Planning software: Memoranda

For a while now I’ve been on the lookout for some project planning software that suits my needs better than my current system which consists of a collection of text files, some MS Word documents and bits of paper. I use a modified version of Tony Robbins’s Rapid Planning Method (RPM) [3] However, RPM really only pays off if you put in the time to do the more strategic planning as well as the day-to-day stuff and I’ve been a bit slack about that recently.

Anyway, for a long while I’ve thought that I could use RPM more effectively if I had some software support to automate some of the capture and organisation of tasks and sub-tasks. Also, I’d like an easy way to see a historical view of tasks completed - I find look at what you’ve already achieved is a good motivational tool. My current way of doing this is to keep a "DONE" list as a text file but this does make it hard to get an overview rather than just the details.

Although I’m tempted to try writing my own planning tool, I thought I should make at least some effort to see if anyone else has already done the work for me.

My requirements are basically

  • Need to be able to handle multiple projects easily with some sort of overview showing all projects.
  • In order to support the ability to "chunk" large tasks any software needs to support dividing tasks into sub-tasks each with their own description, priority level, degree of completion etc
  • Easy answer to question "What should I do now?"
  • Should be easy to get a list of current & future tasks for a particular project or over all projects
  • Want to be able to track completed tasks as well as active tasks
  • Ability to summarise achievements over a week, month, year, year-to-date etc. By this I mean that sub-tasks only get shown if their parent task is not yet complete (in the window of time covered by the summary).

What I don’t care about:

  • calendar driven view - since most of these projects are personal ones I’m more interested in managing my current state and organising myself effectively than when a particular task will be completed
  • Scheduling time for a team - I want a tool to manage my time only. Any work-related projects will have a separate project plan

There is a lot of planning software out there but most of it seemed to be trying to copy MS Project (calendar driven) and just obviously not what I wanted. I finally came up with a list of four pieces of open source software I thought might be worth trying:

I’ll talk about Memoranda for the rest of this article and cover the others later.

Memoranda gets pretty close to fulfilling all my requirements. It handles multiple projects in one session and it can have tasks decomposed into sub tasks.

The agenda view is a sort of dashboard that is intended to give you an overview of all you active projects. However, it could do with being more compact - even with my tiny test config of six projets, most with either zero, one or two tasks the agenda view took up 3 pages. What I would prefer is something that fits on a single page even if that makes things more dense or means omitting some detail.

(PNG)
Memoranda Agenda view

The task view lets you edit the tasks for a single prokect. In the screenshot below you can see the list of projects in the top pane. This is a little odd as you need to double click on a project in order to see the tasks for that project but single clicking on a project seems to select it for other operations (like viewing its properties). This means that you can be viewing the tasks for the project who’s name is in bold but actually have another project selected - I think it would be clearer to have a single click mean select for all operations.

(PNG)
Memoranda task view

Anotehr feature I really like is the ability to record a percentage for each task that records how close it is to completion. These are shown as bars on the right of the task view.

There is also a standard calendar view to show events etc. What is missing though is a list view which I find much more practical in many cases as you can see the last N items without having to page through what might be a very sparse calendar view.

A really nice feature of Memoranda is the ability to write rich text notes and associate them with a project. You can also collect other other resources (Word documents, images etc) in order to have a single place to organise all project related assets.

The only thing that Memoranda is really missing on my list of requirements is the historical summary. I do have some niggles with the user interface, but at minimum Memoranda would appear to be a great starting point for the sort of tool I would like.

The only other issue is that the project appears to be moribund - there’s been no traffic on the mailing list since January 2009 and no posting on the announcements list since 2007.

Links

  • Tony Robbins Rapid Planning Method (RPM). Most of the links I found via google are just selling the "starter kit". This one does at least give a brief description.