You don’t have to be a software development company to worry about project management solutions—dotProject can be customised to your needs too
When you think “project management”, you normally think Microsoft Project, which in turn makes you think that project management solutions are for software development companies only. In a sense, this is true—the first solutions were indeed designed to make software development easier. They enabled confusion-free collaboration, and provided a way to analyse the development team’s efficiency at the end. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I need this too!” we won’t blame you. The benefits of a project management solution should be available to any organisation whose business is based on projects from clients, and more so when deadlines are tight.
Sadly, many project management solutions—both open source and commercial—are still built with software projects in mind, but there are a few that can be customised to suit anyone. One such solution is dotProject, which is very easy to get used to, and works for anyone whose work comes as projects.
To run dotProject, you’ll need a dedicated PC of modest configuration; this is a Web-based solution meant for the LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP) platform, so running it on a Linux-based machine is advisable. If you prefer Windows, install Wampserver (http://www.wampserver.com), which automatically installs Apache, MySQL and PHP on your PC. We’ll use this approach for now.
The first thing you need to do after installing Wamp is to fix the most important security hole—the administrative user for MySQL (root) has no password. To fix this, start PHPMyAdmin by clicking on the Wamp icon in the system tray and choosing PHPMyAdmin. This lets you administer your database from within your browser. Click on the Privileges link, and you’ll see a user overview. Click on the little icon next to the entry for “root” to edit it. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll be able to change the password. Now open C:\\wamp\\ apps\\phpmyadmin2.10.1\\config.inc.php, search for $cfg[‘Servers’][$i][‘password’], and enter your new password here. Save the file and restart your browser.
Before you start anything, change the root password
Once that’s done, you need to create another user with lesser privileges than root—this is the user that dotProject will use when it makes requests to the database. Go back to the Privileges page and choose Add New User. Give this user a name (let’s call it projmgr) and password, and under Global Privileges, give it all privileges under Data and Structure, but not under Administration. Your database is now ready for dotProject.
Permissions aren’t exactly a pleasure to deal with, and it will take
some time before you’re comfortable with them
You can download dotProject from http://www.dotproject.net/. Extract the contents of the ZIP file to C:\\wamp\\www. To start the installation, go to http://localhost/dotproject in your browser.
Companies can be Clients, Vendors, Government or even yourself (Internal)
The first screen gives you a list of requirements and whether your PC meets them—you can safely ignore this and click Start Installation. In the database settings, enter projmgr (the name of the user you just created) as the Database User Name, and use the corresponding password. Leave everything else as is and click Install db and write cfg. Once that’s done, use the link given to start working on your dotProject installation. Like the page says, it’s a good idea to change your admin password when you log in.
When you log in, you’re first asked to configure your dotProject system. You’ll have to change the currency and company name, naturally. You can tweak the rest as you please. Under Email Settings, you should choose SMTP and use the same SMTP server you use for your official e-mail. Once you’re done here, click Save to get started with doing some real work.
Let’s say you’re designing a Web site for a company called DummyCo. The first thing you do is create the company in your database—this makes sure that if you get more business from them, you don’t have to enter it in your database again. Click on Companies in the top menu to create a new company.
In the Add Company page, you’ll see a drop-down menu for Company Owner—this is just the person who has the right to edit the company’s details, not the actual owner. This is usually the administrator (you); it’s best to leave it at that.
Before you start adding projects, you need to add the people who’ll be working on them. Select User Admin from the menu at the top to start creating users. You should create a user account for yourself too, and use the administrator account only for, well, administrative purposes. When you’re done creating the user account, check the box to inform the user of their details, and hit Submit. The next step is to assign rights to the user you just created; this, unfortunately, can be quite tedious. To speed things up, dotProject has a set of User Roles—Administrator, Anonymous, Guest and Project Worker—which come with a set of pre-configured permissions. You can assign these roles when you create the user, or under the Roles tab when you’re editing the user’s details. You’ll likely be using the Project Worker role most often—these users don’t have access to administration modules, and have full access to the non-admin modules.
You can also set access rights for individual items—for example, you can restrict users to one specific company by choosing Companies under Module, and then the company in question under Item. In general, this is a section you’ll be coming back to a lot—it isn’t exactly a pleasure to deal with, and will take some time before you’re comfortable with it.
Your First Project
User the Projects menu, use the New Project button to get started. The details are quite self-explanatory; fill them up and hit Submit. Now comes the important part—the tasks. Before you begin with creating tasks, you should have them charted out on paper.
View a quick summary of your project and its tasks
Under the Projects menu, you can view your project by clicking on its name. In the View Project screen, hit New Task to begin creating tasks. Under the Details tab, you can select an owner for the task (the person in charge), and even create sub-tasks by choosing a parent task. The Dates tab is where you set the deadline for your task—you can enter a finish date and have the program calculate the number of working hours it’ll take, or vice versa.
If the starting of one task is dependent on the finishing of another—for example, editing an article depends on the completion of its writing—use the Dependencies tab to add the task that your current task is dependent on. Remember to check the box for Set task start date based on dependency. Finally, under the Human Resources tab, you can assign one or more of your team to it. Annoyingly enough, you’ll also have to keep removing yourself from that list. Add any comments you’d like, and hit Save—the people assigned to the project will automatically be informed by e-mail. When you go back to the View Project screen, you’ll see a list of tasks at the bottom. Click on a task’s name to view its details.
The New Log tab lets the assignee update the status of the task—progress as a percentage, hours worked, and so on, with a mandatory “worthwhile comment”. If there are any files associated with the task—Excel sheets come to mind, they can be uploaded using the Files tab.
That’s about all you need to know to start using the most essential features...
Business As Usual
Apart from tasks, you can add events to projects—meetings, appointments and so on. You also have the option to create discussion forums where your team can discuss ideas, clarify doubts, and every once in a while, goof off. When project workers are having trouble with their tasks, they can raise trouble tickets under the Tickets menu item—the ticket will remain open till the issue is resolved.
Your first few days with dotProject will likely be a little tough, but once you get used to it, you’ll find your team working much smoother than ever before.