What’s the relationship between task management and project management? As we build up project management systems for our web-based company, that question is never far from our minds. We talk about project management, but our suffering — our need for systems and tools — is mostly focused on task management.

That’s why I was thrilled to discover a new, hot, collaborative task management app this week: ManyMoon. It’s the first web app I’ve found that provides team-centric task management without falling off the ledge and into the bottomless pit of project management. You can get a demo of ManyMoon, plus my summary of its pros and cons, in this screencast.

ManyMoon demo & review from Social Signal from Alexandra Samuel on Vimeo.

I happened onto ManyMoon in the midst of our latest project management experiment, which has been our adoption of Central Desktop. We like it a lot more than Basecamp, since it provides us with the ability to set due dates for tasks (a persistent, deal-breaking irritation for us as Basecamp users) . We FINALLY have a task management tool that actually lets us manage our tasks effectively, track progress, and organize even very complex task sets into manageable milestones; and as a team manager, I love the reports that let me see what each person on the team is working on. We’re delighted with the customer service (a shout-out here to Cohry Osborne, who has answered ALL my questions within 24 hours and generally been amazingly helpful in thinking about how to use CD for our specific needs).

We love the level of customization possible in Central Desktop (being able to define your own set of task status terms for each project, for example). We’re excited about the possibilities of CD’s new workflow feature (which will let us create pre-defined task lists with dependencies, so we don’t have to create a set of tasks from scratch every time we launch a new project or project phase). And we’re also interested in advantages of CD’s integration with Salesforce, which we expect to start using this year.

But for now we are really ONLY using Central Desktop for its task management features, since the other tools it offers are handled better by other applications we use already. We like Google Docs much better than CD’s spreadsheets and docs (which don’t update as quickly when collaborating). We like Google Calendar better (perhaps because it’s more obvious how to integrate with other tools). We like Harvest MUCH better for time tracking and invoicing (because Harvest lets you quickly enter your time usage in chunks — by looking back at your past few hours — rather than requiring you to log your time per-task, as you go).

And as a task manager, CD feels like overkill. The biggest factor is price: it’s expensive ($132 per month for us to get as many workspaces, i.e. projects, as we need).  It’s cumbersome: you have to navigate to a specific project before you can add a task to it, and it’s hard to navigate among projects (though I created my own set of browser bookmarks to make this easier, and CD does make it pretty easy to move a task between projects).

Once we noticed we’re only using CD for collaborative task management, I couldn’t help doing YAGS (yet another google search) for “collaborative task management”. And this time, there was a new contender: ManyMoon.

From what I can tell, ManyMoon launched in December, and just got its first big public showing last week at SFTech. But this is a new kid worth watching: ManyMoon has most of what we’ve been looking for (vainly) in a simple but powerful task manager, including a clean interface, snappy design, and a team-centered take on task management.  All in all I’d say that ManyMoon is the most promising collaborative task manager I’ve tried. And I’ve tried a LOT: we’ve given a decent try to ToodleDo, HiveMinder, RememberTheMilk and OmniFocus, along with briefer forays into ToDoist and Hi5, tried many other tools that include task management (Basecamp, DeskAway, Huddle, Central Desktop, IWantSandy, Jott, Stikkits, Daylite) and peeked up dozens more.

I have spent the past few days getting to know the software really well, and compiling my own list of kudos and requests — some of them, requests that could determine whether or not ManyMoon becomes our next project/task management tool of choice. An overview of the tool, and of my comments on it, is in this screencast.

ManyMoon’s genius is in offering what I’ll call “task management plus”. Task management is the key collaborative challenge for many teams (it sure is for ours!!) so a collaborative tool that focuses on task management makes sense. But most task management tools suffer from three key problems: (1) they are primarily oriented towards individual users, and are only partially or awkwardly usable for team-based work, (2) they have some kind of ideological commitment to how tasks should be managed (whether that’s to Getting Things Done or to the “no due dates” philosophy espoused by 37 Signals), and (3) they treat tasks as detached from the broader picture of project management.

There are lots of tools that address that third problem — the need to integrate task management with the broader challenges of project management — by offering an integrated solution. But as per our experience with Central Desktop, that involves making lots of compromises, because it’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution when you’re offering such a range of functionality.

Another kind of answer — the answer we’ve been looking for — would be a robust, collaborative task management app that could be integrated into our larger toolkit of specialized project management tools. (Like lots of people, we keep hoping Google will come up with something.) In ManyMoon, I see a very loveable task management tool that just might be the missing task management link in our project management solution.

But for that to work we need to be able to integrate it, to roll our own combination of task management (ManyMoon), document sharing (Google Docs), time tracking & invoicing (Harvest), file sharing (DropBox) and collaborative calendaring (Google calendar). Then we’ll need to fill in some gaps to create a per-project, client-facing portal (maybe via Google Sites), a shared contact management/CRM solution (Salesforce, if it’s not overkill), and project-based email threading (some kind of Gmail/Firefox plugin or Gmail/Google sites magic?)

A useful, useable task management program has beem the core app we’ve been waiting for before digging into the roll-your-own-project-management-software challenge. And ManyMoon is the first tool that offers the level of functionality, the user experience and the performance we need. All that’s missing are the integration hooks: so far, there’s no outbound RSS, iCal or API.

So for now we are testing out both ManyMoon and Central Desktop. In principle a full-featured tool like CD may be right for us: we certainly need just about every tool it offers. But as it stands, CD demands that we accept less-than-ideal functionality for each of the tools we need, in order to get overall integration.

And in practice, we are demanding users who have very particular expectations for each and every tool in our collaboration toolkit. And since we’re tech junkies, we are happy to embrace the challenge of brewing our own mashup of collaboration tools so that we get exactly what we want.

What remains to be seen is whether we CAN make that mashup. ManyMoon will have to offer some options for outbound integration, and while the team told me (via very rapid Twitter response!) that they are working on a team edition with API, there’s no e.t.a. on RSS or iCal.  Even when integration is available, we have to find the right thing to integrate it into: Google Sites is our leading contender, but our previous experiments with it have been less-than thrilling, partly because you have to start from scratch every time you set up a new project/site.

Has anybody else got feedback on using ManyMoon as the primary task management system in a small (but not that small) business? Is it ready for prime time?

And how about the experience of using Google Sites as your internal (and possibly also client-facing) alternative to Basecamp? How much trouble is it to reinvent the wheel for every project?

We’d love to hear from you in comments below.