This month I tore open the packet and have a fresh project management tool to play with. It’s called dapulse, and it claims to help you “Be the best manager you’ve ever met.”
Not the most original tagline for a new product and I’ll confess that at this point my expectations weren’t high. Here was yet another app vying for the coveted project management tool workspace. A quick look through their marketing site didn’t reassure me. What I saw was an app with a colourful and pleasing UI that appeared, on the surface at least, to be feature poor.
Nevertheless, my last two articles meant reviewing apps that I also ended up liking. So, I held my judgement and dove into this product with a blank slate.
dapulse is an application for top-level task management and team collaboration. It focuses on informing your team of project progress or problems in a visually clear and concise way.
The signup process for dapulse is one of the better experiences I’ve come across. After an initial email verification, you’re guided through the setup.
First, you create a company URL and provide some key details. I found the app’s focus on companies a little disappointing. It felt like groups, clubs, and other various organization types weren’t welcome. A few tweaks to some of the language would help resolve this.
In a few seconds, though, you’ve got your account set up and can invite team members.
This whole process is quick, easy, and maybe even pleasant. The downside is that you are auto-enrolled into emails from dapulse. The ensuing email flow was annoying, but I accepted it as part of the on-boarding process.Then I got this email and felt like I’d signed up for a self-help seminar: “BEST MANAGER. EVER.” Sign me up.
Once you’re in, the app (or to be specific, the digital personification of Idan Hershko, VP Customer Success) helps you get started. Idan delivers an excellent guide to setting up some workspaces and projects—aka boards and pulses. Beautiful animations support this process and present the app as having high production value. This is no longer looking like a lightweight, fluffy application. There is some substance here.
Idan asks you to choose between creating a high-level board or a low-level board. High-level boards are for project overviews like monitoring the status of phases. Low-level boards are for more granular management, such as assigning tasks to your team. Above this you have:
- Main boards (viewable by the entire organization)
- Private boards (invite only)
- Shareable boards (for use with external users)
Don’t worry if you have commitment issues at this stage. You can change the board type at any time.
Throughout this guide, the app displays coach marks and tooltips, which present your options at each stage and encourage you to explore the space. At this point I’m warming to dapulse.
Once you’ve set up a board, you can start customizing it to your needs. Personally, I’m a control freak with crazy OCD (don’t pretend you aren’t) and I want things to work my way because, of course, I know best… The good news is, creating a custom workflow by adding columns to your board means you have lots of options. These columns can be one of four types:
Completely customizable, with a large selection of colours to choose from
Use these for phase names, descriptions, notes
This could be the project manager, team member assigned or client. Why not add all three?
Perhaps a start date, due date, or release date. There are shortcuts like ‘Today’ and ‘Next Week’ to speed up entry, plus you can sync these dates with Google Calendar or Outlook. There are nice little icons that you can add to dates for no greater reason I can tell, other than they look cool.
Add any number of these to create the perfect combination for your needs. The downside is that the more columns you add, the less visibility you have. The boards extend off screen and I found myself scrolling left and right too often. The mobile app, which I’ll come back to later, accentuates this issue. In the meantime, I’d suggest keeping your columns succinct.
Finding a rhythm
I set up a board for a few projects due this month and next. At this point some cracks in the glossy finish start to appear. Statuses are column specific. If, for example, you create a board that shows a project lifecycle, it might look like this:
Design → Development → Content Population
Let’s say you want some statuses for these such as:
- To Do
Start with the Design column. Edit the status labels for that column by assigning these labels to four of the colours. Now move to the Development column and click on the status options—they’re all empty. This is because the labels are independent of the other columns. This is good because it gives you total flexibility, but it does mean that, in most instances, you need to repeat a few steps to get your workflow set up. That is, unless you dig down into the app’s settings where I found an option to set default statuses for a board. So, if you’re consistent with your labelling, it will save a lot of time.
Here’s a another little grumble. As I changed some statuses, one of my projects duplicated—again, and again, and again. I deleted one of the duplicates and it deleted the whole lot. I had to recreate that project. It seems to be a bug, but I haven’t been able to recreate it.
Once I set up my board with some representative content, I explored some of the filtering options. dapulse does a competent job of covering most bases. There is an effective search as you type option for finding projects or details quickly. Alternatively, filter by statuses or assignees. I noticed a couple of issues here:
You can’t select multiple statuses. That means I can’t show projects that are both To do and Doing. The same goes for people. It’s one or the other.
You can’t search variables in the Date columns. This means I can’t show results for projects due in August or tomorrow for example. I find the ability to filter by time is important for prioritizing work. That said, you can sort by date, moving pulses due soon to the top of your board.
You can start working as soon as you’ve configured your boards with their pulses and have some teammates to work with. Updating the board is easy and enjoyable. Other team members have clear visibility over the status of tasks and projects. The format is clear and concise, the smart UI helping to grease the wheels.
Each pulse has a deeper layer. Clicking on one takes you to a collaborative workspace where users can post updates, share files, add notes, and ask questions. This functionality would be useful for the high-level boards, but is too granular for the low-level ones.
The implementation is basic, but seems fit for purpose. If my team posted a lot of updates, I think the list would become unruly and it’d be difficult to find meaningful information.
There is a global search function that delivers results in three neat groups: Pulses, Users, and Posts. That is at a top-level rather than within a pulse. An app like Slack would be more appropriate for team communication, offering more than dapulse in this regard at zero cost (for the free version).
dapulse tracks all posts, changes in each pulse, and presents them in a feed for each user. You only see content you are subscribed to. Admins can view everything. The feed is detailed, and if users make lot of changes at once, it can become a little overwhelming.
Have you ever sent something to a colleague, then asked them about it, only to hear that they never saw it? No such tales can be told within dapulse as it has a tracker that tells you who has seen which content. Think of it like a read-receipt—one that project managers across the land shall gleefully wave around.
The feed is broken down into:
- Unread updates
- My updates
- All updates
- My pinned
…there is also a notifications panel for more targeted updates. Notifications shouldn’t be confused with the product update feed. This is located exactly where I’d expect notifications to be. They keep you up to date with the latest enhancements and changes to dapulse. From the look of things, there is a steady stream of development. Positive news for anyone thinking of signing up.
Under the skin
dapulse has an extensive admin area. The usual user management is here along with some security settings. There are options to add minor branding such as a company logo. Usage Stats were the most interesting to me. At a basic level you can see general statistics like how many users have joined and how many boards they have created. Dig down to the advanced usage and you find that the system judges users on their commitment! dapulse groups users according to their activity in the app:
- Builders: people that created boards, pulses, and assigned others. These are the people that started new things.
- Contributors: people that wrote new updates. These are the people that create content others then interact with.
- Interactors: these are the people that replied and liked—they drive interactions on updates.
- Board updaters: these people update Board statuses, they keep boards up to date.
I find this kind of information interesting, rather than useful. But, in a large organization I can see certain benefits to measuring engagement.
Integrations can be found in the admin area and I’m afraid to say that here, dapulse is flagging. Currently all you have to play with are:
- Google Calendar
- Google Drive
To be fair, the integration with Zapier (which in turn creates integrations…) provides a breadth of options. But, Zapier is another paid product and I’d expect more free integrations as part of the dapulse standard.
That brings me around to cost.
High beats per minute
dapulse has been faring well up to now. It’s well built, has some lovely UI finesse, and they’ve kept functionality focused. Frequently, apps like this have a free tier to help grow an initial user base. No such luck with dapulse. After your 30 day trial you’re going to need to hand over $25/month for just five users on the basic tier monthly contract and that won’t even get you a chunk of the functionality I’ve mentioned above. For example, this doesn’t include private or shareable boards, nor usage stats. To get everything but the private boards you’re looking at the standard tier at $48/month—still just five users. For a group of 50 users, standard is $487/month and, brace yourselves— the enterprise tier for up to 200 users is an astonishing $5,851/month (good thing there are discounts for annual contracts)!
This brings me on to dapulse’s competition. Asana, Teamwork, Podio, and Trello spring to mind. dapulse sits somewhere in the middle here. It has some of the structure and depth you get with Asana and Teamwork, the powerful customization that Podio has to offer, and the simplicity of Trello’s board management. Even Asana’s premium account is $417/month for 50 users, but it’s free for up to 15 users. dapulse seems confident that, even with the higher fee, they can compete with more established platforms. It’s difficult to avoid the elephant in the room—Trello. It doesn’t have some of the more powerful functionality, but it has features like boards, pulses (cards), commenting, file sharing, notifications, integrations and customization. Oh, and it’s FREE…
On the move
I can’t wrap up without mentioning the mobile apps. I’ve only tried the iOS version. It’s…okay. It feels like a web app. The horizontal scrolling I mentioned earlier is an issue. This is a common problem with trying to present this format on small screens. The YouTube video guides don’t load to fit the screen size and some other UI elements are cropped off-screen. It needs some work but they have an app on two platforms and it works, which deserves some credit.
Time to take a reading
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from dapulse. Both the name and the “be the best project manager…” tagline annoyed me and I felt like this was going to be another one of those valiant efforts that ultimately fails to deliver. However, I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit I was wrong. This is a high quality app and it is clear that a lot of love and attention has been, and continues to be, poured into it.
I really like the UI. It’s colourful, playful, and modern. There are areas that need more attention, but I assume this will come in time. When compared to the competition, dapulse stands out as a fresh face while the others look tired. They’ve avoided feature bloat but embellished the boards with some nice extras.
On the other hand, I’m struggling to find where dapulse sits in the market. It’s priced to compete at the enterprise level but doesn’t have the feature set to fulfil expectations. It feels like it sits in Trello’s corner, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra monthly cost when compared side by side. A free tier might help build a little momentum and grow their user base.
There’s no shortage of apps battling in the project management space and the competition is high. I haven’t seen many break through to grab a big slice of the market, so I’m intrigued to see where things go for dapulse. Personally, I like it but I don’t think it’s the app for me. It doesn’t offer enough for the price and there are other tools that meet my needs for less. dapulse’s offering is novel, rather than new. There isn’t anything here that I haven’t seen elsewhere, but the implementation is very sharp and that might just be enough.