Leadership optimize

Free project collaboration tools that rock

Andrew Makar explains why these three project collaboration tools are worth a look: Cohuman, Asana, and Trello.

Seven years ago, project managers didn't have many choices for project management collaboration tools. Microsoft's SharePoint was just emerging as a basic file sharing and list management tool with custom widgets; Documentum's eRoom was a prominent player providing digital workspaces for team member project collaboration; IBM's Lotus QuickPlace also provided web-based collaboration yet, in my experience, was predominately used for simple file sharing.

Even though these tools offered basic collaboration for project teams, there was still a license fee or infrastructure cost to use the tools. For free project management tools, project teams turned to open source tools such as dotproject, Achievo, and other project management tools in the SourceForge repository. Despite the zero-cost price tag, these tools lacked the basic usability features we found in our client-based applications.

Fast forward to 2011 and the free project collaboration tool landscape has changed dramatically. Solution providers integrate Facebook-like Wall comments and Twitter-esque status updates into their collaboration workspace. Today's project collaboration tools are built for the mobile worker working on distributed teams and multiple projects. These collaboration tools turn the traditional "command and control" project management approach upside down and allow the team to prioritize and manage work. I spotlight three free and fully functional project collaboration tools that are worth your consideration.

Cohuman

Cohuman is Mindjet's unique social task-based solution that promotes collaboration and teamwork with a people-centric approach using task transparency, algorithm driven task prioritization, and email task integration. Everyone within the project team can see all the tasks in the project and tasks assigned to each team member. Cohuman's social approach enables team communication with social elements similar to Facebook and Twitter. The entire team can view and prioritize project tasks while keeping everyone informed via the Recent Activity stream. Project team members and stakeholders can follow specific tasks and receive updates similar to following people on Twitter. The application is organized into streams of information similar to social media applications like HootSuite or Seesmic.

Figure A

Cohuman (Click the image to enlarge.)

Cohuman creatively supports task collaboration with threaded discussion and task-level email integration. Instead of scouring your email inbox for the latest note, comments can be entered and tracked at the task level using the Cohuman application, the free Cohuman iPhone application, or simply email. I was impressed when my email response to a task comment was instantly updated in the Cohuman application. Cohuman also supports time tracking, simple task dependencies, and file integration at the task level.

The free version of Cohuman is a fully featured solution that supports an unlimited number of projects with 1 GB of local file storage. Cohuman offers a professional version for $20 per month with additional project membership control, task locking features, task data exports, and professional support. Check it out and jump right in with your fellow cohumans!

Asana

Asana is a blazingly fast collaborative task list that supports multiple projects with up to 30 users. Multiple team members can generate and prioritize tasks for the same project in real-time. Individual task lists are generated from the assigned tasks across multiple projects, and each team member prioritizes the work. Comments, notes, and file sharing are integrated into the application to enable collaboration at a task level.

Figure B

Asana (Click the image to enlarge.)

A practical application of Asana is applying it to Information Technology Security and Controls or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance audits. These types of assessment typically involve a checklist that require supporting documentation. Using Asana, the entire project team can respond with the appropriate evidence to complete an audit checklist. In large scale system implementations, it isn't uncommon to have a detailed 200 line task list to launch a new system. Asana is a great tool for this type of task-list checkbox project management.

Trello

Trello is a collaboration tool that uses boards and cards to manage a project. Projects are organized into boards that contain lists. The lists are used to represent different stages in a project or process. Within each list, tasks are written on cards, and the cards move from list to list to indicate project progress. Just as the website tagline suggests, Trello let's you "organize anything, together."

Figure C

Trello (Click the image to enlarge.)

Agile development teams can rejoice in ease of use in managing product backlogs, sprints, and user stories within Trello. Trello's voting feature allows team members to prioritize tasks so the high priority user stories are worked on first. The application isn't limited to software development, as event planning, to-do lists, blog content planning, and even business process management can be managed within Trello. The Trello development team uses the application for its own product development roadmap. If you want see what Trello is working on next, you can view the Trello development board.

What about Gantt charts, critical path, and scheduling?

Experienced project managers will note these tools lack the classic Gantt chart, critical path, and schedule forecasting found in Microsoft Project. All of these tools allow project managers to "pick a date" rather than develop a dynamic schedule, where the dates are generated for the project team. If IT teams are using time-boxing, sprint planning, and release management, these tools can still be used to support the collaborative work at the detailed level.

Conclusion

I am amazed how quickly project management tools have progressed beyond a shared, web-enabled document repository with a Web 1.0 interface. Cohuman, Asana, and Trello provide impressive collaboration features that help projects deliver better. I'm even more impressed that project teams can use all these tools for free.

About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

14 comments
Johndenham
Johndenham

I recently signed up with www.proofhub.com and using the in-built proofing tool and casper mode. i feel these features are really unique,easy to understand and awesome.

agrublev
agrublev

Another great tool i'd add to this list is Freedcamp which has been around before any of the applications on this list and has been a favorite for many companies ;)

robinsdr
robinsdr

The new version of http://www.binfire.com has many enhancements . It includes workspace and other tools for managing multiple projects. It will be out at the end of January.

DavidHarrisLH
DavidHarrisLH

Only cohuman allows dates to be displayed in the non-US format. Others are unusable outside the US. Programmers should realise that 9/11 is 9th November to the rest of the world.

tbar2112
tbar2112

I would add Podio to this list as well. It has an ecosystem around it, making it easy to extend the application as your needs change. Podio also has mobile clients for iOS and Android: www.podio.com

FreeStanler
FreeStanler

Is there any smartphone app that can sync with any of the above programs, even the web-based solutions? I think THAT would rock.

Paul Dandurand
Paul Dandurand

Thanks for the write-up. I'm glad to see a lot of movement in helping the business world get things done.

srikanthwinsome
srikanthwinsome

I like both the websites you have given here. I have seen another similar kind of tool on the web which is [b]comindware.com[/b]. Where we can manage the tasks in hierarchy wise, Desktop widgets for easily access the tasks and etc, Time tracking, Outlook integration, Customizable Dashboard and many more. comindware is giving free trail as well for try.

robinsdr
robinsdr

Andrew, great write up! A truly collaborative project management app which includes everything a team needs to plan, track and collaborate on a project is binfire.com. It has live pages so all events appear in real time to all team members, document collaboration, interactive whiteboard, group chat in addition to task management (WBS) and interactive Gantt. There is a free version for small teams. Give it a try.

avikaye
avikaye

A good list of tools, and yes, web-based management tools are improving all the time :) If you want to take a look at another excellent (and completely free :)) collaboration web application is HappyTODOS (www.happytodos.com) - If you need to manage your team efficiently, then this is exactly what you're looking for. You can quickly assign and monitor tasks, help your team focus on what really matters, and make your project managing that much easier.

VivaTerlingua
VivaTerlingua

Cohuman has a fairly full featured Iphone app. The app is made for use on the Iphone, not just a shrunk down version of their web app.

sandiemill
sandiemill

If a rocking collaboration tool is what you are looking for, then this [url=http://www.timedoctor.com]time monitoring software[/url] is for you. Simple, straight to the point, accurate and effective. It's what I am using to manage my team. I could track their work hours and monitor their work activity. It has helped us with our productivity too.