From the magazin Screenguide No. 16, Jan. 2013, Seiten 16 ff. (PDF):

gray: translation from German to English by;

black: translation by and Detlef Lindenthal (without any guarantee);

“Projects in the grip” / Projects under control

TEXT: Ansgar Hein

Before a project is successfully completed, it has to undergo many stages of work. For web workers, there are specialized software solutions that help to make these processes easier and, above all, comprehensible.
We show four solutions each of which follows a quite different approach. And we want to give hints which system is suited best for which purpose.

As different as the paths to the project goal is the way of organizing all the necessary single processes, people, documents and correspondence in the course of the project. While some web workers favour Office packages, there are others that prefer online solutions, and others utilize a mix of tools. There are several approaches: software solutions that need installing, cloud software as a service or server-based solutions that one has to install oneself. You have to decide for yourself which solution is right for you. Freelancers sometimes prefer a web-based solution, as they can reach it easily from anywhere with any internet device. Agencies, however, are more concerned to manage the data in-house on their own server.
But as usually, there is not only black or white, but shades in between.

From writing an offer to sending the invoice: You are lucky if you are supported by a project management system (PMS) in each stage of your project. From entering into the database a customer or a supplier and their contact persons up to the creation and management of tenders and project management with milestones, staff and time capture until invoicing. Complete Systems walk the fine line between customer relationship management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and provide additional features, such as accounting, evaluation, bug tracking, or e-mail features. The more a system can provide, the more complex it is to use – but is this inevitable? Modern software concepts help to keep the complexity as low as possible and to maximize the benefits at the same time. We have therefore taken a close look at four different solutions that can help you realize your projects more efficiently, while at the same time improve the quality and comprehensibility: Revolver, Troi, Basecamp and OpenProject.


Free: Under the slogan "Team collaboration redesigned" the free open source PMS introduces itself to the users []. This OpenProject is not new, but a fork of Redmine, well known in developer's circles. Therefore, there is currently not* a final version, the user can download. Soon, however, the code will be available* on GitHub for download and further development [*meanwhile, 2013-08-23, the code is available on GitHub; note by the translator – dl]. The same applies to modules that are already where available right from the start of OpenProject.
Undoubtedly, in terms of the functionality this free project management system is a more technical solution with potential for optimization in design, usability and scope. However, the fact that the software is only officially launched in October 2012, and the rapidly growing community suggest that here a solution is growing up which has potential.

Little design, much technique: Unlike the rather modern looking website, the design and usability of the PMS OpenProject falls below the competitors'. Although all the elements can serve, it has to be noted that sometimes for relatively simple functions several steps are necessary.
The creation of companies and contacts is part of the basic package; and also the managing of team members.
The real strength of Open Project lies in working on projects. Here this open source project reminds of Microsoft Project, especially the GANTT chart presentation of milestones, tasks and resources helps to obtain a (visual) overview in complex projects.
A project can be created quickly, discussions can be processed with the help of an agenda and can be archived, along with protocols. The integrated bug tracking is very useful when tuning processes have to be settled. While all the other candidates in this comparison hardly deal with technical processes in the area of programming, OpenProject offers, besides the already mentioned bug tracking, a sprint backlog for agile development using Scrum []. Besides these features for technicians, there is also the possibility to announce news and conducting surveys.
If you don't want these (or other) features to be displayed in the menu, you can turn them off in the project configuration.
Analogous to Troi, there is also a kind of intranet functionality in a separate page that can be easily customized to the user's personal needs. Unfortunately an import from external sources is missing, but this kind of dashboard helps in current projects to keep track.

Expandable: If you use OpenProject to manage offers and bills, currently this can only be done in a somewhat laborious way. On the one hand, you can create and edit budgets (including hourly rates per employee), on the other hand a cost analysis is available. From this you can create the appropriate documents manually. And you can anchor these directly into the project management system. There is still space for improvement, but the base looks promising. In future – following the example set by Mozilla – through the Open Project Foundation additional resources are to be created and expertise can be concentrated – all with the goal of developing OpenProject continously. The focus is clearly on technical requirements, which is also due to the development team and the history.
Nevertheless, the open source PMS is good for use in agency daly work. Then it is a self-hosted alternative to Basecamp, since the main emphasis dwells on collaboration and communication.

Figure 1: Open Project offers a great wealth of features, especially for technology-heavy projects
Figure 2: User-configurable and customizable: Dashboard page with clear information arrangement in containers
Figure 3: Project Planning on visual way – Gantt Chart with various setting and filter options
Figure 4: Whether you want to enter unit costs or staff costs – with OpenProject you can monitor budgets conveniently and flexible


The agency software Revolver [] is an installation solution that is primarily designed for Macs, but also runs on Windows. Up to 400 users can simultaneously work with Revolver in the network. The server is automatically detected from the client, and as a result the data with the connected clients are synchronized. The special is the fact that Revolver works fine in a mixed network of Windows and Mac computers. In addition, you can simultaneously install on a client, the server, but this is only useful for small work groups with a maximum of five connected clients. But turret waiting for other interesting features, and offers a simple interface. This is for
Mac users, however, far more intuitive than Windows users, since existing usability concepts have been adopted or continued here from Apple. Windows users need to learn this first, then come quickly but with clear Revolver. Also, upgrading to new versions is very easy: simply download the latest version and install it. No additional steps are necessary. In this way turret as far as the maintenance, almost unrivaled.
Adaptable: As the entry into turret also designed quite simple without guidance, the complexity grows with increasing functional requirements rather quickly. This applies especially to one of the greatest advantages of the software: the creation of designed templates for quotations, invoices & Co. millimeter precision can be positioned elements, so that designers are especially excited about the strict compliance of the corporate design. Unfortunately, this process is called Revolver in "design mode", not as intuitive as it might sound. No other
res system compared boasts a similar function. What Revolver offers here is rather similar to the functions of word processing. Mac users will recognize some similarity to Pages, but also Word or LibreOffice users should have no problems with the incorporation in the design mode. Only then, when it comes to more complex functions such as multipage offers, it becomes more difficult. Or if it jams times and certain fields are not displayed. Then usually helps a look at the forum, where a well-informed community can help with most problems. Not so good is represents the support, although the dissatisfaction of customers in the past was even greater than currently. Nevertheless, questions remain unanswered time and again, the show cast the net. For a time, to find this topic in the forum, but a restrictive communications policy keeps the forum now largely free of critical voices.

Figure 5: Revolver is ideal for agencies and freelancers - different versions make it possible
Figure 6: Clear and present the interface design is based on Revolver, as here in the Soll-/Ist-Kosten per project

All in one software: What is striking about Revolver is that all major components are integrated into one software. In addition to the successful management of contacts and resources (team members), the software provides a fully integrated calendar and a complete email solution. Both may seem questionable at first sight, and in fact it may be one or the other user who will mourn its default mail client. But surely only until the appropriate person learns that turret allows to assign mails to specific projects. Especially in larger projects with multiple employees, this is an advantage. All information, whether appointments, documents, reports and communications, converge in turret and can be tracked with the fast and very efficient search at any time. Also, the reporting functionality allows you to create customized reports, although the configuration - is quite complex nature - as well as in designing of design templates.
Just because turret is so extensive, it requires certain processes that require you diligent incorporation and processing of the data. Anyone who has worked previously without such agency software, will be angry about the lost flexibility because a "just" does not know Revolver. If you create offers that will cause to be tricked to acquire this flexibility. Then this can be created from the same offer also derive an invoice. This saves in practical operation time and nerves, especially as the integrated time and attendance is good effort not only for a target-actual comparison between planned by you (offer), but will also serve as a starting point, if you put bills that go beyond offering scope. The software package is rounded off by extensive import and export capabilities and interfaces with leading accounting solutions. On integrated DATEV interface can be also all data passed to almost any accounting program.
For individual fighters and teams:
Revolver is available in different versions. Even as a stand-alone solution or as a solo Revolver Revolver Office for several employees. about functional differences and prices are the Revolver website comprehensive information. From the beginning of 2013 will be released with Revolver 9 a completely revised version, to be more intuitive, efficient, and especially mobile use.


Much like Revolver Troi [] is a very comprehensive software provider, grows in version 5 with a completely redesigned interface that really stand out for numerous icons that are not always self-explanatory. However, this does not apply to the interface, which is very stringent and also very simple, but still allows for easy operation. Assuming you know that hanging in Troi almost all the essential features of projects. These include calculations, offers, tasks, invoices, reporting and documents. Especially the wide range of additional modules speaks for Troi.
In addition to a complete accounting solution a distribution module, a PR module and numerous other features can be added. This allows the functionality of Troi gradually expanding. Troi can grow in this way, with your company and the requirements. Even the basic version of Troi Creation (up to 5 employees) all essential functions are included. Additional modules can be found in the versions Troi Ability (up to 50 employees) and Troi relation (up to 200 employees).
Structured: The navigation within projects Troi gives you virtually have the workflow before. That makes it even newcomers easy to overlook the structures and quickly become familiar with the various functions. The letter of offer is almost as flexible as a manual creation in Word & Co. If you would like to customize invoices, see Troi nearly all settlement methods that are known in the market scene. It is important that you have previously calculated all the expenses - but you already have to do if you want to write an offer. Here it is clear that Troi guides you to a structured approach. Good for the complete documentation, but in practice sometimes more elaborate and time-consuming. At least when you create invoices and reports, however, significant time savings can be felt. Especially when projects are extensive. Somewhat confusingly, the UI elements are arranged, the jump part and never show up at one point. This is especially true when you add individual items: The Add button is never locate in the same place. As a result, Troi can sometimes not so easy to use and shows that there is still room to improve the PMS. Unlike all other tools, there is no open access forum. This support is very attentive and responsive.
From intranet to mobile use: The use of Troi is simple because it is a hosted solution, so to speak, a cloud service. A dedicated server is therefore not necessary. Technically Troi is based on PHP and Smarty, but that you as a user come in contact at any time. Another advantage of this solution is the accessibility of all data from everywhere, now even with a standalone iPhone app. With her all data can be viewed and edited - from anywhere. In a way, the app is almost even better user interface, since it comes appealing design and a little stringent. In addition, all contacts with the address book can be synchronized, which for people with traveling can be quite beneficial. But also for stationary use Troi offers very interesting features, such as Troi Connect. What is declared as a "bulletin board" in the system is in practice far beyond that and provides a sense a kind of intranet-ready functionality, including social networking options. Each user can import this way favored blogs, RSS streams, and more, and present a kind of cockpit. All users will always remain so up to date, and also the acceptance of Troi is strengthened, since it
is not only used as a project management system, but also as a communication channel.
Troi 5.0 has a built-in calendar, but is awkward to use. For example, all the details are laid out on a date until the date was once created and then processed again. Succeeded, however, is the possibility of appointments as a calendar and to-files export. In order for the transfer to Outlook, iCal & Co. is secured - for example for exchanging information with customers or partners who do not have access to Troi. Not possible, the management of e-mails, which means that there is an information gap is created. One problem that all solutions up to Basecamp and Revolver.

Figure 7: Troi comes up with an easy to use user interface and animated to structured work
Figure 8: New projects are created quickly, individual text modules easier to create quotes and invoices


The most popular project management system is undoubtedly Basecamp [basecamp. com]. Every week around the world choose over 5,000 companies for this solution. For $ 20 a month up to 10 projects with 3 GB memory for files
be managed. Upgrade to higher packages are also possible at any time as the terminate the contract. This makes Basecamp as a flexible solution like the fact that it is a web-based service. This SaaS or cloud-principle is consistently supported by numerous apps for various mobile platforms. Equally diverse is the extensibility of Basecamp by additional modules. Thus, there are for example extensions that connect between Basecamp and a Dropbox and numerous other modules that provide time of collection to bug tracking with automatic screenshot uploading a variety of additional functions. Since 2010, Basecamp in German language, but some modules are only available in English, which means a certain limitation.
clear: Basecamp offers a relatively straightforward functionality in the base version. It is not possible to create calculations, quotations and invoices directly from Basecamp out. For this, they can be recognized as tasks or milestones and networked via the File Link feature directly from Office out. Otherwise, Basecamp has come despite some revisions to the user interface a bit older. It gives an overview on everything from open discussions about the project to the forwarded e-mails that would probably expect some more as Cockpit page (Dashboard), but this function by looking at Basecamp in vain. The home page shows an overview of all projects, and Troi, as in all other functions are suspended on a project: discussions, to-do lists, files, and documents. In addition, a calendar function, and a timeline that automatically presents itself as a timeline based on the actions of all users involved in the project. A project plan in the strict sense does not provide Basecamp, but this can be achieved using the calendar function, just not visualize a timeline - because the other programs provide much better services compared.
User-friendly: its strengths from Basecamp when it comes to the actual project work. For example, external users can always be invited to the project and run ads or individual functions. In addition, controls are almost always exactly where users expect them. Therein probably lies the real secret of success, because the simplicity of the system makes in everyday practice often the difference.
Basecamp does not demand a specific approach, making the effort to set minimum amount of information held and the administrative burden is ultimately minimized. Use the discussion mode, for example, agreements with external parties are possible. This may prove phases of layout vote as very helpful as Basecamp automatically inform all persons involved in the process via e-mail. Answers are also available directly from the mail out program and be integrated into the discussion in Basecamp at the appropriate place. This is just one example of the simplicity that lies as an overall concept behind this project management system.
Light and Shadow: So good to discussions, polls, bug tracking & Co. can handle about Basecamp, so it's still annoying that a reliable project planning including evaluation is not possible. Even with no extension previously available. The same applies to the time and attendance or settlement. While the recording is still time to accomplish through modules [], a statement can not be processed via Basecamp. Then to third parties such as Invoicera, Harvest or Freshbooks necessary turn cause the monthly costs. However, despite this limited functionality Basecamp is a good solution because of its simplicity and professionalism and numerous interfaces for import and export as well as third-party services. Especially freelancers can use Basecamp and an Office package save time and nerves. In comparison to the other systems presented Basecamp is pure without reading a help or a manual to learn by trial and Make.

Figure 9: Basecamp is the world's most widely used and therefore the most popular project management system
Figure 10: straightforward, easy to learn and reduced to the essentials: UI Basecamp, here with calendar view


Basecamp is the easiest-to-use system, but only provides least functions.
OpenProject still needs time to grow into a serious competitor in this market, however, shows in its beta phase many useful functions. The fact that it is the only system being available free of charge, is a big plus point that should meet just start-ups or small budgets.
The two all-rounders are compared Troi and Revolver .
The target group of Troi is significantly more widespread and is not limited to agencies, which can be notices regarding the workflow. Architects and consultants come along well with Troi and find a solution that is scalable and easy to use.
Revolver on the other hand is a pure agency software from head to toe. In particular, the design mode, and full integration of calendar and e-mail make it in its Office version a perfect tool for agencies with several employees. And even the solo version offers much and costs little. For additional systems see the infobox.

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Ansgar Hein author info on page 03 Twitter account: @ screengui_de