Over the 11 years Jojet has been running I’ve used a variety of tools & techniques to help ensure that projects run smoothly. These techniques have chopped & changed as I’ve discovered new ways of doing things as well as responding to changes in how my business operates.
In this post I’d like to go through some of those tools & how I use them – if you have any comments or want to add any of your own, then please shout out.
My Set Up
I’ll spare you the full history but the current Jojet setup is myself as the web strategy/project management chap and, to help deliver projects, I use a trusted group of talented freelancers and associates on a project by project basis.
This resource nimbleness affords great flexibility but it does come with its own bag of issues; one of those is managing a virtual team. How do I do this?
Obviously telephone is a no brainier but I am careful with its use because I do like to have the record of the conversation which email affords.
I’m also careful with my freelancers as, unless I *know* they are working on my stuff, I don’t want to ring them & disturb them when they are potentially working on other projects. Email is more respectful of handling their time.
I’ve already mentioned that I love the traceability of email however, fighting an overflowing inbox is an ongoing battle. Find out more about how I handle email here.
Oh, and take a look at ActiveInbox if you use GMAIl; I’ll blog on that soon.
Highrise is a lightweight CRM system which means there is a record per customer/client you deal with. You can add notes to clients so you have a full history of your communication with them.
You can ‘tag’ customers so that it’s easy to spot leads/current proposals etc. It also has todo lists but, in truth, that’s not where I like to keep such task info.
A great aspect of Highrise is that you can BCC emails to it and it’ll store copies of any such emails against the relevant customer record. I find this really useful for key emails that I want to be able to access easily.
HR does have option to store my project related information and to do deal tracking but I’ve never really got into that as there are better suited tools imho.
I quite often find myself creating proposals & I don’t find it easy for documents to look aesthetically pleasing when exported from Google Docs. This is where Quote Roller (QR) helps.
QR carves your proposal up into customisable sections. You can chose a theme, change colours, add a logo etc. You can specify the pricing elements of the project and QR will happily format it as a pleasing PDF with tables etc. It also has facilities where clients can (accept) your proposal etc.
Oh, if you are considering QR then you should also take a look at ‘quote robot‘ (similar).
If the project lends itself to a producing a larger scale plan then Smart Sheet is great a producing online Gnnatt charts.
Wunderlist is my preferred todo list app, it works equally well on my iPhone, iPad and my Mac book pro.
You can have multiple lists, assign priority, set due dates etc – all the usual things in a iphone slick app which has a website side to back it up. It also has a feature to share todo lists with others (which might be good for team work) but I confess that I’ve not tried that.
Ps I *love* the Clear iPhone task app – it’s an absolute joy to use but it doesn’t seem to allow access to your tasks anywhere apart from your iPhone – which I didn’t like (and I was never sure if it was backing tasks up to the cloud, a ‘must have’ for me).
Basecamp (BC) is the grand daddy of all lightweight, web based project management tools. It has a score of features including a conversation/message area, file storage, todos etc but, for me, the best part is just having an isolated place where the group conversation is solely about a certain project.
So, for all my bigger web jobs, there will be an individual BC project which the various team members will be invited in to. Here I’ll brief the project and then field any questions. We’ll probably also use BC to discuss feedback over uploaded design iterations or later build issues.
If I’m honest BC has been a love hate relationship – it’s slick and it’s polished but it has never felt right for me. I don’t use half the features and it can quickly become expensive. A killer issue for me is that the iPhone/iPad app is not very strong. Still, it’s worth looking at.
The short comings in BC are what has driven me to look for a new solution to manage my bigger projects; this is where teambox can help.
Similar to Basecamp, team box offers you multiple projects with the ability to store messages, conversations, todos & files. However, unlike BC, team box offers a slick iPad/iPhone app which allows me to see a great birds eye view of projects as well as being able to drill into low level task detail.
It’s early days with my use of teambox but I am impressed so far. I don’t think it’s as polished as BC but their support department are very good. AND it is cheaper than BC.
Google docs spreadsheets
Many of my internal documents, client documentation, company financial spreadsheets etc are stored in the super Google Docs.
In particular I’ve got two key spreadsheets: one which addresses all the current projects, billing situation, suppliers invoices, KPI stats and another which tracks the progress of leads.
I also use Google Docs to create documents which outline the packages I offer which are always useful in the early stages of scope/price negotiation. Have to say that Google docs is functional rather than pretty though (I think I’ll be getting Russell Britton to make mine look prettier!).
I did think about ditching Basecamp and, instead, having a single Google Doc per project but because Google Docs doesn’t play particular well on the iPhone & IPad, then this was a non-starter.
For most projects & clients I’ll also maintain a plain text document which stores all the key information about the project:
- What the current project state is
- What the history is (who said/agreed what etc)
- Who is doing what
- What I am waiting for from the client
- What was billed & when
- Key emails
- Credentials (FTP logins etc)
- Billing information
This files afford me a great birds eye view of clients/projects; and in a format which is not tied to any proprietary app; it’s just a simple, plain old, text document.
On my iPad I’ll typically review & update these documents via the excellent IAWriter app (in fact, I am writing this blog post on it now).
IA writer is a no-frills text editor which I happen to like a lot. It also syncs files automatically with Dropbox which means I can also access/edit on my mac book. I can also access all the files on my iPhone.
As I’m trying hard *not* to have hard copy print outs, I’ll also update this file direct in client meetings etc.
Yes this does mean there is some overlap as I’ll copy and paste key emails into client docs, perhaps replicate some items of the todo list (which may be stored in Teambox or Wunderlist) but I’m happy with that because at least the client document is my central place which all roads lead to.
Like most people I also have client folders on my computer which store any other documents and assets related to the client/project; such as artwork or branding assets.
The system is not perfect & I’m not happy with the areas of overlap. The next step is actual for me to document what the process is – almost creating an operations manual for key areas.
Would love to hear what anyone else uses to keep their business running smoothly.