Project Management 2: Tracking Progress

Posted by Roger Whitson on March 1st, 2012

One of the most important aspects of project management is – no surprise here – tracking the progress of your project. If you have a complex project that includes many technical steps, you’ll want to be able to have a formal system that tracks accomplishments, allows you to make adjustments along the way, and can help you set priorities.

At DiSC, we are currently moving from one tool for tracking digital projects to another. In this post, I’ll talk in detail about both projects, their benefits and problems.

The Trac Project

The Trac Project. Emory currently uses The Trac Project for its tracking software. The main benefit of The Trac Project is its wiki format and its open source software. These features allow you to have almost complete control over how you want to structure your projects. In our site, milestones are treated as first level headers, user stories as second-level, and individual tasks with point values as the final level. Check out my first post on project management if you are unfamiliar with user stories. Visually, the trac site for our project keeps the details of each milestone structured and easily scannable.

Other features of the site include a Trac Timeline, which creates a timeline of important milestones in your project; RSS support, which allows you to send updates to any RSS reader; Trac Ticket System, which allows you to keep track of reported bugs on the site; and the Trac Repository Browser, which gives you the ability to visualize specific revisions to the plan.

We recently decided to move to a new site to track our projects, and we did so for a few reasons. 1. It is more difficult than it should be to change priorities: Changing priorities in a particular milestone should be quick and painless, but Trac Project makes you reformat the page. 2. Communicating is pretty easy, but not fully integrated with the workflow: I’m sure people send messages to me, but the interface doesn’t make it natural for me to check.

Sample Pivotal Tracker project.

Pivotal Tracker. Emory recently decided to switch from The Trac Project to Pivotal Tracker because we wanted an easier interface, and the developers wanted me to participate more in tracking the project. Pivotal Tracker is a powerful system, but it is not open source – a fact that makes the DH side of me a little nervous. However, it streamlines the management process by simplifying the number of categories for tasks from three (milestones, user stories, tasks) to two (milestones, user stories). Potentially, you could set up a system that featured only user stories. The system also has a really easy drag and drop system for user stories, which means that you can change priorities as quickly as you can drag them to another place. There is an iOS app, so I can use my iPhone to check the progress of my project. Finally, the interface features easy to use real-time collaboration – meaning that I don’t always have to run downstairs to tell the developers something important.

I’m still getting used to Pivotal Tracker, so I don’t know all of the potential problems that might crop up. I am a little unsure about the change in workflow, and how it will impact the success of the Georgia Lynching Project. But I am also (oddly) pretty excited about using a new kind of project management software.

Tools are tools, and project management is really about people. If Pivotal Tracker gives me a better connection to the other people in my project, does that make it okay that it isn’t open source? I’m not so sure, but I’ll be interested to see how it all plays out.


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