Freelancing with WordPress: Using WordPress as a Project Management App

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Freelancing with WordPress, Project Management

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.

Screenshot of WP Project in the Plugins directory

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.

P2 theme screenshot

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?

Conclusion

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.

41 thoughts on “Freelancing with WordPress: Using WordPress as a Project Management App

  1. I think (rather, I hope) this is one of those areas that we see a lot of innovation happening in the future. I come away from this post thinking that while there isn’t anything kick ass right now, there is a ton of potential. The potential is proven, in WP-Project and in P2. I’ll be interested to see what all of the savvy developers out there can come up with in the coming year.

    Great post, JD!

  2. Yeah, I really do like WP-Project, but its interface is a deal breaker. I’ve contacted Nick Ohrn about taking it over and he’s given me commit access to the WP.org repository.

    I’ve started trying to cleanup the interface, but I’m no expert with PHP. Here’s how WP-Project is running on my server right now:

    http://img521.imageshack.us/img521/3844/picture5s.jpg

    Seeing it makes me excited to use it and it’s a great start but it can be so much better.

    I feel like a lot can be done with it. If anyone has anything to contribute feel free to!

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  4. We’ve used WP to create an internal project manager as a test using the PODS plugin http://pods.uproot.us/ (similar to FreshPage/Post – now Flutter) which uses it’s own DB entries and custom content types etc. – it had varying success depending upon what new features we added.

    @JD Bentley – I’m interested to know if your image is simply showing a CSS styled WP-Project Admin page or if you’ve used something to push this out to a public facing site using a login/roles.

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  6. I’ve been going off about using wordpress as a basecamp alternative for ages now and I think the plugins that are floating about can be used to create something which looks & works almost 100% like basecamp.

    I’d be interested to work on something like this with a partner developer. Freshpages/Flutter looks like it could be used to a lare degree to create a PM admin dashboard with custom write panels.

    Custom Taxonomies could also be exploited to create various data types.

    I know it can/must be done but am too bogged down to go it alone!!! Need partners.

    @JD Bentley, are you running an older version of WordPress, WP-Project hasn’t been updated for a while!

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  9. @nomadone: JD is running current WP and Plugin versions, he just displayed the changes he made to the Plugin. Encourage him to keep working on it, maybe he’ll be kind enough to release it for the rest of us 😉

    And great idea. It’s a prime landscape for someone to develop something outstanding, we just haven’t seen it yet.

  10. I loved developing WP-Project and thought it could be a big success when I first released it. While the first version didn’t have as many features as I would have liked and it had some bugs, I thought that it would be enough to generate some buzz.

    Instead, all I received were comments like “Why doesn’t it do scheduling?” and “This isn’t enough like Basecamp.” It was kind of depressing and that’s why I have left the plugin dormant over the last year (that and I have been busy with full time custom WordPress plugin development).

    Now that I see there are some people who would be interested in using the plugin, I’d love to pick it back up and, using the skills I’ve developed over the last year and a half, make it totally kick ass. I’ll probably start with a full rewrite and I’m blocking out a Monday and Tuesday (27th and 28th of July) just to work on my GPLed plugins. If you’re interested in contributing ideas or suggestions for WP-Project, please send them to me directly via email at [email protected]. I’ll make a list and get to cracking on the features everyone wants. I’m also open to interface mockups if you really want to help me out 😉

    Oh, and what’s with the lack of link love in the post 😛

  11. @Nick Ohrn Sounds great Nick 🙂 People can be pretty demanding sometimes, so I understand how that would burn you out on a project like this.

    Lack of link love? There’s a link right next to the Plugin’s extend page right next to the heading.

  12. @Nick Ohrn

    Hey, man! Glad to hear you’re back on board with WP-Project! You’ve already seen the interface redesign I did for it. I’d be really interested in contributing that. I suck at PHP, though, so while I got the look I wanted, I couldn’t give it the functionality I wanted.

    I’m up for working on it, though, whichever route you take.

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  20. Something I never even considered.

    Great post! I have my gripes with Basecamp so maybe WordPress is the answer I didn’t know I was looking for.

    Thanks.

  21. I have actually looked into this in the past with no luck so this is definitely an interesting subject. It’s great to see the responses in the comments as well. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for what you have coming.

  22. I run a Project Management website and this is very interesting news even though your experience wasn’t that positive, but this is more like a first draft, let’s see what’s gonna happen next once they have a user base and start getting feedback.

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  24. Maybe as Google Wave develops it may suit as an embeddable project management solution. Then create a new page in wordpress for a client only yourself and them access to it, and embedd a private google wave etc. Just a thought but I would really like a solution with tabs for different areas of each project. Then I could install it on a sub domain of my site.

  25. I’d be interested to work on something like this with a partner developer. Freshpages/Flutter looks like it could be used to a lare degree to create a PM admin dashboard with custom write panels.

    Custom Taxonomies could also be exploited to create various data types.

    I know it can/must be done but am too bogged down to go it alone!!! Need partners.

    @JD Bentley, are you running an older version of WordPress, WP-Project hasn’t been updated for a while!

  26. @Nick Ohrn dude i run a print/graphic shop and we have been using a view different things as of late to keep projects organized. base camp it cool, but just like others seem to want… integration into wordpress. i have a version running and would not mind at all giving feedbacks and request – as quite a few of my employees dont live anywhere near me it would be nice to keep everything under one sever [especially as some of the projects files exceed basecamps limits 🙁 ]
    – respect
    @Ryan Imel thanks for the post dude checkin out project pier as i type. boh!

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  28. hey guys,

    has there been any movement on this concept? this idea popped into my puny skull a month ago and is hasn’t left. it seemed like the same idea popped into the wordpress collective consciousness a year ago and then fizzled out.

    since 1999 we’ve built or used every imaginable project management tool out there. my reason for wanting to use wordpress as a PM tool is this: we build wordpress sites; I want my customers interacting with it from day one. that, and it’s got the foundation to make a decent PM tool.

    I’ve looked in every nook and cranny on the web to find examples and implementation of wordpress for project management. there are plenty of bits and pieces. what I have not been able to find is something very critical to what we do: presentation, revisions, and approval of comps. what I do now is create a central page, like “homepage comp, rev 1”. on this page are thumbnails, linking to the attachment page where I have comments on. it works, but it’s still a manual process. as I move through the rounds, I take the old round (menu item) and drag it under a main menu listing named “project docs and archive”. the winning comp gets a page of its own. I do the same for documents, using google doc embedder to display the doc on the page.

    can I get your thoughts on a smarter and more automated way of handling this? I don’t need a full-on online proofing system (yet). just something that allows for comments (easy), sign-off (a text box so they can initial is fine), and revisions (ummm). I’ve looked at editorial workflow plugins (edit flow) as examples. can ya’ll give me your thoughts?

    thank you,
    vinh

  29. @vinh awesome post and i can relate totally.

    let me know if you’ve come across a better solution. pls email me at vince (at) akiragraphics.com

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  31. I have spent few weeks testing different PM systems written on PHP – custom, framework extensions or plugins to CMS/platforms such as the ones above. However I haven’t ran into something to be found usable in my opinion (except some of the paid and hosted solutions which doesn’t work for me).

    However the WP market has another plugin for PM that looks interesting to me – the Ndizi Project Management – http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ndizi-project-management/ . From what I have seen it covers most of the functionality hidden in the other alternatives and gets a bit deeper. Unfortunately it’s in beta now, however ratings on the plugin page seem positive enough to me. The system has invoicing and interesting time tracking – something viable in my opinion.

  32. Both of these are horrible. Why? Clients cannot upload files (like .doc, .eps, etc.) that would be requested as a task they need to complete.

  33. I have done some research on this as well, even on premium plugins, but haven’t found anything useful as well. Anyone knows of a paid solution on this one that is worth it?

    I have collected few premium (and not only) plugins for different services based on WordPress in my seminar yesterday on “Business 2.0 with WordPress” – http://www.slideshare.net/mpeshev/business-20-with-wordpress – and I’m still hunting more business niches based on the platform with little to none investment for a powerful platform that can handle a serious client where needed.

  34. Great post. I’ve been looking for similar projects. I do a lot of contract writing with my blog, and I’ve been looking for a way to keep track of my sales/clients. It’d be easy if all of them actually paid through my blog. Unfortunately, I get a lot of business advertising on forums.. so they usually pay directly.

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