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Thread: DIY software to track planning cases?

  1. #1
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    DIY software to track planning cases?

    This really doesn't fit in any of the listed forums, so I'm putting it here! I work in a small planning office as an associate planner. The boss gave me the task of figuring out how to track our cases. No sweat. The only caveat is that we don't have any money! "Good luck" he said as he sent me off on my qwest.

    So, we have reasonably up-to-date computers and the typical MS Office Suite of applications, including Access. What we want to do equates to (at least in my thinking) simple project management. We want to track overall cases (projects) and keep track of important dates. ie. agency notifications, referrals, planning commission dates, etc... In a perfect world, this software would have a calendaring feature with the ability to "tickle" you when certain items are due. We want the data to live on the server so all planners point to, and update, the same information.

    So, does anyone have any suggestions? We might be able to spend a few hundred dollars if we found something that would work. I looked into MS Project but it doesn't look like it allows sharing of data or hooks into Outlook unless you purchase the high-dollar "enterprise" version. Please tell me if someone knows different. Any comments or suggestions, are of course welcome.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    you should be able to set up a relational database with Microsoft Access. I have one to track my projects (in Oracle) that works quite well. I have it set up so that each project can have several detail tables assoociated with it. One table has GIS info, another is a log that is used to changes to the information (this is especially valuable). It helps you to creat reports, summarize projects, all sorts of handy stuff.

    I'd take my time reviewing your needs before you begin constructing anything. Identify the info you are required to keep and other info that could be helpful such as approval dates.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    You could just be diligent with filling in a simple Excel spreadsheet.

    Just put in (either column or row) the necessary steps/important dates required for projects.

    It really doesn't have to be very complicated, you just need to be diligent with updating the individual steps within each project.

    Or am I being too simple?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Or am I being too simple?
    Nope, just depends on what is needed. Its awfully hard to build something when you don't know what it is you are building. Could be a skyscraper, could be a retro Dodge Diplomat, won't be sure till you get aall of the pieces together and look at them!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    If this is for Ouray County, I would think that you could track cases in a custom table setup on 11x17 with a timeline along the top row and columns for action taken by case....I find this easy compared to the time it takes to create and maintain a database....certainly for a small community. I would also suggest an activity report that details the status of all cases and hearing date agendas.

    By the way, if you work and live in that County, consider yourself to be one of the luckiest people alive today. I love Ouray
    Skilled Adoxographer

  6. #6
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    I think we're all on the same track...

    Well, so far the replies are in line with what I've been thinking. Here are 2 things to consider; 1. We don't have a budget. 2. None of us are programmers. So, one thought I had was to setup a complex spreadsheet in Excel as suggested. I agree you have to be dilligent with inputting dates and completed items but there is some truth to that with a database as well. Some day down the road, the spreadsheet would become a template for a database. Once you've worked out what items you want to track in the spreadsheet, I would assume you would track these same items in the database. There may be additional functionality the database offers but you'd have a good head start. Make sense?

    And yes, were are extremely blessed to live and work in this part of the country. We live in Montrose and I make the short 30 minute commute each morning to Ridgway where the Land Use office is. A couple of times a week I have to drive to the courthouse in Ouray. You just can't beat it!

    Please keep the replies coming!

  7. #7
    an open source software similar to MS project is called dotproject. I have no idea as to it's capabilities compared to what you might need.

    http://www.dotproject.net

    another option might be something like the softare that this company makes:
    http://www.37signals.com/

  8. #8
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    If you have a Web hosting package with MySQL and PHP capabilities (as low as $5 from some hosts now), you can install an open source project management system that is based on a Web server. In some ways, it beats having to install a project management program on every computer that will be accessing it.

    There's demos of several open source Web-based project management programs under the Groupware category at opensourcecms.com.

  9. #9
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    you should be able to set up a relational database with Microsoft Access. ....
    I worked at a jurisdiction that used Access, too. Clerical staff performed all the updates. I never learned it.
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I worked at a jurisdiction that used Access, too. Clerical staff performed all the updates. I never learned it.
    Clerical staff?? Man if I had that I'd have a lot less headaches. Actually we're switching over to an application over the internet based system, so this will make filling out the forms much easier!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #11
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    On relational databases, make sure when you are setting it up there are multiple "key" columns that can link to existing datasets. Speak to other departments that may want to use your information or that you may want to cross reference to to see what and how they do things.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  12. #12
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Donk gives wise advice. This could open up a whole new level of analysis not only for you, but for other departments as well.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  13. #13
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    Basecamp from 37 Signals

    We use online software from 37 Signals called Basecamp to track our development projects and share info with the project team. Because it's online, everyone can access it from inside or outside the office (and across platforms, PC or Mac). The database structure is already built and the interface is very intuitive - no learning curve. It's easy to set up multiple projects and to track an individual's tasks/responsibilities across projects. It also tracks milestones/events and will send you reminders in a variety of formats. You can start out with a free trial and then upgrade to subscription usage that should fit into your budget.
    I can't post the url as I'm a new member of Cyburbia, but you can google it easily.
    I'm not affiliated, just a very satisfied user.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I am a fan of this program
    http://www.bsasoftware.com/products/

    I wish we would get it for more than just the assessorís records.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  15. #15
    I'm not an expert on project management software, but I use salesforce.com for our company - it allows us to keep track of contacts, 'opportunities' and tasks, and allows them to be related to each other. The personal edition is also free to use.

    It's all online, but I managed to upload our data to it fairly easily.

  16. #16
         
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    Not wanting to self promote, but my company Urban Technology Solutions provides project management web solutions. We are UK based, but we are looking for some US testers to take part in a prolonged trial of our US servers. If you are interested drop me an email ( ian[at]utsonline.co.uk )

    There is a demo available at the website

  17. #17
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ianuts View post
    Not wanting to self promote, but my company Urban Technology Solutions provides project management web solutions. We are UK based, but we are looking for some US testers to take part in a prolonged trial of our US servers. If you are interested drop me an email ( ian[at]utsonline.co.uk )
    Moderator note:
    No problem; you've got some posting history, and it's on-topic


    I posted earlier about open source project management applications. I haven't tried these out, and they'll require Linux-based Web hosting with MySQL and PHP, but they might be worth checking out.

    WebCollab:
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...sk=view&id=477

    Streber
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...k=view&id=2207

    phpGroupWare
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...sk=view&id=478

    eGroupWare
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...sk=view&id=354

    dotProject
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...sk=view&id=178

    Achievo
    http://www.opensourcecms.com/index.p...k=view&id=2206

    There's one Windows programs I was able to find.

    OpenWorkbench
    http://www.openworkbench.org/

    The problem with open source projects: developers may lose interest and abandon the project, or there could be an internal dispute that would result in a fork. Again, I don't know how useful these would be for a planning agency environment; they could be written with software development in mind, and might not be suitable for a planning administration/development review process.

  18. #18
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    Another option might be a simple ticket tracker like rt or trac. Both are open source and the latter builds in a wiki and version control. It would require a bit more process development but is probably more user-friendly than a heavy project management app would. Both are also web-absed and actively developed, removing most of the fear of developers "disappearing".

    As an aside, as open source advocate, I love hope people forget that companies vanish/change direction too. And there you don't have the source...

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