So, software advice please…..

We’re setting up here as a little software development company. Pretty simple stuff (looks like a lot of Ruby on Rails stuff). And we need a little bit of advice from you peeps.

Essentially, which two software packages should we be using? Need to be free and simple.

1) Scheduling and project management. What’s the list of tasks, who owns which, how far along is it etc etc etc.

2) Billing software. I have in mind something like legal software. You know, solicitors punch in which client they’ve been working for each 6 minutes? For us, hourly would be fine. But so we can track which hours who has been working on what.

And as a maybe, collaboration software. This might be already included in project management stuff. But a bit like Yammer maybe, group messages and all that.

31 thoughts on “So, software advice please…..”

  1. What about Xero for the billing? It’s not free but it is is very cheap. The cloud based accounting packages are getting advanced.

  2. Not free, but $10 for up to 10 users with a year’s support, Atlassian’s Jira is pretty much the standard for #1 — no idea about the second.

  3. I’d second The Sage’s comment on JIRA, the license is cheap but you’ll have to host it somewhere – shouldn’t be too expensive.

  4. I second JIRA. Everybody knows it, easy enough to get to know for those who don’t, dirt cheap, comes with a cloud option, so no need to invest in HW to run it on.
    You could do a simple billing report in JIRA if everybody logs their time against each ticket.

  5. I’ve worked with some clients that used http://phabricator.org/ for project management and wikis. It seemed to do the job OK. I use Atlassian JIRA and Confluence (wiki) for my own internal projects.

    If you’re going to be doing code reviews then I would suggest https://www.reviewboard.org/. (Atlassian has a code review product, but I prefer reviewboard.)

    For timesheets, billing, etc you could try https://www.odoo.com/ (formerly known as OpenERP).

    All of those products can be installed locally, and all bar the Atlassian ones are free software. For a small company you wont need a monster server to run it all on either – it just depends whether you have a enough of an engineer to spare to run it yourself.

  6. Another vote for JIRA. It’s not perfect, but the hosted version is quite cheap for a small number of users ($US10 a month I think). Every place I’ve worked in the last two years has used it.

    For invoicing, etc I use FreeAgent (not free but pretty cheap). Might be too UK centric for you though.

    I second the recommendation of Slack for collaboration. There’s a free version that might be enough for your needs.

  7. Rather than manage your own accounts, you could always get an accountant to do it for you. There’s one that shoul have some free time in a little village in Norfolk called Downham something…

  8. I use JIRA professionally. What I wouldn’t give to be able to use Trello.

    Whatever you use I’d recommend deploying a Kanban board (whether through Trello JIRA or anything else).

    Slack for team collaboration (it integrates with Trello).

    Github for code management.

    Last thought… If your devs haven’t already mentioned these to you – at least as options – be concerned.

  9. For collaboration http://socialcast.com/ is quite feature rich and is free for up to 50 seats.

    I’ve been very impressed with Replicon (cloud hosted) for professional services mangement but it may be overkill for your use case.

  10. Slack is the only software package I have ever seen that appears to be loved by its users, to the extent people refuse to love to firms that don’t use it.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset

    How complicated are the projects?

    For ones that don’t have a lot of tasks and slack time and hence he critical path keeps changing you could get away with pencil, ruler, eraser and A3 graph paper. Even though I had access to a number of project packages unless they were really big projects I often used a spreadsheet as it as easier to print and show to the uninitiated.

  12. Tim I love your blog so this is meant with the deepest respect…

    Take a look at Elance and Odesk. These hugely popular contractor sites are awash with thousands of eastern European and tens of thousands of software development chop shops. The barriers to entry are about the same as becoming an estate agent.

    Most of these shops trade off buyer ignorance and the only consistent feature is dreadful code and technical debt.

    Pretty much the only way to succeed in that market is to produce stellar work and then trade off personal recommendations. It will be a long, hard slog to develop the kind of reputation that will yield consistent work and profit. There are no shortcuts here.

    Is this a business you have any business being in? Or put it another way… Do you think there’s easy money for a complete layperson like me to make money in the rare earths business? Didn’t think so.

  13. Point taken: and I’ve done this before too, couple of decades back. We’re really starting from the fact that a long time business partner (20 years now) needs a software development house in a NATO country. Only two or three people but long term. And like any form of freelancing once you’ve got a core contract it’s a rather fun thing to do. When scratching for that piece of writing, or coding contract, to make the monthly nut not so much.

    And it’s absolutely not part of any plan to try and grow as a contracting house, try to have 50 people coding or anything. Handful of people, no more, churn out a few apps on the side for a little bit of profit and hopefully rather a lot of fun. My list of ridiculous but rather fun to do apps is growing rather long….

  14. As an alternative to GitHub for SCM there’s BitBucket. It’s from Atlassian the same company as JIRA and its free for a small team. Includes a basic version of JIRA too.

    Shouldn’t need to be said but if you’re team aren’t using Git, Mercurial or similar then you need to start administering some beatings.

  15. Full agreement with MattyJ on some kind of source control. Git or Mercurial are both good choices.
    Depending on what kind of collaboration you want, Google Apps for your Domain might be useful: gives you Gmail accounts on your own domain, online collaboration and controlled sharing on documents which could be useful for writing specs, Hangouts for chat + video etc.

  16. We use both JIRA and BitBucket, although MediaWiki instead of Confluence b/c Confluence can get really expensive.

    What we don’t use JIRA for is scheduling and demand management, as it’s resource availability views are not great in my experience. However, we typically have 70+ projects on the go at one time; if you only have a couple, JIRA should be fine.

    I have also heard great things about Trello for task management. Again, not good for us but could be excellent for you, although the commenter above has a good point in that all you really need is a Kanban board for your dev sprints, and JIRA has that.

    Slack is basically amazing for collaboration and can be made to integrate with more or less anything—including Git, which could come massively in handy for automated deployment.

  17. Not come across slack or trello before, both look interesting.

    I spend quite a lot of time looking at what agile and scrum can offer and how I can apply some of these ideas into traditional construction.

  18. Jira would be good for the project management bit. I set up an extranet for a very cost-sensitive small charity and for project management we used Redmine, which is free, does the job and is based on Ruby on Rails, but it will take you longer to set up (maybe a day depending on how exacting your requirements are) so it may be a false economy. Jira is Java-based so a lot of the shared web hosts won’t run it, maybe best to look at their cloud-based offering as others have suggested.

    For the small charity, we used Facebook groups (with access set to “secret”) for collaboration. They offer similar functionality to Yammer etc but with less good search. The problem with the free version of Yammer (and possibly Slack too, can’t remember) is that unlike Facebook, it doesn’t give you admin rights over other users in the group, so when somebody leaves you can’t exclude them from the collaboration (the paid version does offer this of course).

    For a distributed team you will probably want a wiki of some kind for general documentation, particularly from the point of view of knowledge capture in case somebody leaves. Atlassian (of Jira fame) provides the Confluence wiki engine which is quite good. Dokuwiki is a free alternative that I’ve found fine for private wikis.

    If you’re going to be using a mix of applications from different vendors then you should probably think about single sign-on so that people don’t have to log in separately to each application. For the small charity the obvious answer was to implement OAuth single sign on for “Login with Facebook”, so that users can log in to Redmine and Dokuwiki just by being logged into their Facebook accounts, but I’m not sure about the security implications for a commercial organisation.

  19. We use Jira and Trello but for different things. Jira allows more detailed tracking and customization of tickets. Trello is good for basically making ToDo lists that are later formalized in Jira as they rise to the top of the stack. We share out our Trello boards with customers, who are free to add bug reports or enhancement requests. Once we are ready to move with the a request, we start a Jira case to assign and track it.

    We are also heavily Google oriented. We use Google Apps for mail and Google Docs for documents and collaboration. For instance, a user story or architecture document or feature spec will be written up in a google doc and the doc will be shared to the product and development teams and comments will appear and discussed there. These docs are then referenced in the Jira case(s) spawned to implement the deliverable. We used to do all this in Jira, but it works much better in an interactive doc, because the doc gets updated, issues get resolved, and you’re always seeing the current status, including outstanding unresolved issues and questions. In Jira, one would have to track through old case comments, sometimes lengthy, that by now might be obsolete.

  20. Jira and look at the other Atlassian tools, not free but very cheap and you’re getting industry standard software

  21. Been through JIRA and Trello. JIRA too heavy, Trello too light…
    Now on Phabricator. Always been on GitHub.

    Phabricator can also do code review for git commits related to a particular ticket.

    +1 for Slack also.

  22. Looks like others have recommended it so just add this to the pile of recommendations

    From the sound of it the atlassian starter bundle is what you want for almost everything. Not sure if it will do the billing but it can give you the hours worked by developer (assuming they remember to track it) so you could export that into the spreadsheet of your choice to calculate the billabel hours and payments

    https://www.atlassian.com/software/starter/overview

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