There are a lot of project management systems out there. We at Fabric Eleven have gone through about three all ready. We used Basecamp, .project, even Google docs. We finally found another one that we switched to—Apollo HQ. We have now used Apollo for about a year and here is our comprehensive Apollo HQ review:
Why Apollo HQ?
We settled on Apollo because of a few key elements that other systems don’t provide very well.
- Project structure: each project has messages, tasks, and notes (called whiteboards)
- Basic leads tracking and contacts organization
- Ability to collaborate, set things public or private
- A Calendar
Each project is managed with tasks, milestones and messages. Users—as well as invited clients—can collaborate on those items. You can also use the main overview tab to see the latest activity.
What makes it standout
Breaking things into tabs
Apollo has a really neat feature: breaking things into tabs. This allows you to have ten project tabs open and quickly switch between them. This is great in theory but in practice it’s really easy to lose track of where you are and what project you are working on. I always have to check to make sure I am in the right section and have the right project tab open.
Fast user interface.
The great thing about Apollo is that it’s very fast. It feels like you are using a desktop application rather than a web app. I assume they used a frame work like Angularjs or Ember js to speed things up. It also remembers what you have typed so that you can return to that field later to continue your work.
Almost everything in Apollo can be tracked. Just click on a clock icon and you will begin tracking time for that task instantly. This tracked time can also be sent to Freshbooks or Harvest for an invoice. I would prefer if I could link up a project in Apollo directly with our corresponding project in Freshbooks, since our projects have a lot of tasks, and we don’t bill clients for each task separately.
You can quickly create tasks, calendars or timers from the bottom corner without having to find a project in the system.
Contact Management and Leads
All of your company’s contacts are in one place. This means, when you call someone, you can quickly create a note of what you talked about, and then your team can comment on it. This is also where a basic leads management system—called deals—is located. You can specify how much a project is worth and indicate if it’s been won or not. The system doesn’t allow for cost projections or probabilities etc., just basic stuff to track where the lead is and if it’s been won or not.
Sharing and Collaboration
You can easily bring people in and have them collaborate on a project or a task, but it’s not as easy as Basecamp where you can just loop a person in on a task. You first have to create a company, then add users to it, and then assign a project to it. The cool part is that you can also add subcontractors the same way, and almost everything in the system can be set to private.
Milestones and Templates
Another neat thing is the ability to create templates for project and task lists. When creating a project template you can create milestones and it’s set up in a very easy way: you specify what week each item is due, and then when a new project is created with that template, the dates will be filled in automatically. Another great part is if you need to move a milestone, Apollo can automatically move all the other due dates as well. You can also attach tasks to each milestone and it will show a progress bar for each milestone.
Some of these might only be relevant to our company, however other design agencies might have problems similar problems with these aspects of Apollo as well.
The main problem with Apollo is that it doesn’t really give an overview of what I should focus on at a glance. Yes, there is a dashboard and you can see the activity of your team… but a lot of times people need to know what’s going on with a project quickly. That’s kind of the point: an organizational system should allow users that don’t use it often know to what’s going on right away.
It’s a great idea, but every time we tried using it things just got more complicated. You are supposed to really easily add syntax using things like * for titles to create bullet points and headings, yet every time I did this, it resulted in a messy whiteboard.
We ended up using messages for whiteboards, and that’s about it, since we didn’t find a situation when we needed to post a message for a project. Usually, we need to find out something about a project or ask a client a question but this resulted in many messages on the same topic… I would have really liked a feature like a shout box where there can be discussion and anyone could see what people are discussing at that time for that project.
After using Apollo for 6 months we came to the realization that we were using it only as a task manager. The tasks can be implemented well, you can mark tasks that have been started, and it’s really easy to create new tasks and assign them to people. All the other features, however, were quickly forgotten.
- Messages: it’s just easier to create a task and have a discussion on it and not worry that now the information is somewhere else in the system.
- Contacts: takes to long to add notes or comments plus you can’t see contact communication from within a project so users have to leave the project window then go find a contact and notes on it separately.
- Calendar: it’s hard to tell what users need to be working on just a bunch of due dates… so we had to revert to Google calendar for that.
These guys have a great product with lots of great features. I just wish they would polish and tweak their user interface so it’s easier to use and the information that’s relevant to the project manager is easily accessible.
We are now working on our own project management system, called Lisa, that addresses a few of these issues.
- Better then basecamp
- Contacts and leads integration
- Can put tasks into “working on it” stage
- Can’t see project summary and their status
- Whiteboards are buggy so can’t be used.
- Calendar is useless to us
- Can’t prioritize tags or have task descriptions
- No summary for a client on what’s going on their project