The internet has revolutionised collaborative working. The ability to cloud-host documents with tracked edits has been a blessing for publishers, while video calling allows employees to participate in meetings without having to travel. Yet these online applications are arguably less revolutionary than project management tools when it comes to improving workplace efficiency and enabling effective working practices.
At their simplest, project management tools represent an online version of an office board covered in sticky notes. In reality, they’re so much more than that. It’s possible to have multiple boards for different projects, each with an administrator-governed roster of people who’ve been granted access privileges. Individual boards can feature a huge number of tabs, breaking a project or event into specific sections. Cards are uploaded onto each tab, providing instructions or further information.
Meet the press
To understand how project management tools work in reality, consider a magazine’s editorial team. They might create a board for each edition of a publication, with older boards still available to view for reference. New tabs are created for each stage of the process: articles waiting to be commissioned, features ready to be edited, content which can go to the printers, and so on. And each tab is lined with cards relating to a specific article, which move from one tab to the next as progress is made.
Now imagine this in project management tools like Trello, where each card can contain a significant volume of information. Cards are displayed with a couple of lines of introductory text, but single-clicking reveals the whole card. This may include the following elements, in almost any quantity:
1. Colour-coded labels. Users can designate different colours to mean something specific, providing an instant visual identification of progress or personnel.
2. A description. This is where a card’s full content is displayed.
3. Comments. Anyone with login credentials can add questions or suggestions. It’s also possible to tag other board members by using their @ name, for instant notifications.
4. Activity. Every addition, subtraction or edit is listed in a chronological timeline – ideal for investigations if anything goes wrong.
5. Attachments. As well as pinning media files or documents to a card, it’s possible to add hyperlinks in the Description or Comments tabs.
6. A due date. This will raise an alarm if the date passes without action being taken.
Tools of the trade
Project management tools represent a vital strand of workplace efficiency, but it’s essential to ensure that new software additions dovetail with your company’s working practices. These ought to take into account existing challenges, as well as possible solutions. For instance, a company with sales executives scattered up and down the country might want to introduce video conferencing to eliminate the inefficiencies of everyone travelling to a set location for meetings.
A customer-facing business could introduce a real-time KPI dashboard to ensure staff is meeting their targets. And firms familiar with projects degenerating into endless email threads (not always CC’d to the right people) should consider a replacement interface with task delegation and online team discussions.