Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
July 10, 2020 · 12 min read

The Ultimate Redmine Guide: How to set up and supercharge the best open source project management tool

The Ultimate Redmine Guide

There’s a reason startups are obsessed with “community” and influencers tell you to find your “tribe”. Pretty much everything is made better when you bring together a group of the right people. Even software.

Redmine is the most popular open source project management tool and issue tracker out there, thanks in large part to it’s dedicated community of users and contributors. Since launching more than a decade and a half ago, Redmine’s been adopted by everyone from scrappy startups to agencies, Fortune 500s, and even top universities like Oxford.

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At Planio, we’ve been dedicated members of the Redmine tribe almost from the beginning. (We even built our own project management tool on top of the powerful Redmine framework!)

If you’re looking for a new project management tool, this guide will run you through the basics of what Redmine is, why it’s a great choice for most software development teams, and how you can get it set up and optimized for you!

What is Redmine?

At its core, Redmine is primarily an issue tracker. It was developed to help teams collaborate on the tasks, bugs, features, and steps needed to complete a project, visually track their progress, and plan their next steps using Gantt charts.

However, beyond the standard project management setup, Redmine also makes it easy to share ideas with your team members and manage your team’s knowledge. You can create an internal blog, forum, or wiki and record details unrelated to the issues you’re tracking.

Yet while there are tons of project management tools out there with some taking on the same features, Redmine rises above them by being open source. This means anyone can download and view the source code or even rewrite parts of it and contribute back to the project.

Since Jean-Philippe Lang released the first version of Redmine in 2006, an active community has sprung up to optimize and expand the original code. And since 2007, that community has included the Planio team!

Over the years, Redmine’s community has built and released a number of features back into the tool, including:

Simply put, even the largest teams can’t compare to the number of dedicated people contributing to Redmine through the open source community.

Why use an open source project management tool like Redmine?

With all the other available options for project management tools, why use an open source tool?

Simply put, even the largest teams can’t compare to the open source community. The number of people who’ve contributed to the Redmine code and their dedication has resulted in benefits that are the envy of the greatest tech giants.

Let’s look at a few:

  1. Regular updates and longevity. Redmine’s contributors are always looking for ways to improve the code and make the tool better. Not only does this mean that Redmine will stay compatible with the latest hardware and software, but also that the product itself will most likely never go away. Need convincing? Redmine was launched in 2006 and is still being regularly updated. While task management app Wunderlist was released in 2011 and, after being acquired by Microsoft, was discontinued in May 2020.
  2. Extra security for your most important files and thoughts. At first, the idea that anyone can view and modify the source code seems like it could be a security nightmare. The truth is that when code is openly accessible, bugs and vulnerabilities are discovered much faster. With literally thousands of professional developers examining the code, the result is software that’s protected against any risk you can imagine.
  3. Reliability. With the open source community behind it, Redmine has also developed a reputation for stability. Organizations of all sizes—including agencies, startups, software developers, and universities—rely on Redmine to manage their work.
  4. Accessibility across mobile and all your devices. Forget having to worry about compatibility issues. It doesn’t matter what OS your device is running; as long as it has an internet connection, you’ll be able to access your data with Redmine.

How do I run Redmine?

If you want to get started with Redmine, there are two paths you can take to set it up for project management. Each method has its pros and cons and your choice will depend on your priorities and available resources.

The Ultimate Redmine Guide

1. Self-host Redmine on your own server

Redmine is “free” to download and use, which makes it hugely appealing, especially to large organizations that may have hundreds of users who all need access to the software. However, as the famous saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free project management tool…

While the actual software is free to download, hosting Redmine on your own servers incurs other costs, both in time and money.

A self-hosted solution means you’re responsible for all the upkeep and maintenance. You’ll need to keep your installation up-to-date and make sure the latest changes work with your setup.

(To know the real cost, try the calculator we built!)

2. Use a hosted Redmine solution like Planio

The alternative is to let someone else, such as Planio, host your Redmine solution for you.

While hosted Redmine solutions will cost you a monthly fee (instead of the “free” version you run yourself), that’s quite literally all you’ll be paying for.

Planio includes all of the features and benefits of using Redmine as well as a ton of additional features and even a support team you can call and talk to. You’ll never have to worry about what version of the software you’re running and whether you’ve got that latest security patch installed or not. Hosted services take care of all the maintenance and updates, meaning you’ve always got the latest stable version of the software running.

(Read more about Planio and Redmine here!)

The Ultimate Redmine Setup Guide: How to optimize Redmine for modern project management

Alright, so you’ve decided to use Redmine as your project management tool. Now what?

Let’s run through the basic steps of getting started with either a self-hosted Redmine setup or using a hosted option like Planio.

The (self-hosted) Redmine basic setup guide

If you’ve decided you want to go ahead with a self-hosted Redmine setup, your first stop should be the official Redmine installation guide. It’s a detailed guide run by the Redmine team themselves. The process is a little more complicated than simply installing an app, but as long as you’re familiar with database configuration and can follow instructions, you should be okay.

(If the mere mention of databases has you nervous, a hosted solution such as Planio is likely the best option for you.)

Your first step will be to get your hands on a copy of the code from the download page. The easiest way is probably to download a packaged release for your OS. Alternatively, you can get the latest code from the repository–recommended if you want to have the latest improvements and easy upgrades.

You’ll also need to create an empty database and configure it for Redmine, as well as install the dependencies you need. To protect your session data, you’ll need to generate a key for encoding it. Once you have your file system permissions sorted, you can then test the application ready for use.

Configuring Redmine for project management

Once you’ve made it through the initial installation, congratulations! You’re now ready to start taking advantage of one of the most flexible open source project management tools in existence.

Since launching more than a decade and a half ago, Redmine has been adopted by everyone from scrappy startups to Fortune 500s and even top universities like Oxford.

Although there’s so much you can do with Redmine, it’s good to start with something simple to help you get familiar. Let’s start by setting up and configuring a basic project.

1. Create a project

Creating a project in Redmine is refreshingly easy.

As the admin, click on Projects, then on New Project. You’ll now have to fill in a few details about your exciting new project such as its name, description, homepage, etc...

You’ll also need to come up with a unique Identifier for your project, which is used internally by Redmine in URLs and elsewhere as a project reference.

2. Create and add users to the project

A project needs a team, so you’ll need to get some users created and assigned to the project.

Users can register themselves. All that’s needed is to choose a login and password, as well as share their name and email address and choose their preferred language.

Yet, while users can register themselves, by default an admin will have to activate them on the Users screen before they can use the system. Once a user has been activated, they can be assigned to your project.

Users also need to be assigned the specific role they’ll play in the project. By default, your options are:

Redmine Roles

The role you choose for each user sets their permissions across the project and workflows (more on those below!) This determines whether they can create or edit projects, manage the project forums/wiki, reject issues, and so on.

3. Add your issues

You’ve got a project. You’ve got some people. Now it’s time for some tasks!

Redmine Issue List

Redmine shines for its issue tracking, but to get the most out of it you’ll have to be familiar with two key concepts: Workflows and Trackers.

Trackers are how you define or categorize your issues.

What issues do you typically deal with? What do you need to track for a successful project?

Think of Trackers as the glue that keeps everything together. At the highest level, you can use Trackers to distinguish between common issue types like Bug, Features, Defects, etc… Each tracker has its own name, default status (and whether related issues should be displayed on the project roadmap), and can include all sorts of custom fields.

But go a little bit deeper and you’ll see that they can do so much more.

Trackers also define which workflows apply to any given issue or even team member in the project (based on their role). This means you can create all sorts of customizable recurring tasks or flows that are triggered just by your tracker!

Workflows are how Redmine tracks issues and their progress. By default, your issues can be in a number of states, including:

The default settings allow any user to create an issue, but only Managers can Reject/Reopen issues.

(We’ve even put together a short guide to teach you how workflows and Trackers work together.)

4. Track your projects

You now have all the ingredients you need and can keep track of your project and make sure your team is progressing as planned.

Head to the Overview section to see a summary of the project progress, including how many issues are open and closed for each tracker, which members are on the project, and the latest news.

When you’re dealing with multiple projects, you can get an overview of them in the Projects list.

This is where you get a quick update on the current status of each of your projects as well as some key information such as a short description, whether the project is public or not, and the creation date. This way it’s possible to stay on top of all your organization’s projects.

In our experience, the teams that are most successful are the ones that get their data into Redmine (or Planio!) early on.

To make this easier, you can import existing tasks from CSV files using the importer. Most other project management tools allow you to export to CSV files. But even if you have a list of tasks in Excel, you can import them into Redmine and quickly get organized and start working on them as a team!

7 reasons why you should choose a hosted Redmine solution

For some people, the process we just outlined for setting up Redmine might sound like a walk in the park. But what if you’re a non-technical project manager who just wants to focus on hitting deadlines (and not updating software)?

The Ultimate Redmine Guide

Choosing a hosted solution is more than just a matter of cost and maintenance issues. Tools like Planio take what’s great about Redmine and build on top of it with additional features, better user interfaces, and knowledgeable support.

Let’s look at a few of the reasons why you might want to choose a hosted Redmine tool like Planio for your team:

1. A better user interface

Redmine is a technical product, which means its interface can feel a bit lacking and outdated. While it might be totally acceptable for the coders and developers on your team, the interface can be confusing and downright off-putting for other project stakeholders.

For a project management tool to be effective, it has to be accessible in the truest sense of the word to everyone on the team, not just the developers.

A tool like Planio is easily used by everyone on the team, regardless of their technical knowledge. The intuitive interface means everyone can focus on the actual tasks, while executives and project stakeholders can easily see what’s being worked on and the overall progress.

2. Real, human support

Because Redmine is an open source project, there are no personalized support options. Sure, there are forums and help pages online, along with a chat room where you can ask questions. However, if you’re relying on Redmine for your organization’s project management, there will inevitably be times when you need help.

When something goes wrong, hoping that someone is online who can help right away isn’t particularly reassuring.

On the other hand, with a hosted solution, you’ll have access to professional support when you need it. The Planio team has been contributing directly to Redmine since 2007 and know the system inside out. Whether you have an unexpected issue or a question about optimizing your setup, Planio support is available to walk you through whatever issues you’re facing.

3. Higher levels of security

We’ve already covered how secure Redmine is, thanks to the hard work of the open source community. However, what about your specific installation? How can you be sure your confidential and proprietary data is safe and secure?

When you go with a hosted package, many will offer certified security solutions. For example, at Planio, our data center is ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certified (in other words, extremely secure). All data is encrypted and backed-up to a second data center, with redundant hardware including power supplies, hard drives, and servers all ready to automatically step in if needed.

4. Comfort knowing you’re always running the latest, most stable version of the software

With regular updates to Redmine, not to mention all the plugins you might be using, it’s important to keep up-to-date. With a hosted option, you don’t have to worry about that. Planio makes sure you’re always running the latest stable version of the software, so you can focus on running your business.

5. Agile Project Management out of the box

You have a lot of different choices when it comes to planning and tracking your project.

While Redmine is great for tracking issues and comes with built-in Gantt charts, you may already have a different project management style that you use.

We’re big fans of Agile project management here. With Planio, you can use Scrum or Kanban to organize your projects, as well as the more traditional Waterfall model and, yes, Gantt charts. Rather than changing the way you work to fit the tool, use the tool in the way that fits your work.

Agile Board View

6. Team Chat, cloud storage, and more collaboration tools

The key to successfully completing any project is good communication and collaboration. This can be a challenge, even when you’re all in the same office. But for remote teams, it’s essential that all your team can easily communicate and share ideas.

With Team chat and cloud storage, it’s easy to get on the same page and make sure you’re all working on the right files. Whether you’re using Planio at your computer or you’re on the go and checking in with your phone, these tools keep communication and collaboration flowing freely.

7. You’ll save money in the long-run

The main reason people opt for a self-hosted option is that they can do it for “free,” but when you consider all the hidden costs (hardware, resources, etc.), most organizations will actually save money by going for a paid solution.

It doesn’t just cost money to implement a self-hosted system though. Time is a big factor, and even if your team has the technical expertise, it can still take weeks (or even months) to set up. With Planio, you could be up and running the same day.

Getting started with Planio

If you decide to go with Planio, it’s simple to get started. In fact, you can be up and running with your first project in just 10 minutes.

While there are plenty of features and options to fine-tune project management in Planio, it’s also possible (and beneficial) to keep things simple.

Here’s our recommended stripped-back, ultra-simple setup for getting started.

Log in to Planio and navigate to Your Avatar -> Administration -> Projects, and click on New project.

You’ll want to pick a descriptive name for your project so everyone knows what it is right away. (Don’t worry about adding homepages and subprojects right now.)

Creating a new project

In the App section, keep it to the key apps: Issue tracking, Documents, Forums, Blog, and Wiki.

Make sure that the Task tracker is selected and click Create.

Congratulations, you’ve just created your first Planio project!

Now, let’s optimize your settings to make managing this project a breeze.

Go back to Administration (or use the sidebar on the right), and click on Trackers.

For most projects, all you need is the Task tracker, which will be your tracker for assigning and managing tasks. Go ahead and delete all the other trackers for now. Later you may have other types of issues like Bugs and Features which will also become trtackers but we are starting simple for now.

Next head to Issue statuses. While you may want more options eventually, we’re going to keep things simple and delete everything apart from the default New and Closed statuses. You may also want to rename the New status to Open just to keep things consistent. Now, issues are either Open, or they’re Closed. Simple.

Let’s sort out our Roles and Permissions next.

You can fine-tune your different roles and permissions later. But for now, let’s cut it down to one role.

Delete all roles apart from Manager, then make sure the Manager role has all available permissions. That way, everyone on your team can help with organizing the project without worrying about whether they have the right permissions or not.

Finally, head to Workflow.

Here you can set how you want your issues to move through their "lives", from brand new all the way until it is finished and closed. Below, the workflow shows that a "Manager" can create a new "Task" and set the status "Open" but not directly "Closed". Only when the issue is set to "Open", is it possible to "Close" the issue. They are currently all the options you have but later you will add more status in between for your coworkers to work through.

Workflow Statuses

Select the Fields permissions tab, and set all select boxes in both status columns to Read-only, except for the rows Subject, Description, Priority, and Assignee. This way you are reducing the number of fields that can be changed when editing or creating an issue.

Field Permissions per Status

You now have a simplified Planio setup that will allow you to focus on the work that matters!

What about Agile project management? Planio can do that too

One of the big advantages of Planio over a self-hosted Redmine build is greater flexibility with how you plan and run projects including using Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, right out the gate. (A self-hosted Redmine setup requires additional plugins and set up to use Agile).

With Planio's Agile App, you’re able to see all sprint items in one board, drag-and-drop tasks or update them, plan sprints and create product backlogs, and even generate burndown, cumulative flow, and velocity charts.

Cumulative Flow Chart

It’s a great way to manage projects using the power of Redmine and the ease of Agile, all with minimal setup and support that’s waiting for your questions.

Give your team the power of an open source project management tool

There are plenty of reasons that Redmine is such a popular option for managing projects. Its open source design means it’s regularly updated, secure, and flexible. It’s also free to download and use.

However, for extra features and improved service, you may want to consider a hosted option such as Planio. With no hidden costs, Planio also offers you improved security, support, and usability. This way, you have the freedom to plan your projects and manage them in whichever way suits your needs best.