits. There are a number of good add-ons which I imagine many users would want. What would be really helpful is a note on the sales page of telling you whether all the add-ons will work with the online, cloud hosted packages.

OK, back to creating tasks. From the Project homepage you can click on the Tasks header and create a new task. The form looks similar to the Project tab and you can add a category (adding a new one if it isn’t in the dropdown), priority level, visibility (normal or private), due date, estimate in hours or minutes (there are default numbers but you can add new ones if you regularly have a job that may take, say, 50 hours to complete). You can also say what job type is required for the task eg programming or support (but you can’t add new types from here) and label it and add people to the Project. There is also the opportunity to set a Milestone if you have suitable tasks available. You can also create tasks in activeCollab by using Gmail or Google Apps email filters, although I didn’t test that feature.

As you can see, there is a lot of flexibility and customisability available. It’s the same with resources. You can invite people to the system by email and assign them different roles such as Admin, Manager, Member/Employee, Subcontractor and Client. I like how you can give clients access with limited permissions but it means that they can be involved in discussions within the system where appropriate. When inviting a new person you can personalise the welcome message, which is especially important for outside stakeholders who might routinely delete spam-like mails. There are default permissions for the different roles, but you can override them which gives the feeling of granular control.

Viewing your project

This is where the product fell down for me. I know I have reviewed other project management software tools in the past that don’t have a Gantt chart but I just thought activeCollab was so good it deserved to have a Gantt chart available. It seems a bit strange because there is a nice Timeline view available which is effectively a Gantt chart but it is only there to give you a portfolio level overview of all projects and it can’t be used within a project – shame. There is also a milestone chart which looks a bit like a Gantt chart in terms of layout. Having said that, the calendar view isn’t bad at all and it is nice to look at and easy to use. You can drag things around on the calendar which makes it very flexible and many project team members would probably prefer that to a Gantt chart.

activeCollab calendar

activeCollab calendar view

The alert feature is also very good: it works as you would expect or you can turn off email alerts. The alternative (if you want them) is ‘notifications’. This feature is designed so that you choose when to read your messages without it interrupting your work and they just sit at the bottom of your screen.

If you do get stuck there is lots of help online via user manuals, guides and videos. They also have live chat and email support – though when I tried live chat at 7pm on a Sunday evening it sent an email – to be honest I wasn’t expecting them to be there.

Within each project you can raise a new discussion which you can either select to go out to the project group or individuals on the project. It can be pinned to the top. Discussions can be grouped by type/read/category/milestone. You can also favourite a discussion if you don’t want to miss something.

Clever reporting and financial features

There are lots of reports that will help you monitor workload and review assignments in different ways. You can configure a report and then save it for future use if there isn’t one out of the box that does exactly what you want. The reports are nice to look at with graphs where it is possible to display the data in that way. Some also have the option to export the data, but a few don’t.

activeCollab reports

All the available out-of-the-box reports in activeCollab

Financial reporting and management is a strength of activeCollab. You can log time in timesheets and state whether it’s billable or not billable and there is a timer app to download which starts and stops as you’re working. You can also do all the stuff you would expect for managing project budgets and expenses including a budget vs cost report.

There is the additional feature to send invoices. This may be useful for a small company but most established businesses use some sort of accountancy package to send invoices. I can’t see how I’d export these invoices for use in another system, but there is an API and it might be covered by that. You don’t have to link the invoice to a project and what is generated is good. If I want resources to submit time against projects for which I am going to bill (in arrears), I can see how the invoice functionality could be used. Hourly rates are set on a project level by job type. For invoicing if I have done 10 hours of programming at £30p/h I’d expect to be able to run a ‘uninvoiced’ report with the ability to click a button and invoice – I couldn’t see how to do this. The invoicing features are not something I would personally use but they are obviouly important to some clients and there is a payment gateway for receiving money so if you did use this feature you could tie it all together neatly. Great for small businesses and freelancers, less useful probably for enterprise deployments.

In summary…

I had high hopes for activeCollab. It has been around for 6 years (the online version for a year) and I had heard many good things about it. It looks lovely – professional yet still cool. Terminology and navigation both work well. But it seems like there is out-of-the-box functionality that is missing… Historically activeCollab has been hosted locally, and other businesses have worked with the company to provide Add-ons and extensions. If you host your own activeCollab installation and need extras like MS Project compatibility or system audit trails, you can buy the functionally via a third party and it will integrate within your system. Several add-ons are free for cloud users whereas hosted users have to pay.

In summary I think this is a small price for a system that is ultimately very configurable, very useable and feature-rich. Recommended.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

The Project List robot

The Project List robot

General information

Name: Project List
Vendor: Simple Focus
Hosting options: It’s fully cloud-based, so web hosting only.
Cost and plans: $10 per team per month
Languages: English
Currency: No currency functionality

Basic features: portfolios at a glance

Project List is not feature-rich project management software. It’s billed as a super lightweight project tool which was designed to replace a spreadsheet that was in use in the web design company that produced the application.

As such there are only 4 features:

  • Assignment: who is doing the project
  • Colour coding: Red/Amber/Green status
  • Percent complete
  • Notes

Yes, it’s that basic. It does give you a one-page overview of who is working on what and how it is going, so it would help if you need a clear view of your portfolio.

You can’t add tasks to a project so there are no milestones, dependencies or Gantt chart features. You literally only get the project title.

Adding resources

You invite someone to your team via email. This didn’t work particularly well for me. I think you can only add people to your team when they have the same email address domain as you. Apparently you can add people with other email addresses but I tried and couldn’t so maybe this is not an active feature of the free trial.

Staying in touch

The tool will email you daily, weekly or monthly summary updates and notifications when new notes are added, changes are made to your project or a new project is assigned to you. That’s a useful feature.

Project List email notification set up screen

Project List email notification set up screen

There is no mobile app but there is a read-only mobile version of the site. This will be made editable soon, and to be honest, that’s probably good enough.

Good look and feel

Project List is easy to use. It looks good. It has a very clean, intuitive interface which is what you’d want from something so simple (although I first tried to use it in IE8 and it looked awful – my fault for being so behind the times). You can’t change the logo or branding but it looks OK without doing that, and you can upload photos of your team members if you want.

In summary…

Although the team at Simple Focus got in touch to ask me to review Project List, I think that the product is still early in development (it was only launched last month). Therefore my review now might not be representative of the product in another 6 months. For example, it’s only available in the US, and you can’t actually pay for it unless you are based there.

However, if all you are looking for is an online tool that will let you list the projects underway with a one-line summary and a RAG status, then this will do it. I think that $10 seems like a lot to pay when a spreadsheet will do the same job, although the team at Simple Focus would obviously disagree – they designed this so they didn’t have to use a spreadsheet.

When you’ve got lots of small projects and most projects are being worked on by only one or two people, and you are split across multiple sites, then this could be a good way of giving your management team an overview of what’s going on. But it’s only of use for that. You’d need another tool to manage the task list for project task and any wider project documents so Project List has a very niche appeal.

 

My trial expired before I got the chance to take any good screenshots, so apologies for the scarcity of images in this post.

4 brilliant comments, add yours

Glip homescreen, showing everything about the current week

Glip homescreen, showing everything about the current week

General information

Name: Glip
Vendor: Glip
Hosting options: Web hosted
Cost: Free for basic features, 5GB of storage and up to 10k posts. When you run out of space you can move to the $5 per month per person model or scale up for more storage and priority support at $10 per month per person.
Languages: English (and only US timezone preferences from what I could see on the free account)
Currency: No currency options

Basic features: conversations around teams

Glip set up screen

Glip set up screen showing Martian as an option

Glip is a ‘modern business messaging’ tool according to the website and it’s probably best to think of it as instant messaging with productivity tools built-in. You can tell the sort of teams it is pitched at from the ‘industry’ drop down list you complete when you sign up. Web and software design firms are at the top and Martian is at the bottom.

When you sign up, you have to add at least one co-worker. With a free account you can’t add anyone outside of your business domain, unless you import your contacts from gmail. So if you are working with another company or people with hotmail email addresses for example, you’ll have to pay for a subscription from the outset.

When you sign in you see the main Glip homescreen which includes a summary of your week in calendar view, your tasks, recent files and favourites. The bulk of the work with your team happens in the conversation stream.

Creating a project

Oh my. Within a second of opening up my screen someone called Kip was messaging me. Eleven times. In two minutes.

Fine, have your automated online buddy to help new users but at least let me read the messages before another one pops up.

Once the onslaught had stopped, I could work out how you create projects.

The thing is, you don’t really create projects in Glip – you create teams that work on projects. Set up a team for the project by selecting the relevant members or inviting extra people and then you have a conversation stream specific to your project. You can create tasks and assign them to people from the stream, and upload the relevant files or add notes at the same time.

You can add events to the calendar so you could use that for important project meetings or milestones.

It all sounds bitty, but really it isn’t.

If the conversation stream isn’t for you, then you can see your workload through the tasks view or calendar view. You can also view all the notes and all the files so the various different types of interaction you can have with your team are all categorised and available to see separately. The calendar view is particularly good and I love how you see everything to do with this week when you open up the tool.

Keeping you in one place

One of the selling points of Glip is that it avoids having to use multiple tools to manage your work. It syncs with Outlook, iCal and GCal. It lets you email into and out of Glip if you are working with people who prefer not to use it. It’s integrated with Dropbox and Google Drive and comes with JIRA integration out of the box. And there’s a powerful search feature which sifts through all the information and returns relevant results, so you don’t have to worry about data getting lost.

Glip calendar view

Glip calendar view

It’s a lightweight tool but it has some serious development time behind it and the calibre of the management team is exemplary.

In summary…

Glip is chatter management. It stops your inbox filling up with files, notes and tasks by putting it all into one stream. It’s good at that. The search is clever, the screens are intuitive. I love the calendar view. But I miss having a Gantt chart.

That, I think, means Glip is not for me. I am not the target audience, but many teams struggling to collaborate using email would benefit from this cost-effective improvement on instant messaging.

2 brilliant comments, add yours

Will Project Management Benefit from the Internet of Things?

September 8, 2014

This is a guest post by Zach Watson of TechnologyAdvice. The Internet of Things is perhaps the new most-used phrase to describe a recent technological breakthrough. Interestingly, the hype behind this particular innovation describes technology spread over a number a machines that work in concert. The most famous cases are sensors placed into arguably mundane […]

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It’s Software September 2014!

September 5, 2014

It’s September, which means only one thing: the Software September season here at A Girl’s Guide To Project Management has started. This year I’ve been swamped with requests for software reviews (like normal) and have picked out a few that looked like fun to review. This month you can look forward to reviews of: Glip […]

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WiSE: Supporting Senior Women Delivering Strategic Projects

September 3, 2014

This post was sponsored by IPS Learning. Sometimes the best ideas come from a chance conversation. A chance conversation that Mary Simpkins had last year is what set her off on a journey to develop WiSE: Women in Strategic Execution. The Strategic Execution Conference was held for the first time last year and next month […]

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How do you build a successful project team? Tips from Microsoft

September 1, 2014

Leadership, teaming, technology adoption and measuring effectiveness are the four things that Mike Hughes, Office Business Group Lead for Microsoft Ireland believes are essential for building a successful project team. He spoke at an Ireland Chapter of PMI event recently about collaboration best practice and how to create effective project teams in the current business […]

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No time to read (The Parent Project Month 18)

August 29, 2014
This entry is part 17 of 16 in the series The Parent Project

  I don’t have time to read any more. While all the book reviews this month make it look like I sit around reading all day the truth is that I read most of them while commuting or in the weeks before Oliver was born when I didn’t have the energy to get off the […]

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Book review: Supercommunicator

August 27, 2014

“Too often, potentially great projects are dismissed by management, investors, and regulators simply because those decision makers can’t understand their value”, writes Frank J. Pietrucha in his book, Supercommunicator. “Opportunities can be missed and bad things can happen when content originators don’t explain their subjects in easy-to-understand language.” If you have recently put together a […]

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