Project Management Systems Suck

Use Slack for most things instead

There are way too many of project management systems. Of course, there are the well known ones: Base Camp, Trello, JIRA are the big three in my mind.

But there’s a long tail out there: Ganttic, Team Week, Hub Planner, Flow, Teamgrid, netsuite, ResourceGuru, Harvest Forecast, Zoho projects, Wrike, Liquidplanner, Odoo. The list goes on forever.

And everyone has their own opinion on which one is the best, of course.

Through it all, one thing became clear to me; these companies all more or less sell a lie: “Use our system and you won’t ever have to think about managing tasks again.”

For a long time, I believed some of this lie. I wouldn’t have stated it that way. But I acted like it.

Task management systems aren’t for you to manage your tasks. They’re for a bunch of people to have a clue as to what each other have done, and most can handle that just fine. What they all struggle with is getting a rough idea to where everyone is right now.

Making software is hard enough by itself with yourself, but teams throw a monkey wrench. Getting a dozen cats headed in the same direction is often easier than getting 6 devs. And the reason is usually pretty simple: coordination around tasks is mainly a communication problem.

Unfortunately, most PM systems straight up ignore how a team coordinates around a project. Some of them make a paltry attempt at feeds or daily reports. But that doesn’t help you right now.

Resurrect the Channel

At my work, we use Slack to work around this problem. (You could use HipChat, but I feel like it has a long way to go still.)

It gives you that magical “hanging around the water cooler” feel by segmenting conversations into channels. Segment by team or by project or product, and you’ll find suddenly people know more what’s going on.

Sure, you can just use IRC and have channels. But that’s just the beginning of the magic of Slack. Once you plugin Jenkins and Github and XYZ tool, so that you can see when a commit is made or when a build fails, Slack transforms into this thing that gives you a meaningful look into a project’s now.

Don’t get me wrong. You still need the project management system for the traceability of pieces of work. But honestly, that’s mostly for having an idea of what’s been done over time, a life saver in what-the-crap-happened situations. And if you have them tied into a billing or time tracking system, then it becomes an operational efficiency thing.

But on the whole, PM systems suck at the one thing they should be doing: allowing a project to be managed for right now.