2 May 2012

Groupware and online project management tools for freelance translators

As a virtual team spread across three continents, we always had to be organized in order to keep track of who must do what. After all, at any given time, one of us is usually sleeping!

This led us naturally to groupware and online project managers. Systems that you place on a server and, like a sort of business Facebook, allow to share tasks and notes around.

As we had a web server already (and a minuscule budget) we searched for open-source, self-hosted solutions.

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The first candidate was, of course, [(demo)](]project">http://www.project-open.com/">]project open[ <a href="http://demo.project-open.net/) an open source groupware solution designed especially for the language industry,

Unfortunately, just like this is their idea of a clear work diagram

A very confusing diagram about translation workflows "Any questions?"

This is their idea of a streamlined interface for working under pressure

A very confusing project management interface "We don't really have a manual yet, but I'm sure you can figure it out on your own"

I guess it's great for for some but it wan't really what we were looking for.

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Then there was Redmine (demo), one of the most complete and appreciated project management applications around, but it still felt a bit too complicated for its own good

Redmine, a very big, very complete and very complex project management system "You get used to it. I...I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, red-head. Hey, you a... want a drink?"

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So our first online project manager was  Collabtive (demo)

Collabtive That's nice!

I think we used it for about two years. On the plus side it's very easy to run and install, and it may still be a good solution for trying project management tools without too much fuss.

However, not only it feels a bit slow and clunky, but it has a strong focus on uploading and sharing files online. It made sense at the time, but then we tried Dropbox and never really came back :)

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And the next one was qdPM (demo)

qdPM online application That's even better!

We have been using it for two years now and it has served us very well. The interface is fast, it keeps everyone updated with email notifications and it can export the data to Excel for preparing the invoices. Most importantly, it substantially lets you have any field you want for your tasks, so setting up a special "PO" or "revision" column only takes a couple of clicks.

The only real drawbacks are that it's a bit difficult to set up (at least for a translator) and that it's no longer developed (but it's pretty solid anyway).

Our own project manager

In 2012, we simply chose to create our own. Officially named "Louandu", we simply called it "il gestionale" (the management tool) for the past four years it has been serving us faithfully.

Why creating a tool from scratch? Because all the others we found were created for programmers and web designers, who often work for months and months on a single project.

And thus they aim to become a collection of dozens of tasks, detailed reference documents, GANTT charts, wikis and so on.

But we're freelance and our average project lasts about a week, plus a good sprinkling of micro-tasks to be carried the same day. At this precise moment, my calendar shows 5 different tasks assigned to me, the largest one being a whopping 80 words. About 5 minutes of work. Tops.

I don't want to set up a detailed project for that. I just want to tell the others I will be doing it by Skype, open the file directly from my email and then have it invoiced as quickly and simply as possible.

I don't want ]project open[ for that, I want something as simple as noting down tasks inside Excel. I want Remember the Milk with invoicing!

How does it work?

Here are a few screenshots, and here is a full video

[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1456,1455,1452,1451"]

Or feel free to use the online demo, still incredibly alive since 2012

Website: http://taskfreak.pro/louandu User: admin Password: adm1n (note the 1 instead of the i)

What's next?

Like I said, Louandu has been serving us faithfully for the past four years, without a hitch. We always had the idea to open source it, but we didn't really have the time to prepare it for it. Now it's getting old and the original developer has lost interest, so it seems a good idea to polish it and publish it to give it a bit of energy.

I have asked on the IGDA LocSIG group and there was quite a strong interest.

Right now, I am discussing with Marco (the LocJAM programmer) about cleaning up the code, adding comments and wrapping the lot with a Wordpress-like installer. This is something I must do anyway for the future of the tool, so even without any help we will have a functioning base for anyone.

And that could be it: a tiny giveaway to be shared on these pages. But if people are interested, we could also ask Marco to add things right away that you will probably need, like VAT tax inside the invoices, different currencies and so on. And then people can pitch in to develop and adapt the code (it's PHP+SQL, by the way) once it's published.

Needless to say, I have about a quintillion other things to do before (starting from the 5 deliveries I mentioned above), but 4/5 people already showed interest, so we might be able to pull this off. I could probably add this to my plans for the next LocSIG elections.

In any case, if all the above sounds interesting and you would like to get involved, please drop me a message at [email protected] and let's stay in touch!

(cover credits)