Can Github Projects become Slack for Project Management

Project management is one domain which is waiting for a revolutionary product that would have an effect as slack had on communication between team members. There is no lack of options; we have had Jira, Rally and many more which have tried to solve it for the project managers but making it a painful task for the developers. We have also seen the other end of the spectrum where developers primarily use a simple bug tracker and project managers are forced to come up with a dashboard that visualizes data obtained from the bug tracker.

It is not an easy problem to solve though, creating a product which is generic enough to fit every new user's workflow and yet make it feature rich is what leads to a product being average and not great. It is the problem that all one-size-fits-all products have.

The other problem is maintaining the data ownership and integrating with other products in the ecosystem. More often than not, the integration is left as an exercise to the consumer by making a API public. No product brings in a first-class integration with other. We end up having a long list of works-for-me plugins that we install in browsers.

Trello changed a lot of it when it was introduced. It is very close to what every project manager dreamed of. Cards and lists are generic and labels let you set attributes to get exactly the kind of arrangement which fits your project. It checked all the boxes from a Project Manager perspective, but the lack of integration to bug trackers left a lot to be desired by the developers. It lead to either developers working overtime to update status on bug tracker and Trello both or the project manager working hard to keep Trello updated based on changes in bug tracker.

This leads to an observation that, having one of the best bug tracker(bugzilla for example) and then integrating it with a good project management tool(like Trello) need not work well in most of the cases. Integration should be given preference over the completion/feature-richness of a tool in a sub domain.

My co-worker Kaushal told me about Phabricator . This has *everything* that you would need for project management. It is developed and used by Facebook internally and is certainly worth a try.
As it is developed with a certain workflow as base, there is a possibility of losing the generic framework that Trello provides.

Github announced something on similar lines recently. It calls it Github projects. This has the same concept of cards and lists in a project board. Each repo can have more than one project board. It looks promising. It is not at the levels of Phabricator, but may be we don't need anything that dense. Here is what a quick exploration of Github projects looks like with comparison to Trello:

1. What is possible:

  • Existing issues can be added as cards easily, and they are linked.
  • You can create corresponding issue for any card.
  • You can have multiple project boards for a repo.
  • Using card URLs for linking from one project board to another.

2. What is not possible:

  • You cannot link existing card to existing issue. You will have to delete one and create it linked with another.
  • Comment on cards
  • Card labels
  • Assignee on cards(assignee on issue linked to card is possible)
  • Moving cards across projects within the same repo
  • A project board at org or user level.

If Github polishes Projects while retaining the essence and simplicity, it might be able to make a lot of project managers and developers happy at the same time.