We have a small core team of people who all have their own responsibilities and projects, alongside other functions – including talking to prospective clients, presenting at conferences and more. As a result, we’ve gone from having to use Excel documents and emails to having some more formal ways to manage information across our team members and anyone else involved in the project, such as the client or a partner organisation.
Below are 6 of the most useful tools that I certainly use on a near-daily basis to manage workflow. If you haven’t tried any, most of them come either with a free trial or a free edition, so well worth taking them for a spin.
LiquidPlanner is a relatively new discovery of mine. I trialled about 7 different online project management tools, and have used some extensively before (e.g. BaseCamp) for both organising things within the team and with the client.
But LiquidPlanner I’ve found to be head and shoulders above the rest. It has a brilliant system where it actually schedules work based on your priorities and your best/worst case estimates for the time taken to complete a task. Because we have multiple people there, we can assign tasks to other employees, clients or just put in placeholders for things that we have to wait for if necessary. And it’ll even calculate estimated task completion dates, handle some pretty complex dependencies and so on.
If you put in your milestones and other key events, it’ll tell you when projects or tasks are at risk or need your attention – really useful way to get a birds-eye view of how your projects are tracking.
The best part – you can provide clients with customised ‘portals’ that allow them to view the status of projects, files attached to projects and so on. This ‘extranet’ is relatively limited, but it really helps with larger projects to have one place that you and the client can view all the necessary files.
Liquidplanner is about $30 per month per user ($24 if you pay yearly) – so isn’t the cheapest of project management tools out there by a long shot – but is simply fantastic.
I don’t know where my life would be without Dropbox. Shared Dropbox folders are the future of network shared drives for small(er) teams. Anyone can access them at any time, they update themselves automatically and will even handle having 2 people open one file at once (it creates a copy of the file rather than just crashing out Microsoft Word).
Given you can share a full folder, or individual project subfolders (e.g. when working in partnership with another organisation that needs more files than would be provided through a platform like LiquidPlanner) just by adding an email address.
The potential downside is that it can be hard(er) to manage access to the files – given everyone has access to all the files within a directory, sometimes you need to either split the folder into different bits and pieces to ensure access is right or use other methods (e.g. password-protected Word files) for things that everyone shouldn’t be able to see.
It’s US$795 for up to 5 users (the minimum) of the Dropbox Teams edition (you can often make do initially with the free 2GB version, at least initially) so again involves some investment but that cost pales compared to servers and IT support!
Xero is a NZ based company that has grown rapidly, offering one of the best online accounting platforms available (similar to MYOB but online). Manages all of your incoming/outgoing invoices, bank account reconciliation, GST accounting etc. There’s also a ‘personal edition’ for managing your own finances but I haven’t used it.
But the most useful feature is that you can log expenses using an iPhone (and I think Android) app that attaches a digital copy of the receipt taken using the phone’s camera. Makes life so much easier than having to scan or file receipts on a monthly/weekly basis and means that you can just snap a photo when you get out of the cab and file it instantly.
Pricing varies depending on the service level you need.
Pipedrive was introduced to me by a friend who works over at BuzzNumbers. There are lots of different tools out there for managing sales or clients (Highrise is one example aimed at smaller organisations), but few work within such a simple drag-and-drop framework that Pipedrive does. Being able to move things along the virtual ‘sales pipeline’ by just dragging-and-dropping makes it really easy to spend 5 minutes every day checking your upcoming actions and what proposals or ideas you’ve been discussing that might become projects.
It’s quite cheap too – US$30 per month for up to 5 users, or a solo plan for US$14 per month.
Evernote is a way to manage different little documents, snapshots, web bookmarks, audio recordings, doodles and more. While they have a teams edition, we don’t use it within a team, but I use it to keep track of all my notes as it syncs across my laptop, desktop, iPad and iPhone – and is free (with a pro version also available). You can share notebooks with other people, and it’s fantastic at being able to search through content (including text in images) as well. The one thing that it lacks is a really good way of managing multiple levels of bullets (I haven’t yet found anything better than MS Word for doing so).
6. Google Apps (Gmail/Google Calendar)
Google Apps (sadly the free version is no longer available – only the ‘pro’ version) is one of the most useful things and I couldn’t live without it for a day. The ease-of-use that the Gmail platform (on your own domain) has for managing emails (I’m a keyboard shortcut lover), along with the ‘conversation view’ keeping all replies in one place and the fantastic search algorithm really makes it useful. There’s no wonder that many private organisations and universities are moving to Google Apps – it’s hard to manage 10GB of email per user on your own servers, let alone making it so easily searchable.
Google Calendar is also really useful for everyone to be using and is a lot more user-friendly than other calendars I’ve used in the past (although Outlook is probably slightly better – but Google Calendar wins on being accessible from anywhere). Meeting invites are easy, you can use shared calendars to see everyone’s availability and more.
As yet, I haven’t used much of Google Drive (aka Google Docs) – but I’ve heard people using it much the way I use both Evernote and Dropbox. I’ve never liked the Docs interface that well, so never really tried it out extensively.