As you shuffle through emails, Instant Messages, pink post-it notes, and maybe even a few “old school” paper copies of schedules, you may find yourself saying, “there has to be a better way.” For most organizations managing the process of work becomes a process unto itself, you have meetings to plan for the next meeting and in that meeting you realize that you still haven’t finished anything from the pre-meeting planning meeting! Yes, that’s Project Management sarcasm.
In a time when globally dispersed teams are leading a new generation of work (I call it digital work), communication becomes even more crucial to team success. When combining business objectives, competitive landscapes, and technology architectures, things can quickly become a tangled mess of three letter acronyms and long hours at home.
That’s where online collaboration tools come in.
These tools aren’t the end all be all; they’re a part of an overarching process we use to lead and manage work. It can become overwhelming to think about hundreds of task items, Gantt charts, meetings, and anything else you can throw into the project management realm. Even being a fairly small and agile team we still have to use phone calls, email, etc. as a means to communicate.
Don’t fall for the myth of using one tool to accomplish everything, do a little research and explore the free/trial versions of the software. While these tools can help lead and manage projects, there are still aspects that extend outside them.
With that in mind online collaboration software can be a powerful tool for you and your team.
Key Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your Software
Before rushing to decide which tool you’re going to use, ask yourself a few questions to help you decide which one, if any, is right for you.
What am I trying to lead / manage?
Seems like a simple question to answer right? Write it down. Create a list of the things you think you will need to manage. Schedules, resources, tasks, risks, physical deliverables, testing documentation, etc. You will need this list when evaluating the functionality of online collaboration software.
Do I have the right culture?
Do you still print off paper schedules and hang them on the wall? Print emails and bring them to meetings? There is a cultural component to these tools. If you’re organization isn’t culturally ready to use them, it doesn’t matter which one you choose, it’s probably going to fail. You need to have a company culture that supports online collaboration. Your team has to be open to adapting to and following that process for it to be effective. Breaking deeply rooted habits will be very challenging. These tools are more likely to be successful with organizations that already use online tools to communicate, rather than paper copies.
How much detail will I need?
Depending on your team, some people will need more detailed directions than others. For example, you have a team of developers. Some may be senior developers with a lot of experience who can take a task and complete it without much direction. Others may be newer developers who need a little more detail and depth to certain tasks. Every tool has a unique set of functionality for things like discussion threads, forums, content management, and others. “Refer to the list you created under what am I trying to lead / manage?” In a situation like this it may help to complete a few user profiles or personas, user experience will help drive tool selection.
How robust do I need it to be?
How many different functions are you going to need? If you’re going to need to use multiple tools, is your team going to get confused about where to go for information? As an example Basecamp doesn’t create schedules, as a work around you can create a schedule in excel and upload to a discussion thread. This can be a lot of work, if you’re looking for a tool that needs to be more robust “what am I trying to lead / manage?” you may need to look elsewhere. If you just need a simple todo tracker for managing projects and you don’t need the heavy functionality these lighter options are great and easy to use.
Deciding Which Tool Works for You
There are hundreds of different tools available and you could spend forever looking for a "perfect" fit. These are a few popular options with some key points and features to consider.
- Quickly drag and drop tasks and create to-do lists
- decent looking dashboard
- Good for what it’s capable of but the functionality ends there
- You need to pay for it! (Flat monthly fee)
- You can couple Basecamp with Smartsheets or Teamgantt for Gantt charts!
- Really good user interface that’s easy to understand
- Free to use (up to 15 team members)
- Supports addins and integrations such as Dropbox, Google Drive
- Templana, a template collection for Asana, can be used to import user created project templates
- Open API for developers to create their own content
- Has a Gantt Chart addin
- Definitely the most robust tool
- Optional addins but they require some experience to use
- Ability to work on agile projects
- On demand and hosted versions available
Redbooth (formerly Teambox)
- Great pricing! (free up to 5 projects)
- Drag and Drop functionality
- Great integrations (Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, GitHub)
- Video Conferencing capability
Share your favorite Project Management tools in the comments below.Photo Credit: MyTudut via Compfight cc