The Best Project Management / Issue Tracking / Task List Tool


A fool with a tool is still a fool

Grady Booch

Over the years, I have been working with a very large number of tools to track bugs, manage issues, releases, tasks, work items, milestones, ressources, costs, or … you name it. Time to give my two cents!

When it comes to tools, people tend to get very emotional. This is especially true for [placeholder]-tracking tools. Funny, because project management and bug tracking are not widely known for their sex appeal. Anyway, I remember fights among teams along the lines of:

“Jira is better than MS Projects!”

“No it isn’t!”

“Yes, it is! It can do this, this, this, and even this!”

“Ok, but Projects can do this, this, this, and even this!”

Of course, you might as well argue that apples taste better than oranges because you don’t have to peel them. It’s two different fruits, stoopid! Can’t compare them!

So here’s a shortlist of what I have recently used, and – more importantly – what I have used it for:

Software Development

At ipub, we are using redmine for the management of internal software development projects, software products and for some customer projects. More specifically, we are using the awesome redmine hosting service offered by plan.io. For a few Euros per month, you get hosting, plus git and svn repositories, plus some useful redmine plugins. And all fully integrated, backed-up, and regularly updated.

If you don’t know Redmine, it is a valid open-source alternative to Jira (plus Confluence, as Redmine contains a wiki too). Like Jira, the UX has a slightly dusty feel. But once you get the hang of it, it’s really flexible and a huge productivity booster. Redmine, Jira, Target Process, Gemini, and a long list of similar tools shine especially for techie-centric software development projects.  They are all well integrated with other tools in the dev stack (such as build server, source code repository, etc.), and usually support the development process en vogue.

Also, these tools are usually good enough for many phases and areas of a software development project, such as iteration planning, bug tracking, time reporting, release management, and sometimes even billing and invoicing. They are not best-of-breed in any specific area, but when you have a trade-off between multiple non-integrated best-of-breed products and a single, consistent tool, go for the single tool.

However, I would never ever use Redmine, Jira, or similar tools to track my shopping list. Just like I would never peel an apple…

Personal Daily Workday Planner

Each morning, I create a new note in Evernote, assign a ‘TODO’ tag, and fill it with a bullet point list. It’s more of a notebook than anything else, but I can quickly shuffle, delete, adjust, search, go back in time, move an unfinished item from the last day, etc.

The main benefit of writing such a list is that it keeps me focused. That has a lot to do with my personality, as I get distracted very easily, and tend to defer things I don’t like doing. When I plan my day in Evernote, however, I tend do the opposite: I want to see the tasks that make me feel uneasy disappear as quickly as possible. And each ticked item is a small success and something I can mentally write off. Huff.

One of the most satisfying moments in my professional life is when I notice that I have finished before lunch what, just a few hours before, looked like a daunting workload.

I admit that Evernote is particularly practical in my case, because I’m using Evernote also for note taking (e.g. with my awesome Echo smartpen), to save away web-pages, to photograph and store newspaper-articles, and many other things. A less open alternative for Windows users is Microsoft OneNote.

Shopping List and Car Wash

I’ve been trying to set my wife’s priorities using Trello. What can I say. She still sets her own priorities. That’s hardly Trello’s fault though, as Trello is really great for simple task lists, shared or individual, in private and professional settings. The mobile app is also great, and it’s free, at least for the features I need.

A viable alternative is Asana. Jason, one of my co-founders of the now defunct geldberg startup, was a huge fan of it. I didn’t click. But that’s just to confirm that tastes are … different. Alright then, Jason, wet your fingers with that squirty little orange if you really must! Or if you’re more into cherries or kiwi, there are more than a dozen alternatives, too. Basecamp, Wunderlist, Google tasks. Oh yes, and if you’re a dairy lover, then there’s even an app called “Remember the Milk”.

Good old MSProjects

Is use MSProjects for … ehm, nothing? In serious, I’m a child of the nineties, so MS Project is what I grew up with. I loved it at the time, partly because as a student I couldn’t afford the cost of a license, so it shone like an inachievable high of sorts.

Whatever, I’m convinced that the lifecycle for monolithic, rigid, gant-centric tools is over. Decommissioning…

Excel

Don’t laugh. I still use Excel quite often. Not to manage projects, of course, but to plan them. You can quickly slice and dice data, use pivot tables, make cost scenarios, etc. And with the fantastic Excel Online, you can even collaborate while staying within the borders of what is generally accepted in the corporate world.

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