A software package a day: Storm

In an earlier post I mentioned Storm. While I recommend Basecamp for those who don’t mind spending a small amount of money every month, there are plenty of projects where even a small outlay might discourage using a tool to organize the project. Others won’t like Basecamp as the data is “in the cloud”, which means backups are a challenge. Yes, they provide HTML and XML data streams, but the reality is that once you have that export you just have a bunch of static files and the reality is that I haven’t found any products that are competitive with Basecamp that can read the file.

For this reason many like to host their own project management tools. If you are using Drupal already, I recommend taking a look at the Storm module. It has all the pieces of the puzzle for managing projects:

  • Organizations allow you to host projects for multiple clients. Your group needs to be one of the organizations as well: if you are only doing internal projects, the only one.
  • People map Drupal accounts to Organizations and form the core of task assignment and work tracking.
  • Teams allow you to assign a Project to a small group of People or Organizations who can interchangeably resolve the task. This is an interesting feature I have not seen in other products.
  • Projects are the containers that bind tasks, clients, management and the assigned workers together.
  • Tasks are the low level work units on projects.
  • Tickets take Tasks to a lower level. You can have multiple Tickets assigned to a task. These could either be work units or support tickets (and the category system keeps those cleanly defined).
  • Time Tracking allows time to be applied to Projects, Tasks and Tickets for billing and work tracking purposes.
  • Notes are exactly that, applied to Projects and Tasks.
  • Invoices are created for Organizations and their Projects.
  • Expenses can be tracked against all Tickets and higher level’s of organization.
  • Knowledge Base articles provide a post style that allows assignment of Topics and can assemble themselves into a menu based on parent article’s.
  • Attributes allow the customization of the dropdowns throughout the system, such as the category lists.

I won’t claim that this level of organization doesn’t come with complexity, but Storm can take an individual consultant and grow through multiple clients, the creation of teams and the expansion of project complexity and keep on providing value. There are some oddities that take a while to get used to, but once the system is up and running it expands the Drupal content management system into a great resource for managing small to large projects and teams… all for free.

If there is a complaint, it is perhaps that it does too much out of the box, so when you start to hit the edges of the product’s domain you want to expand it to do everything. For example, the invoice and expense system can track outstanding balances, but it isn’t a full accounting system, so you will probably end up wishing you could easily export the data you have collected. Likewise, it doesn’t (currently) automatically pull the line items in. Because of these limits, I don’t use the invoice component as it would duplicate my accounting system.

Perhaps this is the strength of the system though: you can pick and choose how much you need, and ignore the rest.