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 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 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 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.
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.