WordPress for Project Management

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This is a call to all those interested in using WordPress as a project management tool. I’m certainly not alone in desiring similar functionality that existing project management tools offer, namely Basecamp.

There’s been some attempts that are full on plugins, but they don’t quite fit the bill, and more importantly they’re out of date and mostly unsupported.

Before I tell you my plans, let’s make the case for WordPress Project Management.

Why Would You Want to Use WordPress for Project Management?

1. Because you can
This is usually a terrible reason for doing something, but WordPress is an extensible platform that’s obviously proven it’s worth so why not add to it some really great new functionality? WordPress developers have no doubt that it can be done, but it hasn’t been thoroughly tackled yet.

2. Cost
Basecamp and other PM solutions out there are reasonably priced, but we’ve been spoiled with open-source software, so we need our “free” fix. The cost does start to get steep when you’re managing lots of projects though.

3. De-fragmentation
If I could centralize all of the web-related things I do then I’d be much happier. I’d prefer that my project management and in-development sites be more closely tied together so that my clients can more easily stay in tune.

4. Control
We “WP self-hosters” love control. I’d prefer to control my brand, my data, features…you name it.

What Does Project Management Really Include?

  • User accounts
  • Multiple projects
  • To-do lists
  • Collaboration

At its core PM generally offers those. Let’s take a look at how WordPress can handle those. We’ll also introduce WordPress MU, since it has quite a bit to offer in our case.

  • User accounts –> Done.
  • Multiple projects –> Done. You can use each child blog as a project.
  • To-do lists –> I think 2.9′s introduction of custom post types could find a use here. There still needs to be some customization.
  • Collaboration –> Done. Posts and comments.

What Else Do We Need?

So if you wanted to use WP for PM today you could do it, but it’s not ideal.

I think WP should handle PM in the front-end for the most part. This way we can control the user-interface more easily, and only provide the user’s with what is necessary. This means we need a theme.

A Theme

Really you could use any theme you wanted and using posts and comments you’d have a fairly organized setup. Of course, they wouldn’t be ideal. A step in the right direction is the P2 theme. Most importantly it allows you to post directly from the front-end. Secondly, it presents posts and comments in a more digestible fashion than the traditional blog post UI.

Most people love the Basecamp interface, so we should really look to it for inspiration. In fact, it’s so nice that I decided to clone it.

I’ve created a new theme called Basechamp. Before you freak out, I know it’s a complete rip-off. I’ve intentionally just copied it while I experiment with the PM idea. It won’t be released to the public until its got its own skin. Also know that it’s a very incomplete piece of work.

So there’s a ray of hope that achieving a project manager can mostly be achieved with a simple theme.

What’s Lacking

What this theme doesn’t yet account for is the administrator. If you’re using WPMU to set this up you can assign a theme to all of the child blogs (each its own separate project). If you’re the admin though you may want to see an overview of all projects, so we’d need to add a template that called data from all projects.

What if someone other than the administrator is assigned to multiple projects, they need an overview page as well. I need to figure out how to best implement this.

All project updates need some sort of email subscription management (subscribe to new posts and comments, daily/weekly summaries, choose to notify certain users of the new post or comment).

To-list lists and milestones need an extensive calendar system.

So, My Plans?

As you can tell, I’ve got something in the works that I plan to release at some point. I’ve already got some support behind this, but I’m interested to know who else may be interested in using this and who might want to help finish it up. Also, the theme will be a child theme for Hybrid and Justin Tadlock has already shown some interest in the project.

In the meantime, we’ll call this Project Basechamp. Give your ideas for a new name when it’s launched.

What am I looking for?

  • A new design for the theme that takes inspiration from Basecamp
  • To-do list implementation
  • Calendar support for to-do lists and milestones
  • Robust email functionality
  • General help and ideas

How to get involved

Leave your comments. Also, join the forum. Serious developers will get access to the code.

Share your Basechamp feature ideas.

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  • http://blog.tuttel.com Han Tuttel

    Dear Patrick,

    One word: Awesome!
    Awesome of you to take this on. imho there will be a lot of folks benefitting from it, me is probably one of them.

    I lack the knowledge to be of assistance in this project – but maybe me liking this project gives you at least a moral boost to continue :-)

    A suggestion I like to give you is to make the back-end control of the various projects as simple as possible. Like, if there are multiple people registered on the main blog that hosts all the project blogs, be able to ‘assign’ users on the child blogs. Only those assigned can work/contribute with the child blog.

    Also, keep in mind who will use it. There are various branches and industries working project based. Personally I love to see it catered for the marketing/communication folks.

    Thanx for this great project, wishing you success with it!

    -Han Tuttel

    • http://developdaly.com/ Patrick Daly

      A suggestion I like to give you is to make the back-end control of the various projects as simple as possible.

      For now, this will be as simple as WPMU allows since this would be totally handled it. It’s something I won’t touch (and hopefully won’t have to) until WPMU and WP merge in 3.0.

      It’s not difficult to do now, but it’s not a breeze either.

  • http://www.crosscontent.nl/ Richard Kranendonk

    Great idea! Can’t help you with the development bit, but I would certainly be interested in doing a pilot project with this. One of my current clients, a large academic hospital in the Netherlands, might be a good spot. Contact me if you’re interested.

  • Daan Kortenbach

    Great idea, even better if it could be done without wpmu.

    • http://developdaly.com/ Patrick Daly

      I agree, but I think the cleanest way of doing this requires WPMU for now. When WP 3.0 comes out it’ll be able to handle the MU functionality so it’ll be easy.

      • Daan

        You’re right. Can’t wait to see 3.0, already have a client who needs it. They run +30 domains all in different systems and hosting accounts, you can imagine the frustration and errors. I’ll be using Basechamp for that client to when and if ready.
        I’m interested in testing.

  • http://www.wpstudio.com Benjamin Bradley

    I was messing around with the concept of using the P2 theme in conjunction with Justin’s members plugin. This enabled me to control who saw what conversations. The staff was able to get a quick glance over all client communications. But each individual client (with their own logins) was able to only see their conversations. This added an additional layer of transparency for the clients to understand what was being worked on when and allowed the clients to respond to our tasks. (I was testing using this setup instead of Twitter or some other IM/email notification of project progress.)

    Not sure how this would fit into the scope of the project, but it would be really cool to add the feature of clients having a login to monitor progress on their projects if needed.

  • http://www.claromentis.com Leon

    It’s an interesting idea, WordPress and several other blogging software has what is needed for all of those things you listed, especially collaboration because that is the nature of a blog, people can leave comments, but in this case those are going to be reviews and instructions etc.

  • http://jayjohnsoncreative.com Jay Johnson

    Yeah this is the way to go. I like basechamp it has that OGL feel to it…

    As for the functionality most or ALL of what you’ve outlined can be achieved using existing plugins. It would be integrating those plugins with the release of the basechamp theme that would make it work most. I agree that WP 3.0 will definately be needed first because of the integration issues inherent with WPMU. The only reason I haven’t installed MU yet is because of the server issues it can have. But I know my webhosting company (Dreamhost) does keep the most current version of WordPress updated as a one click install and advanced updating.

    But I digress…

    I have two professional programmers I work with (I’m a designer) and they both have said they would be more than willing to collab on this project so drop me a line and let me know how we can help. I will work on a look that is basecamp inspired without being a direct plagerism of the interface.

    Also consider that there are a lot of features that basecamp does NOT possess that many users would love to have.

    • http://developdaly.com/ Patrick Daly

      Jay, I appreciate the offer to help!

      I’m pretty sure all features I’d like can be achieved with plugins, but I’d like to not use them for the most part. There should be a good set of core features, and then for extra features I’d support certain plugins.

      The biggest hurdle right now is a calendar system. I’d like to be able to associate to-do items and milestones with a calendar that works like Basecamp’s. If your guys could do that then we’d be more than halfway there.

      • http://jayjohnsoncreative.com Jay Johnson

        Will do! I’ll see what the guys can come up with.

      • http://www.theportlandco.com Spencer Hill

        The calendar, address book (for clients and team) and email can be integrated directly with Google Apps. I’d love to explain the concept more. Manymoon is a great example of what that looks like in action.

  • http://www.trendminers.dk Thomas Clausen

    Regarding the name, I think it should be called Javelin

    This is because of the origin of the word Project from Wikipedia:
    The word project comes from the Latin word projectum from the Latin verb proicere, “to throw something forwards” which in turn comes from pro-, which denotes something that precedes the action of the next part of the word in time (paralleling the Greek πρό) and iacere, “to throw”. The word “project” thus actually originally meant “something that comes before anything else happens”.

    Other than that, I think it’s an interesting idea, although I would love to see more regular themes from you, before this big project. Because you make cool themes, and it’s great to see really nice Hybrid child themes.

    • http://developdaly.com/ Patrick Daly

      I really like this idea; I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

  • http://www.mayoclinic.org Monty Flinsch

    I an an intranet researcher for Mayo Clinic and we’ve been doing some pretty heavy experimentation with WPMU as an underlying content publishing framework for our enterprise intranet (1M pages plus, 3k authors, internally hosted, behind firewall).

    We’d love to help you look at this from a large enterprise perspective and could possibly assist in development, certainly assist in building a functional model for using this as a core PM tool in large enterprises. There’s a huge unfilled niche for accessible yet powerful tools that fall in the space right between publishing and collaborating that the traditional enterprises ‘ware vendors appear to fail to understand. Mu has been a wonderful solution for our distributed, largely self-authored intranet. We’re a knowledge organization and our biggest challenge is capturing “what we know” without spending all of our time trying to populate a “knowledge management” system.

    I’d welcome any interested to contact me for more on this…
    Monty Flinsch
    Mayo Clinic

  • http://www.planningforce.com/ Ashley

    Thats a great one to hear. I have been thinking that WP can be used only as a blogging platform. This is cool to hear to use it for Project Management.

  • http://www.sellinggreaterlouisville.com Scott Hack

    How do I plug into watching this project?

    • http://developdaly.com/ Patrick Daly

      Subscribing to my blog is the easiest way. Sometime in January I should have some more show for the project. I’ve been waiting on WordPress 2.9, Hybrid 0.7, and for some of my “real” work to clear up.

  • David Whitmyre

    This is exactly what I need. I have used basecamp, but it was too expensive for what we were doing. I would gladly use this. I am not a developer or I would lend my hand. I support you moving forward with this and thank you ahead of time for all of your efforts.

    David

  • Christopher Beckwith

    Excellent!

    I currently use Basecamp at the company I work for as well as the $12 Personal account for myself (the free one doesn’t include file storage). For the company, using the native Basecamp is perfect. They offer great support, cost effective prices, and always introducing new features. I completely support all of you investing in Basecamp if working for a medium to large company with disposable income.

    However, for people simply wishing for only the important Basecamp features and look, for themselves and another person or two, this seems like a great alternative. Sure Basecamp can be affordable, but if you sign up for Basecamp, Backpack, Beanstalk, Lighthouse, Tender, etc, all of these beautiful apps add up.

    Open source solutions offer users starting out on a low budget unlimited storage, complete branding (through css), and modifying features (through html). If Basecamp increases prices or goes under, you are not out of luck as you would be self hosted. ActiveCollab started out as the perfect open source alternative to Basecamp and promised to remain free forever (in one of the posts), but as we know later retracted that by charging enormous self hosted price points.

    Thank you Patrick for your devotion to open source and let me know if I can help in anyway. Everyone be sure to checkout and use Google Apps for your mail needs, calendar, docs, and wikis for free.

    Cheers,
    Christopher

  • http://www.thakursahib.com Mridul

    Great Idea..!!! i would also suggest, you look in buddypress [plugin for WPMU] group functionality [you have registered users for the group] to assign a project, instead of using a new blog as a project[it might take lot of unnecessary resources]. my less then 2 cents..!!

  • Roland

    This is a pretty cool idea and I am interested in learning if this is still an active project or just some thoughts. From what I learned about the existing PM solutions for WP, they mostly work in the backend and don’t show up/allow to use the frontend, which can be a bummer for end users.

    I would like to see this as a plug-in for WP3/BP using groups as projects (maybe it is possible to have a project which includes subgroups for (temp) work groups within the project). The feature set of Basecamp/ProjectPier/… is sufficient and we shouldn’t worry about specialties (invoicing, etc.) for the first release.

    Is there some collaboration space already in place somewhere where I can contribute?

  • http://www.firebee.co.za Jade

    This would be fantastic, I am looking for great open source Project management web based colabaration tools

    and wordpress is just so Easy to implmenet with the fantastic CMS drivng content, I would be very keen to see your Project

  • vijay

    Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for posting this article.
    Its inspirational to see that WP can be a PM tool.
    I am a newbie to WP and am still learning the ropes using tutorials on the net.

    At work, we currently use XDK (http://www.vmtech.com/xdk.htm) a Word based Help Authoring Tools (HAT).
    The current HATs are expensive, have a steep learning curve and because of proprietary technology not easy to migrate from/to.

    I wonder if anyone has developed or is developing WP as a HAT.
    The current core features (http://wordpress.org/about/features/) in WP (even without the millions of plugins/themes available) are miles ahead of what any HAT can offer.

    In particular, WP has easy to use editor. This is a boon for collaborative management of knowledge.

    However, the one primary requirement for WP to become a HAT would be a Table of Contents (TOC).
    • Could TOC be auto-generated based on category (i.e. heading levels as categories)?
    – I have seen simple JavaScript examples for TOC.
    • The author should then be able to sort or move topics around (rearrange TOC).
    – I have not seen this feature anywhere.

    Do you think it is possible to create an advanced TOC in WP?

    Your thoughts on using WP as a TOC?

    Cheers,
    Vijay

  • http://www.petermanweb.com Blake Peterman

    This is a great idea! Anything you need I will help.

    This would be the perfect solution for web designers

  • http://www.theportlandco.com Spencer Hill

    Hey Patrick. FINALLY someone who not only has this idea but wants to collaborate with others on it openly! There are TONS of these concepts and apps out there but all of them are closed source and it’s obnoxious!

    I’ve already started development on a series of plugins to do this, and I’m pooling some existing open source code that already does many of these features to combine them into one mega application that does all of the above and a bit more. I would LOVE for us to put our brains together and work on this.

    Peace!