One of the main problematic that arises during a project is “How can we keep track of all the information from the start until the end”. Who never had an inbox full of threads, a succession of email containing changes in a document that is referring to another thread of mails, or have to dig in the mailbox to find all the necessary documents for a newcomer.
The solution to this issue, and many more, is a collaboration tool. We tried different solutions like, for example, Redmine, which ended up being too technical to be used as a true project management tool (we however kept it as an internal tool for tickets tracking on some projects). We developed our own Drupal based platform at some point; Ren. We finally sticked to Open Atrium from the Development Seed folks. The basic built-in features (Blog, Case tracker, Notebook, Calendar, Shoutbox and Dashboard) allow us to have a single place to store all of our documentations and keep discussions organized.
As we started to use it, it was clear that its feature set could go beyond straight project management. As of now we use it;
Open Atrium ended up being a collaboration tool more than anything else and we use it in all steps of our project as well as our internal discussion. Its flow is indeed very much in synch with our Agile methodology, letting us work asynchronously: another important factor for projects with teams scattered around the world. This was key to the success of projects such as the one we led on the Southern Sudan Referendum’s voting infrastructure were the team was divided between our office in Shanghai and Juba, Sudan.
On top of this, we use a range of SaaS such as Google Apps, Github; we’ll probably get into the details of that setup in a future post.
Using such a tool on our project work usually requires us to the take time of educating our clients, but that investment ends up being invariably a huge gain on both sides of the table; it provides a very high transparency of our internal processes to the customer and let him get involved graciously with our team.
In a nutshell, Open Atrium is an awesome Swiss army knife; we’d recommend you to give it a try and can’t remember the number of clients we got switch over to using it as their own intranet.