Here at Freelock, we've been making the transition to using Open Atrium as our project management platform, and thus far I've been quite impressed with it. As good portion of my background has been in organizational and project management and I've had the occasion to acquaint myself with a variety of software tools used in that role, John asked that I weigh in on the program.

Quick overview:

OpenAtrium is an online collaboration and task-management suite built on top of Drupal. Like Drupal, it is completely modular, so the feature set can be changed and expanded to meet the needs of a wide variety of applications. Out of the box it has support for case management, collaborative document editing, shared blog and microblog, and a variety of user-configurable dashboard views.

Feature comparison

The main advantage I see to OA over more traditional PM tools is how well it fosters both collaboration and communication within a team. It's web-based, multi-user, easy-to-use, and can be configured quite easily to allow users very granular access to functions associated with any number of different roles.

We've gone so far as to set our clients up with their own accounts, allowing them to see and contribute to everything from the current outstanding task list and our position relative to completion of a given task or project. Tasks, comments, and change requests are all recorded in the individual project, which both makes record keeping a simple matter of course and makes it substantially easier for new people to come up to speed on a project. And, of course, this leads to a level of transparency that you couldn't hope to match with even the most aggressive of update meeting schedules.

However, out of the box, there are some rather basic project management tools that OA does not offer; the case manager is set up to manage individual, separate tasks and does not support anything in the way of task dependencies, which means that Gantt charts, critical path analysis, forecasting, and anything else relating to managing time constraints has to be handled externally. Internally, we've been looking at ct_plus, which looks quite promising as a way to integrate these features.


The cost involved can vary substantially.

If your organization is already set up and running a Drupal site and you don't need anything customized, OA could be set up very quickly- in this scenario, we'd charge for an hour to do it. Compared to even a single license of MS Project Standard, that saves roughly $300; the difference in ease-of-use also means far lower up-front costs in terms of the time to adopt, making it a pretty clear winner in this case.

If, however, your organization isn't already running a Drupal installation, the cost of maintaining the server and the Drupal stack itself can be substantial. John did a thorough job explaining the importance of keeping your Drupal site and the underlying environment secured; while the software itself is free and open-source, maintaining a web server and a Drupal installation does represent an expenditure. 


I've been trying to wrap my head around OA's project terminology. Since projects are first-class objects in OA, it appears there is functionality that can't be tied to a single project. For example, blogs and calendars appear to be on a per group basis, not on a per project basis.

The only way I can think of to get around this limitation is to create a group per project. So a group essentially becomes a project. What are the consequences of that?


Good question!

What you lose by splitting each project into its own group is the ability to see all cases associated with all projects for a given client (group) within the same case list. In our case, we have a couple of different clients with one support budget split among multiple sites, so it's helpful to have them grouped like that so you can see everything going on in the case tracker without switching groups.

As for the gains... I think the only real advantage I see there is the fact that you won't necessarily have commentary / information visible between projects if you've got everything set into groups; for our work that hasn't been an issue to this point (one group ~ one client for us, so there's no problem with them seeing what's going on in any of their projects).

Of course, the beauty of it being set up in Drupal is that with a little bit of duct tape and chewing gum you can configure it to behave pretty much however you want... If you'd like a view set up to show cases across different projects while still retaining individual blogs and calendars, that's really just an issue of creating a user group that can view those cases and a view to show them.

In addition to what Matt said, the great thing about OpenAtrium is it's built on top of Drupal, which is endlessly customizable. It's relatively easy for a skilled Drupal admin to link blogs and calendars to projects by adding a "node reference" field with an appropriate view to Blog Posts and Events.


Hi Matt,
Thanks for you post. I'm looking for an open source, collaborative project management tool. As we still have some Drupal experience, Open Atrium is in the short list (with LibrePlan or Collabtive for example). You mentionned the lack of advanced planning features (task dependencies, ...). Do you have found any module to fill the gap ? What about ct-plus, which seems no more maintained ? Anything else ?


We've found Atrium to be a great base to support our process, especially because it allowed us to add/change functionality quickly with the full range of Drupal options out there we already know.

However, at this point we are somewhat held back by some of the advanced planning features you mention. What we've done is integrate with our time tracking system, built out sprint content types with associated cases, added flags to mark case milestones (planning complete, dev complete, testing complete, released to production, with a couple client approval points), and added a lot for budget tracking. We still do actual scheduling on a spreadsheet, however, and have not done anything with task dependencies. For us, scheduling is more important, so that's an area we're particularly working on (while going full throttle with our systems as they are or can be quickly enhanced...)

I think it really does boil down to how your business operates, though. I still think Atrium was a good starting point for us, but what we use today is far different than stock Atrium, and we'd love to take some time to refactor/build a system that better meets our needs.

I was unaware of LibrePlan or Collabtive. We'll definitely have to check those projects out! Thanks for the pointer...

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