Thursday, July 07, 2005

Project management tools

We've done a lot of project management over the years, both for ourselves (of course) but for many companies large and small...mostly large. It is still surprising how few of them use what we consider the basics: a good defect tracking system and a good version control platform.

Even if a company has some defect system in place, it is usually internal and can't be accessed by third-party members of the team. Nowadays it is very likely that a project has multiple companies and multiple vendors spread throughout the country and throughout the world. This gets even more complicated when you consider each vendor may (or most likely does not) have their own tracking system.

For example, a recent project of ours had the following partners:

  • Main Fortune 10 customer located in California
  • Middleware vendor located in another city in California
  • Software codecs developed by a company in Boston
  • Wireless drivers by a partner in Florida
  • Quality assurance in Houston
  • Project management, software, and documentation (Softeq) in Houston
  • Manufacturing in Taiwan

To manage a project successfully, they all need access.

For that project, we used software called TestTrack Pro by Seapine. We host the software on our servers, set up a project database, and add accounts for all the vendors. It is middle ground for all the vendors (no harried IT departments worried about external access to their network). The interface is browser based. When an item is added to the project, the person assigned gets an email. It works extremely well and we've successfully shipped many products this way.

Lately we've started using FogBugz by Fog Creek Software. The approach is similar to TestTrack but with one important difference: FogBugz keeps it simple to encourage usage. Designed by Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame, Joel feels that "Project management software doesn’t work unless it gets used, so FogBugz is full of features designed to make people use it." That solves one of the issues when throwing together multiple vendors -- it helps to show the system is quick and easy to learn. After all, there are deadlines and no one wants added tasks that get in the way.

We're currently using FogBugz on two of our projects (one hardware, one software) and it works well. Our partners are spread out from Korea to Russia, but our defects and feature lists are all in one place.

We'll talk about version control in the next post or so.