Setting up a new project – 4 tools you can’t miss the first time around

Everyone has the next great idea.

Just ask them, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to tell you about it. Adding wheels to a kitchen table, or jet packs in your blue blazer, everyone is an inventor in their own mind. Sooner or later you every person on the planet will have a desire to strike out on their own and make a go at bringing their idea to life. Whether you’re building a consultancy or rocket ships, there a few key apps that need to be rolled out on Day One. If you don’t have these ironed out from the very beginning, things tend to spiral out of control and make it hard for a project to ever get on track, much less stay there.

  • Collaborative Software
  • Version Control System
  • Document Repository (with versioning abilities)
  • Issue Tracking Software

Over the next few posts, I’ll outline some of the leading options for each of these applications.

1. Collaborative Software

Most new projects these days are ideas, not widgets. Most new projects are also created and maintained by groups of people. Since most of the time we’re living in this abstract realm of ideas, it is even more important to keep as much of that in one location so it can be evaluated and acted up easily by the group and moved forward. Ideas happen in the shower, but Intellectual Property is forged in the collaborative space. There are several options for creating an online collaborative space. I’m sticking to the web because it seems to me that it’s a no brainer that you want you space available to as many potential team members as possible. It’s the prototypical web-based application/service.

Mediawiki (http://www.mediawiki.org) – The granddaddy of all the wikis, mediawiki defines a pure collaborative space. It’s the wiki engine that’s most used around the world, and drives the venerable Wikipedia. It’s written in PHP, is 100% open-source, and has a huge community to develop plugins. Some of these plugins help tie mediawiki into other systems (eg GoogleDocs, version control, etc.), but it’s certainly not the focus of the application.

Trac (http://trac.edgewall.org/) – Trac, another open source application, is a bit of a hybrid software that is an issue tracking system as well as a pretty good wiki. It’s written in Python, and has been around for a long time. It’s configuration can be a little “geek-centric”, meaning that for projects that aren’t heavily software-based there can be a bit of a learning curve for your collaborators.

Atlassian Confluence (http://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence/) – Confluence is not open source. At all. I just wanted to get that out front. But it is pretty good collaboration software. Increasingly an industry leader, Confluence has a huge community and thousands of plugins to do all sorts of things. It’s a java-based application, and can be a little heavy-handed on a server. Their best deal for new projects is that they off a 10-user license for $10, and donate any proceeds to charity (I’m not sure which one right now).

I’ve been involved with projects where the data was in a lot of different locations. It’s a nightmare and I wasn’t active in that project for very long. When you can’t find the information you need, it’s a huge turn-off.

I’ve also been involved with established projects that had to migrate from one collaborative system to another. Unless you’re willing to donate entire teams of people to this task or you have a certain masochistic streak in there somewhere, I don’t advise ever doing it. Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe the process, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone completely finish the task.

So having a collaborative platform is essential, because your team can’t keep track of what it’s doing without it. And picking the right platform for your project is just as important because switching that particular boat in the middle of the river is roughly the same as hitting yourself in the head with a tack hammer every morning when you wake up.

next up: Version Conrol

7 thoughts on “Setting up a new project – 4 tools you can’t miss the first time around

  1. I think with the exception of Confluence, the tools above require a certain degree of technical expertise in order to use them. There are many other collaboration tools that may be better than the ones mentioned above.

  2. I didn’t intend for that to be a comprehensive list, only a sample of some I’ve used in the past.

    I totally agree with Trac having a steep learning curve, and even mentioned it in the post. As for mediawiki, I’ve seen some pretty non-technical people embrace and succeed with it.

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