Engineering and software design projects of even modest complexity are rarely possible without committing tasks to a robust management tool that honors the principles of agile project management, with web-based applications now forming the bulk of commonly used applications. The technical requirements of sharing workflow have generally kept pace with current planning methodologies, and the emergence of open source licensed software is now offering capable and continuously updated tools fit for almost any purpose, including large scale software development. A popular place for small software businesses to look to help cut costs over the past few years has been to investigate the open source Agile project management software available at low or now cost.
What is Agile Project Management?
Agile project management as a method of planning and implementing a project collaboratively and flexibly with stakeholders from
within the organization, and often including external participants whose input is considered essential, so choosing software that can be used online is preferable. Amongst commercial project management products the market has become saturated , whilst open source is still limited to a handful of excellent tools, and a larger number of mediocre tools, though these shouldn’t necessarily be ignored if the project is smaller or doesn’t demand a full range of software features. Software really has revolutionized the management of rapid project development.
Why Should Open Source Agile Project Management Software Be Considered?
Any project initiated using agile methodology can only be as effective as the team and tools working within the project, and whilst team selection is often out of the hands of project coordinators, the choice of software for collaboratively working together often isn’t. Pricing for software varies considerably but for small to medium sized projects, such as application development, open source licensed software can be a good choice.
How Many Open Source Project Management Suites Are Available?
The number of open source applications is unlikely to grow much beyond the current crop owing to limited numbers of programmers willing to open source their work, however in the market for agile software development a number of tools originally developed for bug tracking are now adding project planning features and becoming very capable, with the possibility some may be useful in an engineering capacity with some modification. It should be noted also that the most popular open source agile project management software tools are robustly tested and frequently updated, and tend to be developed by a core team of programmers relying on user feedback for bug tracking.
Things to Watch Out for When Adopting Open Source Agile Management Tools
Be aware the terminology can differ significantly between applications, a simple example being the use of product/project/story to define the top level iteration, a situation often made worse when software has been adapted from another purpose. Developers do this to create a point of difference from their competition, but in most cases the management and planning of projects is no different. An interesting observation about open source agile project planning software is that given the rapid nature of agile any software which satisfies the requirements of the project leader needn’t be perfect. In most cases this fallacy will tend to prove onerous as the software is used for multiple projects, and a change in software will incur time costs as participants learn the structure of the software.
What Open Source Agile Project Management Software Packages Are Available?
Open source project planning software, which can be modified to suit the needs of the project and is usually free to use, has matured a great deal in the last few years, with notable products such as Agilefant, Agilo for Scrum, Clearworks, Express, IceScrum, eXPlainPMT, TaskJuggler and the recently forked XPlanner+ gaining wide use and traction.
How to Assess Open Source Agile Project Management Software
When assessing the best open source software for the need, choosing an application due to compatibility with scrum or Extreme Programming methodology when only a handful of tools exist is probably not the best criteria, instead an analysis of the features contained within each according to the project need should be considered essential.
Many of the open source products on the market are developed by a single programmer, they can be fairly sophisticated with sought after tools and reports such as burndown charts, but often have slower development cycles. In comparing software for ongoing use it may not be sufficient to compare features, a more comprehensive approach should consider development team, feature requests, third party add-ins, and overall uptake of the software.
All of the most commonly used open source agile project planning applications have at their top level a product (analogous to a project), terminology can vary, with some supporting only a single product and multiple milestones, and others supporting multiple products.
Iterative project management is of course the norm, but users will notice that burn down charts are not common to all, and in some applications this facility can be flawed and in need of more development. Charting is also uniformly different, with each application displaying iterations in their own developer specified way.
Being aware that a feature analysis will show boxes checked without giving details is a major frustration. If burndown charting is essential, a demonstration of the software before selection should be obligatory. Larger projects will of course require user permissions and the ability to lock users out of making changes to parts of the project, such as specification, whilst still allowing access for reference, and again, the implementation of administrative level permissions vs user level implementations in open source software can vary considerably.
Given the nature of agile project management it seems surprising that user levels would even be an issue, until we remember that many project planning applications have their roots in LAN-based software, and environments where tighter controls over staffing are possible. User controls do also allow for supervision of time allotted by staff and project contributors. Commercial software may rely on plugins to track time, and open source software may include this by default. The practice of separating out modules for later purchase isn’t common in open source software.
Iterative planning is core to all of the currently available project planning software, they all assist with resource and time management, and most offer charting or reporting to find and locate bottlenecks in larger more complex projects. Some take project planning a step beyond Gantt chart drawing into the domain of intuitively managing projects, and if updated as tasks are completed have the potential to come close to emulating JIT (just in time) strategies.