8 Project Management tools to maximize 2015

As we ring in 2015, I wanted to share the project management tools that I find essential to manage my projects:

Agile Task Management: JIRA

I have used Atlassian JIRA (and Confluence) since 2007, and a good product has just gotten better: Organize Epics, User Stories, Tasks, Enhancement Requests, and Bug Reports. JIRA is available as a self-hosted download — starting at $10/yr for up to 10 users, or host the same number of users  in the cloud for $10/month.

Plug-ins: The Agile plug-in (formerly Greenhopper) enables kanban and other agile boards (to do, in progress, and done). The Service Desk plug-in lets you use of JIRA as a help desk system, and includes browser code to enable public submission of bug reports into JIRA without accounts. Tempo is a robust and inexpensive time tracking plug-in. Adapters for iOS and Android enable mobile application crashes to automatically create cases and attach error logs.

Communications: Daily Stand-up Meetings

To maximize team cohesion and communication, I’ve found no better technique than assembling for 15 minutes every morning to answer three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • What issues (if any) are impeding your progress?

Ideally everyone is face-to-face, but if that is not possible then always include a teleconference bridge. I have also had great success incorporating video — in order of most to least success:

  • GoToMeeting with HD Faces (up to 6) – I disable VOIP, and I find if everyone calls in audio quality is significantly better
  • WebEx with HD Video (up to 6) – like GoToMeeting, also supports both VOIP and telephone audio
  • Adobe Connect – VOIP-only when last I used it
  • Skype Premium – if at least one caller doesn’t have a paid subscription, the audio/video quality are degraded
  • FaceTime – decent audio/video for 1-on-1 interactions
  • Google Hangouts – as it becomes more and more popular, I wonder if the fans have used any of the other tools? This is my least favorite, I find it least reliable.

Also, as previously mentioned, don’t forget to express your gratitude — your team’s hard work made your project a success.


Knowledge Management: Confluence

I  use Confluence to organize information on projects for research, government, and private companies. It has been an invaluable asset to quickly assemble and curate information that is easily editable by anyone (think Wikipedia). All changes to your content are versioned and easily comparable. Live link to issues in JIRA to quickly create real-time dashboards. I am currently an administrator of 5 Confluence instances, and prior to it used several wikis, including Mediawiki (which powers Wikipedia).


Mind Mapping: XMind

XMind screen shot - project management tools

Brainstorming and idea generation — particularly related to product management — can quickly become unmanageable. XMind allows you to quickly organize concepts into visualizations to drive understanding and consensus.

Project Scheduling: Merlin2 Despite taking a week-long class on how to (correctly) use Microsoft Project (circa), I placed it on my “lifetime ban list” back in 2006. In late 2013, I started working for a client who was pretty adamant about using MS Project, so I built a fresh Windows 8.1 VM, bought and installed MS Project 2013 64-bit, and  created schedules for each project in our program. My first issue was incompatibilities between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Project 2013, which I worked around. After a week of developing a master schedule, MS Project 2013 crashed and the file was no longer readable. 

Microsoft does not currently accept bug reports from the public, and the cost for MS Project server makes it unapproachable for all but the largest/well-funded projects, so I convinced yet another client to switch  to Merlin2. Besides being a fully functional Macintosh replacement for MS Project, for about the cost of MS Project 2013 you can purchase Merlin2, the web sharing license (functionality built-in), and the iOS sharing license (functionality built-in). This allows me to create the schedule, publish it, and allow up to 10 simultaneous web users and 1 simultaneous iOS user view and update the schedule.


Test Case Management: TestRail Though not the most robust test case management tool I’ve used, TestRail does allow teams to quickly and easily built a library  of test cases, declare milestones, schedule and track test runs, and report robustly.


Version Control: svn | bitbucket | github Version control is not just for code, I’ve found it critical to keep prior versions of Project Schedules, Requirements Documents, and in some cases presentations. A central version control repository also makes collaboration across teams. Some of this can be accomplished with tools like Google Drive, but I prefer to dogfood whatever solution my development team is using (which can sometimes boost your credibility as a PM). In the past, that has included cvs, mercurial, and svn. My current projects use github and bitbucket (SaaS source control is trendy right now), but I’d have no concern going back to svn or another solution.

Visualization: OmniGraffle Pro | Adobe Photoshop  | Skitch Pictures tell the story. While Visio is one of the better Microsoft tools, I’ve been very pleased with OmniGraffle Pro for Mac when creating diagrams, timelines, and other visualizations.

OmniGraffle - project management tools

Occasionally photos and screen shots need editing, which is when I fire up Adobe Photoshop. There are several other, less expensive applications that can accomplish your goals, but I’ve been using it since around 2000, and I’m very comfortable getting things done in there. When screen shots just need markup or redacting, I turn to Skitch from Evernote.

Image Edited with Skitch - project management tools

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