Project management is a seriously challenging job of its own. Keeping track of what needs to be done, by whom and by when, can be tricky, even when working with the smallest of teams. Little wonder, then, that there is now a very considerable selection of online project managers available, including the likes of Basecamp, Huddle and 5pm.
Subtask is the new kid on this particular block – so new, in fact, it’s still in invite beta – and it shares many features with its more established competitors. Rather than being list-based, however, Subtask provides a more innovative approach; new projects are displayed in a mindmap-like hierarchy, allowing for multiple levels of tasks and sub-tasks.
In theory, this layout should make things clearer – but does it?
Bearing in mind that Subtask is still in beta, its design is very clear, but fairly plain. All of the controls are placed neatly in the top black bar, whilst the action occurs below, in front of non-distracting backgrounds. That’s fine though – the layout is easily navigable with the eye, and there’s nothing to divert your attention from the basic task in hand.
The mind-mapping-style base tool of Subtask is also thoughtfully designed. Each task is represented by a “node,” and is accompanied by a small group of organizational tools, each represented by an understated, yet perfectly legible icon – no squinting at the screen required here.
Generally speaking – noting, once again, that what we have here is a beta – Subtask works with unflinching smoothness. The only hiccup I came across was when I switched from my web browser to another app and back again, at which point, the mind-map I was working on became somewhat unresponsive; a quick page reload sorted that out, though.
In many respects, I very much like the mind-mapping concept when it comes to project management. In many cases, it makes the tracking of complicated projects very simple. It must be said, however, that this hierarchical system of organization won’t suit every project. In most instances, though, Subtask’s system works beautifully.
Given that there are innumerable mind-mapping apps and services available, Subtask needs to provide extra project-specific functionality. I have to say that it brings most of what is needed, without unnecessarily cluttering the mind-map workspace – hover over a task in your project, and you are offered five options.
The first icon in the menu is a comment stream, which simply acts as a instant messageboard, allowing rapid conversation between team members. If messages are posted to a particular task, the icon darkens, acting as a clever, subtle indicator.
On any project, someone always needs to take charge of the tasks to be completed, and Subtask allows you to assign responsibility with the second menu option. You can either assign a task to everyone in your project team, or just to an individual. This process is another simple affair, allowing you to choose from a list of your registered personnel, or to invite new people to the project, via email or Facebook, from your Google contacts list, or from other projects you’re working on.
Currently, however, there isn’t a way to assign tasks to a selective group of people. For most managers, I imagine that this will be a problem sooner, rather than later.
Once you’ve sorted out who is to work on your task, you can move on to scheduling. This is a simple mini calendar-based affair, but the inclusion of preset due dates (tomorrow, a week from now, or a month from now) is a nice touch.
If someone needs to pass on some instructions about a task, those instructions need to remain visible for the duration of the task, so the messenger isn’t going to cut it. Hence, the “Note” option, fourth on the menu, allows for some text to be added to each task.
You can also attach files to a task, via the final menu icon. Subtask will take any kind of file (bearing in mind that all of Subtask’s accounts have a storage limit), although only JPEG, PNG and GIF files will produce a preview. Uploads seem to process with efficient speed, and clicking the attachments icon brings up a simple list of files previously uploaded, including image previews.
Calendar and Activity Views
In addition to the mind-mapping project overview, Subtask provides a couple of other options for staying up-to-date.
If you need to keep track of due dates, or just schedule multiple tasks, Subtask’s calendar view comes in handy. Tasks currently lacking a due date are listed in the right-hand sidebar, and the process of scheduling them is a simple one – just drag-and-drop each task into the day of your choosing.
Each individual’s Subtask account also includes the Activity view. Here, you can scroll through all recent activity on the projects you’re involved with, displayed as a timeline. It looks slick, but it also functions well as a quick method of catching up.
Free accounts on Subtask come with pretty generous limits; you can have two active projects running at any time, each with a 35 task-per-project restriction, and you can upload up to 10MB worth of files between your projects.
Should you need more, you can upgrade to one of Subtask’s premium plans. There are three paid-for options, starting with the Basic plan at €8.95/month, which lifts your limits up to 10 projects, each with 100 tasks, and 2GB worth of storage. The next step up is the Plus plan at €14.95/month, which allows 50 projects, unlimited tasks and 10GB of storage; in addition, this plan adds full SSL encryption, which is a must-have for the security conscious. The final option is Enterprise, which, for €34.95/month, gets you unlimited projects and tasks, as well as 25GB of storage, SSL encryption and priority support.
Compared to the ever-popular Basecamp, Subtask’s pricing seems great value. Many micro-teams won’t need to venture beyond Subtask’s free offering, but even for those who need more storage, tasks, or projects, the premium plans start at a level that any business or organization can afford – top marks here.
Arriving at this review with personal experience of quite a few management web-apps, I was initially sceptical of Subtask‘s mind-mapping approach. I still haven’t fully shaken off that feeling, but I’m not sure it matters – Subtask, in its own right, is an incredibly polished beta, which is a pleasure to work with.
It is possible to make a few criticisms against Subtask – the inability to assign specific groups of team members to a task, and the lack of file previews for anything other than images are both minor irritations. Quite frankly, though, this is nit-picking, which is, in part, only possible due to Subtask‘s lack of maturity.
With its combination of easy operation and value for money, I think anyone looking for a project management tool should at least consider Subtask. I would suggest, however, that Subtask is ideally suited to managers of small teams or hierarchically-structured projects, and for these purposes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option.