You have an idea, a few friends, and no money to execute the idea. How do you bring together all the tools you need to get your app designed, built, tested, and maintained without spending any money? Without an app, you can’t get funding… What can you do?
Fortunately, there are plenty of companies offering free services to get your app fully deployed and maintained. In this three-part post, I’ll cover many great tools you can use to begin planning and building your application, as well as some tools to host and maintain it. Most of this is language agnostic, but I’m also assuming you want to build a web app (I enjoy Ruby on Rails, so the hosting part of the series will focus more on that). I won’t cover application-level tools such as OAuth, analytics, and server maintenance.
Home Base — Team Communication
The ability to get whole teams into a discussion, have small-team discussions, and keep a running log of decisions coming out of the chatter is very important. There are two services that not only allow for communication, but also include some planning tools and integrations into other tools you will use further on in the product life cycle.
This is my favorite service for collaborative communication. Tiny Speck took great care in providing wonderful interfaces for team talk, private team rooms, and service integration (Source control, continuous integration, project management tools, and more). Notifications on messages sent while the app was closed will show up in your email and in the UI. They also have crafted a wonderful mobile app.
Price: Free (currently in preview, as of January 3, 2014)
While very much like Slack, HipChat offers a few more third-party integrations, the ability to have guest access to certain rooms, and a more standardized UI. HipChat is also an Atlassian product, so it has a little more backing and support. The interactions overall are more polished than Slack, but I prefer the aesthetic and (currently) unlimited team size. HipChat is free for 5 team members or fewer, and then there are various paid plans.
Price: Free (for up to 5 team members) and paid
Project Management and Story Tracking
Once you get your team built, ideas begin to flow. Getting them into a tracker of some sort will help you assign them to team members, prioritize them, and investigate the amount of work it will take to complete them.
Trello is a a wonderful KanBan-like management tool. You can mke as many boards with as many columns as you want. Task cards can be assigned, tagged, re-arranged, and have task lists and comments added to them. Organizations can be made, so that all members can get access to boards assigned to the organization. It also has a very clean and easy-to-use interface. Slack and Hipchat have integrations that allow Trello updates to display within their messaging interface.
This online project management software does not have a ton of free options. While Pivotal Tracker and others have 30 — 60 day trials, LeanKit is the next-best free option. Much like Trello, it allows for 3 different boards, and KanBan tracks for up to 10 users (Starting Soon, To Do, Doing, Done, Needs Review). The UI is kludgy, and it’s not the best experience, but it is free for up to 10 team members.
Price: Free (for up to 10 team members) and paid
Bonus tools to have at this stage would be a shared Dropbox folder to share screenshots, mockups, and prototype files for your project.
Getting together a great set of tools to begin the project planning and communication phase is vital. From the moment you begin using these tools, they will aid you in the remaining phases of your product life cycle. It is important to choose the one you enjoy most.
In part 2, I’ll talk about tools to help you build and test your product: