Backlog (from Nulab) is a project management tool for prioritising and tracking work. This is a review of the product using my laptop and Chrome browser, and my iPad with Safari, in June 2019.
Hosting options: Online and enterprise version which is self-hosted
Cost and plans: There’s a full free trial for 30 days, and a free plan (1 project, 10 users, plenty to give it a test drive). There is no per user pricing (hurrah!). If you want Gantt charts, you’ll need to pay around $83 per month for unlimited users. There’s a cheaper plan at $35 per month without Gantt charts and a more expensive plan with more storage.
Languages: English or Japanese
Backlog is an easy tool to get started with. I got the app on my iPad and I was quickly able to start using it.
The dashboard looks tidy and is easy to navigate.
However, two things threw me off balance at the beginning. You have to create a key for your project – the sample project I created was about writing my next book, so I chose BOOK. Now all my activities are prefaced with BOOK. It would have been better to use something that would help colleagues track and manage the project, a reference number or department code. So think about that as you create keys.
Second, you can’t create tasks, only “issues”.
How to Create a Project in Nulab
From the dashboard, hit the plus sign to create a new project, and fill in the fields. On the free plan
Add an issue, then choose Task as the type of issue. The other types are Bugs, Requests or Other.
Fill in the details – it’s very easy – and click Add to create the task. You don’t have to fill in every box.
I love the ability to batch update, although I don’t love that it opens in a new window. I was only a few clicks into updating my plan and I already had four Nulab windows open.
You can attach files to tasks and notify users that tasks have been added.
There are lots of options for categorising tasks and issues, such as setting the priority level. If you are using Backlog to manage your actual workload backlog, then you can easily see what’s relevant for your grooming discussions.
You can also create milestones.
Do that at the same time as creating an issue. Then link the issue (and any other issues) to the milestone.
However, I couldn’t see how to add a date to a milestone. There doesn’t seem to be any date-driven logic in the system to help with scheduling or planning, so your milestones in Backlog are effectively a way to group and report on tasks.
Gantt Charts in Backlog
The Gantt chart feature is very basic. If you set a start and due date for the task, the activity appears on the Gantt chart. This is useful for displaying work visually, so you can see where you have a lot of work on at the same time.
However, you can’t add task dependencies (beyond manually setting the dates). You can’t add task groupings and roll up tasks like you can in MS Project and other tools. This view isn’t massively helpful for project managers used to working with Gantt charts.
Reporting and Budgeting
There are no formal reports that you can run from within the tool, so you can’t see resource allocation at a glance.
Backlog is not designed to hold costing information, so you can’t add costs to a task, or to a resource. However, if that was important to you, you could add files with the financial information so at least everything was in the same project workspace.
Using the Wiki
Backlog started life as a tool for software developers, and it shows. Both the language of “issues” and their resolution, and having a built in wiki, are signs that Backlog’s roots are in IT communities.
But who doesn’t want a wiki for their project! I remember the days when I had to get our IT helpdesk to create a WordPress installation for me to have a project wiki. It is so much easier when the tool you use all the time for managing your activity has a wiki built in.
The wiki is easy to use. I quickly created a template from my iPad to use as a monthly status report.
Every time I want to create a report, I can copy the template, change the page name and edit the text to reflect progress this month. Easy.
Backlog comes with a file sharing and storage area, which is great. You can also connect to the shared Backlog folder directly,
In the screenshot below you can see I haven’t loaded any files, but it’s useful to see what search options there are to find your files again.
I love that you can create folders. Too often, file sharing in project management tools gets messy because files are dumped anywhere and you can’t find them again. While I didn’t thoroughly test the file search capability (mainly because I didn’t think you’d get that much value from me uploading 100 files just to search for them), I have it on good authority that the search is good!
Just remember to name your files something sensible that you would search for again, and use folders, to give yourself and the software a fighting chance of being able to find them quickly.
The mobile app gives you a lot of functionality. It’s easy to use and would let you carry on working even when you’re on the road.
Backlog is a tool that would easily suit IT teams, software and digital teams, Agile environments and teams that manage project work alongside BAU bug fixes for internal or external clients. If you work in a different setting, there’s still scope for you to make use of the tool, and the company website has case studies from a number of industries including retail, logistics, financial services and others, so it definitely translates to other industries.
However, Backlog’s limited planning functionality doesn’t make it suitable for large or complex projects. As someone who works mainly on complex projects with multiple dependencies across the business, I found the Gantt chart too limited to be of much use.
If you use milestones and Gantt charts together you can get a quick visual reflection of progress which will be enough for many teams.
Backlog has lots of feature that will suit teams working together for any length of time, such as file sharing and the brilliant wiki functionality. The dashboard is very clear.
The transparency element is great – it’s easy to see who is responsible for what, and with no limit on users (for the middle and top plans, which are still very cost-effective for corporate project management tools), everyone can have access.
Overall, the usability of Backlog will mean your colleagues won’t mind using it, which in turn should help with collaboration and communication across the teams.
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