August 9, 2012 - 13 comments

What’s your set up?

From where I stand, at a small agency, there are 4 major function of a PM's role:

  • Fostering Clear Communication
  • Project Planning and Maintenance
  • Time and Budget Tracking
  • Resource Planning

That list is proof that project management creates a perfect storm of activities that no single app can handle. Right now, our PM setup is a collection of tools that are good for a single purpose within project manager. I am in the middle of assessing the tools we use and find myself wishing for the unicorn of all apps. (We all know unicorns don't exist, right?

From where I stand, the unicorn of all PM apps would cover all of these bases. Here's a run-down of what we use each for:

Communication - Basecamp

We all adore Basecamp for its ease of use and ability to help with client and internal communications. In some ways, it has created more open ways of communicating without making people completely rely on email. Its API is open enough for a lot of companies to have built apps that work very well with it. For more info on how we use Basecamp at Happy Cog, check this out.

Project Planning and Maintenance - OmniPlan

Honestly, it is what it is. We can create and track single plans fairly easily. Recent updates have eliminated some features and made others more difficult. Honestly, I'm ready to jump ship. I want something that is easier to use. I also want to be able to track multiple plans within on file. With its latest release, OmniPlan did away with that capability. When you're working on a team of more than one PM, it's essential to share.

Time and Budget Tracking - Harvest

I think we found the app we love. Its desktop version is great; team members can plan their days, set up timers and easily and accurately track time. Its reporting capabilities are solid and easy to use, so  tracking budgets is super simple. There is also a great Harvest iphone app. Track time on the go and it syncs to your account. I love that, especially when I am traveling. In addition to that, Harvest allows you to track project expenses and send invoices through a simple interface.

Resource Planning - A clunky spreadsheet

This is a work in progress. There are a couple of tools out there that merit a review: Float and 10,000 Feet. The jury is out, and I am pretty excited about the prospects.

It's not horrible, because there are some really awesome tools out there But it could be better! So tell me, What's your PM set up? Are there tools that are just so perfect and amazing for your PM process? If yes, why? Or, are you working on a single tool to rule them all? I want to know about it!


Carson Pierce (@carsonpierce)
August 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Your solutions sound pretty close to what we have going on here, though we’re also in the process of making some changes. Here’s where we were:
Communication: Basecamp
Project Planning: MS Project
Time Tracking: Harvest
Resourcing: A clunky spreadsheet

And here’s what we’re moving towards:
Communication: ActiveCollab. Basecamp is great, but we’re looking for something we can self-host and hack as needed. It also looks like it may handle our ticketing needs as well.
Project Planning: EPM Live. Some of our individual plans may still happen in Project, but EPM Live allows us to have all our projects under one roof. This is great for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which I’ll mention below.
Time Tracking: EPM Live. Maybe. We may also see about integrating Harvest with EPM LIve, just because Harvest does what it does so well.
Resourcing: EPM Live. This is the big one. Having all our projects in one place means we can accurately see who’s doing what at any particular time. Can Jimmy spend a couple days on this next week? What happens if this project slides by two weeks? Can we commit to a new project next month? All easy to answer.

Note that our decision to go with EPM Live is largely based on our need to self-host. If you want a SAAS solution, AtTask seems really good, too.

Dan Tarrant (@dantarrant)
August 21, 2012 at 4:06 am

Hey Brett – I’ve been trying to find that unicorn PM app too! As @carsonpierce signs-off with, AtTask is looking to be a feature rich tool that could become that unicorn – although I’m sure at a hefty price!

Right now at @3sidedcube we’re doing the following:

Communication – Basecamp & Dropbox.
Project Planning & Maintenance – – it’s free and therefore very basic, but we’re only a small agency at the minute, so it’s doing an OK job for now.
Time & Budget Tracking – currently trialling 10,000 Feet – it’s doing the job really well at the minute, and it’s covering off Resource Planning at the same time!
Resource Planning – currently Float, but as it lacks the ability to do Time Tracking we’re exploring 10,000 Feet instead.

So not too dissimilar to yourselves in principle.

August 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

Really interesting post Brett. I always love reading about how others manage their time/tasks.

You need to save yourself some time though and get GatherContent on that list! 😀

September 10, 2012 at 11:16 am

Hi Brett, thanks for the great writing and tips. We are using:

Asana: Project task management and communication
Google Docs: Resourcing, budget, actual hours in a spreadsheet
Spring Ahead: Time tracking and export to QB
Dropbox: Shared assets

Asana replaced a number of years of JIRA for us. It does everything we need but only really lacks the ability to track time or add budgets and resourcing. Using Spring Ahead simultaneously has been a solution but not the best. I still manually make a note in a task as to the number of hours we have budgeted for each task/project in Asana.

October 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Check out it’s got it all!

November 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Hi Brett, glad it’s not just me that hasn’t found the silver bullet of Project Management tools!
At Creative Jar here in the UK we use a combination of the following:
Communication – Email (Boo hiss) and Basecamp (although we’ve found this works better externally with clients)
Project Planning and Maintenance – MS Project, Synergist
Time and Budget Tracking & Resource Planning/Scheduling – Synergist
We also use OnTime for managing features, defects and incidents whilst projects are in build, testing and live respectively.
We’ve also got an ‘interesting’ set of spreadsheets we use for analysing project performance mid-project.
Our PM function is relatively new (<18 months) so we're learning all the time and trying to keep up with a growing business that's full of ideas about how things should be done.
Anyway, if it was easy we'd all be out of a job!

Tonya Price
April 29, 2013 at 9:30 am

Finding the right software is such an important decision and has big implications for an organization and the Web team. I’m curious as to whether you’ve made any changes in your set up since August or are you still using the same combination of tools?

    May 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Tonya! We’re still using the same set up. I’m always exploring other options, but it has to seem really great (and easy to implement) for us to make a switch. What we have is working now, but I would like to narrow down the number of tools we’re using. It might come sooner than later!

Don Elliott
April 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Thanks for the insight Brett! Here at Gravitate Design we’ve recently undergone a fairly significant internal re-org and are building our PM process practically from the ground up. Previously we used a self-install of Feng Office, along with Basecamp for communication and our own internal time tracker tool.

Our new setup does away with Feng and Basecamp. Basecamp has been a struggle for us because many of our clients hate it. They are fast paced, busy people with a lot going on and they live in email, so having to navigate to bascamp has been problematic. The result is we tend to have several clients on BC and several off, creating a cluster F.

We’ve switched to OmniPlan for PM work: workload/bandwidth, scheduling and rescheduling, progress, timelines, etc.

We use Trello for internal collaboration, meeting notes, project action items and misc., to-dos, etc. (I LOVE Trello)

And lastly our own internal tool for time tracking.

We do still live in excel quite a bit, especially when it comes to calculating project costs, total time needed, etc.

Nathan Gilmore
August 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Hi Brett, Just curious if you have tried out our app TeamGantt? It’s simple and very collaborative. It also provides the solution of being able to view multiple projects in one gantt chart view. There is also a resource view so that you can see how many tasks are assigned to any one person on a given day. I would be really interested to get your take on it and hear any feedback that you have.

Also, we are working on an integration with Basecamp right now. We found that a lot of organizations use Basecamp for communication internally and with clients and don’t want to give that up. Yet, at the same time, they want to use TeamGantt to schedule out tasks. So we made a really nice integration that allows people to create todo’s in Basecamp and then schedule them with TeamGantt. It syncs both ways and is turning out really nice.

    August 1, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Hi Nathan:

    I’ve heard of TeamGantt, but have not had a chance to check it out yet! We’re just kicking off a discovery of tools to replace our clunky Google Doc, so we’ll be sure to check it out. If we have any feedback or questions, I’ll send them your way.

    Thanks so much for reading!


      August 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Sounds good Brett. I would certainly be interested in your feedback!

      Great stuff on your blog, btw!

        P Davis
        August 1, 2013 at 9:49 pm

        There is a tool that does it all. and I wish I got some benefit for posting the URL but I don’t other than your goodwill when you see how great a tool it is.

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