If you take a look at a sample range of web apps out there nowadays, I bet your bottom dollar that around 80-90% of those will highlight collaboration as one of their key features. And why not? We’re past the times of constant e-mailing back and forth and endless meetings to get stuff done. Now we want to log onto the Net and share our ideas with our teammates there, not in meetings on a big whiteboard.
Of course there are plenty of different ways to do this, and today we’re going to have a good look at Comindware Tracker, another solution to help both you and your team work together and manage your time more effectively. Let’s get started straight away.
Comindware Tracker is a web-based workflow automation system with an integrated task management solution that helps you both manage your to-do list and your working processes. You can use it to keep you and your team aware of the workload and what you’re currently working on, keep all data related to a particular work item in one place, discuss work items and keep discussions in one place, access any necessary work items online wherever you are (and no matter what device you are using) and also plan employees’ time and efforts.
You can sign up to a 30-day trial of Comindware Tracker before committing to buy, and there is plenty of support and sample data available after signing up to help you make your decision. The app is available as a web version and can also be downloaded and installed onto a Windows server as well as a self-hosted web app, allowing anyone with the proper credentials to access your system.
The interface reminds me strongly of the Ribbon GUI seen in versions of Microsoft Office, of which I personally am not the greatest fan (seeing as I have to hunt through endless menus to try and find the tool I am looking for). That said, however, it does work quite nicely in Comindware Tracker and most features can be accessed with a couple of mouse clicks.
In Comindware Tracker, just like in other GTD programs, everyday word activities are organised into Tasks and similar tasks are grouped together in (you guessed it!) Task groups. Running along the left-hand side of the screen you’ve got your favourites, to which you can add tasks by simply dragging and dropping and all your lists, into which all your tasks are organised, are listed below.
Clicking on a task will bring up its information in a bit more detail (as shown in the screenshot above) and from here you can change most of the properties related to the task. You can also add attachments to that task (especially useful if a team is working on a particular task and you need to share documents quickly) as well as start discussions, create subtasks, record your time spent on that task (this comes in handy later on) and view its history.
Team members receive e-mail notifications to their default e-mail address (unfortunately there is no in-built messaging or notification system in Comindware Tracker, something which I would have liked to have seen for such a high-class business program) and each member can also follow the progress of each individual task (i.e. they receive an e-mail each time something on the task is changed) by clicking on Follow in the Ribbon.
Team members can create individual tasks for their own private use and these tasks are only visible to the person who created them. Managers (roles in Comindware Tracker are defined in the Administration section, something that we will touch on briefly in a moment) can initiate processes by creating a task and assigning it to different members of the team. As we saw above, each individual task can be broken down into subtasks which makes individual steps easier to focus on and, consequently, complete. As each step of the process is completed, it is automatically assigned to the next person in the team.
Comindware Tracker also features support with Microsoft Outlook (however as far as I can gather, only the Windows version is supported) and individual e-mails from within Outlook can be transformed into tasks by dragging them into the Outlook Tasks area within Comindware Tracker. Tasks can also be created from within Outlook by means of an additional plug-in (which is free and can be downloaded from the app) and their properties can also be defined, i.e. comments can be added, the percentage complete value can be changed and tasks can also be prioritised.
A workspace is an area with its own task groups and can be assigned to individual teams or even whole departments. It allows each group of people to collaborate on tasks necessary to them and ensures that the focus isn’t pulled away from the pressing matters at hand.
Each user of Comindware Tracker also has their own little personal area, known as My Desktop where you can create tasks and items, work with existing tasks and items and organise tasks and items in a way that suits each individual user.
Monitoring Team Performance
For team managers, it is extremely important to manage and analyse the performance of your team and Comindware Tracker helps you do this well (this is why there is the option for each team member to enter the amount of time spent on each task, so that the app can provide performance statistics). Dashboards help managers monitor team performance through real-time statistics and you can create as many dashboards as you like to help you keep track of a whole range of different statistics.
Different types of statistics can be viewed using the Add Widget button. Here you can customise exactly which statistic you want to see and in what format you wish to see it. Comindware Tracker can display statistics in a variety of formats, including created vs closed charts and history events charts.
One of the things I really liked about Comindware is the fact that the app is extremely flexible when it comes to tinkering with its underbelly. From the Administration panel (which is accessed by clicking the small cog in the top-right hand corner) you can create new workspaces for individual teams or departments, create new task groups, templates, workflows and much more.
You can also administer individual users and their permissions from the Administration panel as well as customise some basic settings about Comindware Tracker itself, such as Active Directory Integration, backups of data files and e-mail notifications.
Comindware Tracker really did stand out for me as a polished and well-thought out piece of project management software. I was extremely impressed by the app’s interface and the fact it felt very close to using a native computer program and not at all like a web app. Although I’m not completely sold on the Ribbon interface in other applications (Microsoft Office being a culprit here), I think it does work well within Comindware Tracker and whilst reviewing the product I never found it difficult to locate exactly what I was looking for.
I tested the app in both Safari 6 and Chrome 21 on my Mac (running OS X 10.8) and there were no problems running it at all. In Safari, there was a slight issue with cut-off and the app worked far better in the full-screen mode, however this cut-off was hardly noticeable (only when a dialogue appeared that took up the entire screen did I have to go into full-screen mode to close it). Chrome seemed to take a little longer to render the app and its windows, however this might have been down to my Mac and not to the program itself.
Comindware Tracker therefore gets a very commendable 8 out of 10 score on here as I feel that although the app is quite a niche product (it doesn’t offer anything more beyond tasks, workflows and associated features), it does execute its purpose and I can see it being a real plus to many companies that plan to use it. I would liked to have seen a built-in notification system instead of e-mail notifications (the developers of the app even state themselves that endless e-mails is “so 1990s” so why they would want to barrage you with e-mails every time a task changes its properties is beyond me) and more support for third-party providers, as I feel the app is a little limited to their own features and to Windows systems (it can only be installed natively on a Windows server, however it can be accessed via any compatible browser, of which there are many).
The only really big gaping issue is the price and this is a real letdown. Single-user licences come in at $375, with discounts available for teams. This is already priced well above the market average for similar software (which, according to VentureBeat is around $245) and I feel that Comindware are targeting themselves only towards large businesses with extensive IT budgets. I can foresee that no startup or small-sized company would want to spend a grand or more on a very niche piece of software.
So my final thoughts on Comindware Tracker: if you want to spend your pennies for a niche product that does work well, then go ahead and buy it, otherwise there are plenty of similar (and far cheaper) options out there on the market.