Manage projects in SMEs with OpenProject

Best-Laid Plans

Starting Your First Project

You will find a great deal of relevant information on the start page. In addition to a welcome message is the Projects section that lists all projects to which a user has access. OpenProject defines a tree-like hierarchy for projects and sub-projects. In SMEs, however, this functionality is often not fully utilized. A top-level project named "Internal IT" and sub-projects such as "Installation of new NAS" or "Replacement of database server" would be conceivable and useful here. You are completely free to choose the structure.

To add a project, just click on the + Project entry in the drop-down menu at top left or on the button of the same name on the start page. Once the desired structure has been created, a click on the selection menu at top left or the Projects cube on the start page is the next step.

You are almost done now, and OpenProject shows you – for the first time – the typical overview page for the project you just created; of course, this page is still empty. However, on the left you will now see several menu items that let you to create and manage tasks.

The Correct Structure

As is so often the case with project management, a little thinking up front avoids major headaches further down the road. When you create a project and its associated tasks in OpenProject, think carefully about the level of granularity you need. For example, is it fine to have a server installation in rack task because you are the only person performing it anyway. On the other hand, are several people involved in a process, such as the purchasing department that has to order cables and make sure they are delivered?

All work steps of a project should be mapped in OpenProject as fully as possible to reduce the risk of forgetting small tasks outside your own area of responsibility (e.g., the server is in the right rack, but the cables you need to install it are missing).

In essence, working with OpenProject differs very little from working with other tools of its kind. Each individual task comes with its own description, due date, and possible dependencies on other tasks. The more carefully you maintain the individual tasks, the more meaningfully you can work with the software. The tool's built-in Gantt function is particularly useful for infrastructure projects that can only be planned with a waterfall approach. A Gantt table represents all pending tasks along a timeline. Because Gantt tables can also be exported from OpenProject, a finished project plan can become your printed project wallpaper that visualizes the progress of all the tasks in a friendly analog way (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Gantt charts provide a quick visual overview of the status of current tasks in classic waterfall projects.

One major advantage of OpenProject is that it is easy for newcomers to get started. Most of the descriptions and procedures are logical and easy to follow. After a short learning curve, during which the OpenProject documentation [4] will become your best friend, you should be familiar with working with the software. From now on, this software will serve you as a powerful project manager – even for small projects – and can be used to apply structure to what might otherwise be chaos.


Before you start using any tool for project management, you also need to categorize the tasks at hand. More so than virtually anywhere else, having the right tool for a job is key to efficient work in SMEs. The bulk of administrative tasks consists of traditional infrastructure operations, and waterfall-based approaches have been proven to work best. OpenProject gives you a free tool for precisely this task, offering a manageable function set that does not frighten off newcomers with feature overkill.

The Author

Freelance journalist Martin Gerhard Loschwitz focuses primarily on topics such as OpenStack, Kubernetes, and Chef.

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