If you freelance, youʼre no doubt familiar with 37signalsʼ Basecamp. Since launching in 2004 it has become the standard for online project management, claiming a legion of notable users such as USA Today, National Geographic, Patagonia, Threadless and Kelloggʼs. Itʼs just as popular with small businesses, non-proﬁts, independent web workers, and… me.
As a freelancer who makes a living with WordPress , I couldnʼt help but feel like a sellout using Basecamp when I knew my site was sitting on top of arguably the most extendable and powerful publishing platform on the web. Realizing I could save myself $12 per month and keep in line with my open source philosophy, I set out to create my own self-hosted project management app built on top of WordPress from resources freely available on the web.
There turned out to be a few different options.
WP-Project (download the Plugin)
WP-Project is a plugin written by Nick Ohrn that allows WordPress users to manage projects from within the WordPress admin. You can track clients, track projects by client, add and track tasks by project, and track the amount of time youʼve spent on a project. WP-Project is the most complete solution that Iʼve found for managing projects using WordPress. Itʼs fairly easy to use and has enough features that it could potentially replace Basecamp for a user like me.
However, itʼs not without itʼs quirks and shortcomings, most notably the interface. The Dashboard doesnʼt summarize your information in any useful way. It has a smashed sort of look to it. Thatʼs not to say itʼs bad, but the author knows its shortcomings and clearly intended to improve upon them.
With a better interface, this could be one of the top WordPress plugins for freelancers, period.
P2 (download the theme)
If you donʼt mind stepping outside of the project management box (you know, the one that dictates all project management systems resemble Basecamp), then youʼll see P2 is actually a pretty elegant and minimalist solution.
For those who havenʼt yet seen or used P2, itʼs a theme that allows WordPress to exist somewhere between a traditional blog and Twitter. Once youʼre logged in, you can send messages directly from the homepage via a box that resembles a Twitter status update box, but without the 140 character limit.
Why use P2 for project management? It updates in realtime! This allows for quick collaboration and planning, which is especially handy when dealing with remote workers. In fact, Automattic — the company behind WordPress — created P2 precisely for this reason.
Plain Old WordPress
Thatʼs right, you can use WordPress, unaltered, for project management. To me, this has turned out to be the least frustrating and most efﬁcient system precisely because it uses features already built into the platform, features you already know how to use.
For each project you have, create a category. Itʼs really that simple. You can create a post with whatever information, images, videos or other ﬁles you need attached, connect it to the project category and then youʼll be able to sort and comment every task as you go along.
There are probably more elaborate systems for using an unaltered WordPress for project management, maybe with themes designed with the purpose of properly organizing each project category and the posts they contain. It also might be helpful to install one of the many to do list plugins.
For me, though, simple is best and if simple works, why clutter it up with extra “features” anyway?
After checking out all these options Iʼve found the “WordPress-as-Project-Management-System” experience to be extremely lacking. The options are either simple enough that they could be replaced with Google Docs or a simple notebook or so complex that trying to use them is nearly impossible. There simply is no killer project management plugin for WordPress… yet.
I think it is worth noting that the best replacement Iʼve found for Basecamp is an open source project called Project Pier which does almost everything Basecamp does. Itʼs even themeable and they have some pretty slick options. If you want a self-hosted project management solution, Project Pier is deﬁnitely the way to go.
Iʼm sure this isnʼt a deﬁnitive list of project management solutions for WordPress, though. Maybe youʼve even found something thatʼs better than Basecamp. Maybe youʼre developing it. If you know of any other plugins or methods for using WordPress as a project management system, let us know in the comments!
JD Bentley is a freelance designer, WordPress developer and entrepreneur. His writing can also be found at wageslaverebel.com and jdbentley.com.