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Web-based Project Management

Project Management is the art and science of planning, administrating, organizing, and tracking the completion of a project. This involves budgeting of time, money, and resources; managing dependencies (making sure tasks are done in the needed order); determining schedules; and setting obtainable goals. 

The discipline of Project Management has greatly expanded in the last several decades. One of the fruits of this rapid expansion is a variety of software tools that can be used to manage this process.

History of Project Management

Prior to the 1950s, there was no such thing as Project Management as a discreet and recognized discipline. Master builders, head engineers, and lead architects performed the role, along with foremen and other skilled-labor administrators. The boom in civil engineering and commercial industry after WWII led to the development and adoption of modern project management techniques.

These techniques, though, were based on earlier work pioneered as early at the late 1800s, in the fields of civil construction, heavy industry (mining and manufacturing), and defense.

Five Functions of Management

One of the earliest comprehensive theories of management was proposed by Henri Fayol, a French mining engineer. In 1916 he published an article title Administration industrielle et générale (translated into English as General and Industrial Administration). In it, he laid out five basic functions of management:

  1. To forecast and plan
  2. To organize
  3. To command or direct
  4. To coordinate
  5. To control

While modern management theories might object to the use of words like “command” and “control,” and may also wish to add “softer” concepts like “to lead” and “to motivate,” Fayol nevertheless has a profound impact on modern project management theory. (Indeed, any piece of project management software needs to have features which accomplish each of these key tasks.)

The critical insight isn’t just that these five things are the key functions of management, but that it is possible and useful to break down the individual components of project management and study them. This led to the development of what Fayol and his colleagues called “Scientific Management.”

Gantt Charts

Another early pioneer of the discipline was Henry Gantt, and American mechanical engineer in the late 19th and early 20th century. He published a number of books and became a well-known management theorist and consultant. His most noticeable contribution to the field of Project Management was his use of charts.

Gantt invented a number of charts to help plan the completion of large projects and track their progress. Of these many types of planning and tracking tools, one became more famous than the others and simply goes by the name of “Gant Chart” today.

A Gantt chart is a scheduling chart that tracks the length of time each task or sub-project requires. Time is measured on the X-axis (horizontally), and each task is placed on its own row in the chart.

By chaining dependencies (tasks that rely on the completion of other tasks) into critical paths (sequences of dependent tasks that cannot be shortened or avoided), a Gantt chart makes it easy to see the shortest path between starting and completing a project, and can be used during project execution to gauge compliance or predict overruns.

Besides the contribution of the Gantt Chart as a specific tool (which is still in use, especially in large organizations), the work of Henry Gantt led to the widespread adoption of graphical and tabular representations of project schedules. The burn-down charts used in the Agile software development methodology can be considered descendants of Henry Gantt’s charts.

Contemporary Project Management

The field of Project Management is extremely diverse, and a number of different Project Management philosophies and methodologies are in use.

While some people are zealously committed to one or another of these techniques, many people agree that different methodologies work best in different industries or different types of projects. The overall size of the team and the length of the project matters as well.

Task-based Project Management

Many smaller teams have recognized that attempting to adhere to a complex project management methodology brings a level of administrative overhead and complexity which actually slows down overall work completed, having a negative effect on productivity.

Rather than abandon project management altogether, they have shifted toward a semi-organized task-based approach to project management.

Rather than beginning a project with a long period of planning, followed by sequenced execution according to the plan, a task-based approach tracks the creation and execution of many small (usually one-day or less) tasks. As the needs of the project unfold, these additional tasks can simply be added to the project task list.

Project Management Software and Taks-based Management

Many of the techniques of traditional Project Management can be combined with task-based approaches thanks to the advent of easy-to-use Project Management software.

While the primary point of an interface may be tasks, those tasks can often carry attributes such as dependencies to other tasks, estimated completion time, and priority. This allows traditional insights — such as Gantt charts and critical path analysis — to be created by the software based on the available data.

Web based project management software

  • Redmine
  • dotProject
  • EGroupware
  • PHP Groupware
  • phpCollab
  • PHProjekt
  • SharePoint
  • Trac

How does Redmine compare to SharePoint?

There are three major differences between Redmine and SharePoint: price, focus, and integration. In terms of price, Redmine is open source software, so you can install and use it for free; whereas, SharePoint is licensed software with several purchasing options.

In terms of focus, Redmine is a project management application, while SharePoint is a team collaboration suite. That is not to say, though, that both aren’t capable of handling all of your project management needs. In fact, they both cross over into the other’s realm quite a bit.

Redmine includes all of the essential project management tasks (time tracking, issue tracking, project calendaring, etc.), and also includes some of the collaboration pieces you would find in SharePoint, including wikis and discussion forums. It does not, however, include file versioning, calendar sharing, online chat, a blogging tool, or publishing feature, as SharePoint does. 

SharePoint, on the other hand, is intended to provide a single location for everyone in the company to share ideas, collaborate, and find information. Since a large part of collaborating involves projects, SharePoint includes a number of built-in and add-on project management features. 

SharePoint can house all of your project information, maintain project documents and manage version controls, create automated project reports, display project metrics, and serve as a project dashboard for your key sponsors.

Because SharePoint is designed to be a complete business tool, it is also fully integrated with Microsoft Office. You can import Word files, export data to Excel, and sync your calendar with Outlook. You can also integrate other Microsoft tools, such as Yammer and OneDrive. Redmine can sync information with Outlook via a plugin, but offers little else in terms of office suite integration.

If you’re looking for a complete business solution for both your intranet, file-sharing, collaboration, and project management needs, SharePoint is the popular choice, particularly if your office works primarily in Microsoft Office. On the other hand, if you are simply looking for a full-featured project management solution and don’t need all the other business features (or can’t afford them), Redmine provides a powerful, effective tool for doing just that.

Are there cloud-based project management systems and how do they compare?

There are a number of cloud-based project management systems available, each with a slightly different focus and set of features. A cloud-based version of SharePoint is available and includes all of the same features of the server-based version, as well as deep integration with Office 365 and OneDrive. 

Confluence provides a more technical-focused management system with a powerful wiki solution, Office and JIRA integration, mockup and diagraming tools, and several plugins available to accomplish tasks such as building technical docs and a creating a project knowledgebase. 

Asana, on the other hand, provides a task-focused project management solution that can be more approachable for less-techy team members. It also features iOS and Android apps for collaboration on the go.

The options for both cloud- and server-based project management applications vary greatly, and many of the same features can be found in each. Server-based tools provide great control for your organization and more ability to customize for your needs.

Cloud apps offer the convenience of not having to maintain the software, and typically provide an easier and more secure solution for remote collaboration. While they will always be more expensive than open source software, cloud-based applications can be a cost-effective approach for smaller businesses, because they are typically priced based on the number of registered users.

For larger organizations, pricing will likely be either similar to or more expensive than a similar, licensed server-based application.

How much can I customize project management software to fit my organization?

This will vary for each application, but in terms of all the applications listed above, the answer is as much as you need to. Most of software listed here is open source, which means you are free to install and modify the code as you see fit. 

The big exception here is SharePoint, which is a commercial program and, therefore, does not allow you to modify its source code. However, because it is designed for team collaboration and publishing, SharePoint is extremely flexible in terms of visual customization, as well as being highly customizable and extendable to suite your operational needs. 

Unlike end-user software or apps, which tend to provide a fairly standardized user experience, business applications are built with the understanding that every business has its own unique needs and practices. 

Cloud-based project management applications will typically be the hardest to customize to your needs, simply because you don’t have the same degree of access or control; however, most services provide a large degree of customizable content and have the flexibility to assist your team in applying even more.

Can I run project management applications on any hosting plan?

The exact server requirements will depend on the specific application, but in general you should anticipate needing at the very least a database, adequate space to store project files, and adequate security to allow multiple users to safely access your application. In most cases, a shared hosting plan will not be a good choice.

Even if you have database access (which isn’t guaranteed with shared plans), security will be a huge concern. A VPS or dedicated server will allow you to put in many more safeguards to protect your company, your project information, and your users. If you’re considering SharePoint, you will also need to purchase a Windows server, as it will not run on any other operating system.