As a project manager, I am often asked to speak on business management tools. A wealth of web-based, simple, and valuable tools exist that can be used in any type of company size and industry. We use many of these applications in our day-to-day business to manage our projects, teams and ourselves.
It is important to remember that a tool should help you facilitate your work… NOT add more work to your day. You need to understand your work flow and identify where you need help prior to application selection. Tools should:
- help you create, build, and develop projects
- lead, direct and advise your teams/sponsors/clients
- assess, measure, and analyze your progress
- and most important, be simple to use
Project Management Tools
Basecamp – We use this tool to manage our virtual workforce teams and to easily communicate with our clients. We are able to set milestones, assign to-do tasks according to milestones, upload files, and communicate through the forums.You can build templates and customize the tool to match your brand. This tool eliminates our dependency on email and allows 24X7 access to project status.
Smartsheet – This tool was recommended by a colleague. For you spreadsheet lovers out there this tool may be the one for you. In addition to basic project management capabilities, you can produce summary reports and access the tool from your phone through their mobile application. A very interesting aspect to Smartsheet is their on-demand workforce. If you need resources to help with simple tasks (primarily research oriented tasks) they have a virtual workforce to help you (for an hourly rate of course).
@Task – This is an enterprise level tool and can be integrated with a variety of applications such as Oracle, Peoplesoft and Salesforce.com. This tool has very impressive reporting capabilities that can support the most detailed of managers and the highest level of executives. If you have large and complex programs this tool may be the one for you.
Ning – A lot of people use Ning for communities, but we’ve been experimenting with it for free project management. It’s not quite as robust as Basecamp, but has some similarities, including the ability to create permission-based groups and invite different people to join them. It’s working pretty well, and it’s customized with our brand, which we consider a big benefit.
Echosign – I have to say this is my favorite tool lately. Echosign allows you to improve your sales contract cycle time from weeks to hours by allowing online signatures that are in compliance with the ESIGN act making the online signature as powerful as a hand-written one. Red-lining is supported as well as multiple signatures/initials throughout the document. The client/contractor you are requesting to sign does not need to have signed-up for the application and can provide their signature in a matter of seconds. We have had 15 contracts signed in the last month and have yet had anyone experience any issues or confusion… in fact a few of our clients are now using this tool for their business and every time Kristi tweets it out, a lot of people seem thrilled to learn about it. We’ve set up their tweet bot that announces when we signed something or someone has signed a contract with us to help spread the word.
Freshbooks – Contractors love this tool so we love it too! Freshbooks make invoicing super easy and helps you keep track of what is paid vs. outstanding. Reporting is included and the open API supports integration with Quickbooks and Basecamp. If you are looking to improve your billing cycle time then we suggest you take a look at Freshbooks. You might recognize one of the testimonials on the home page.
Outright- is a companion management tool that we use with Freshbooks to track and manage business expenses. Very helpful for tax-time and reports.
Team Management Tools
Dropbox – A backup server that finally doesn’t require you to load the document twice. This application synchronizes with your hard drive automatically! You get 2G of storage free and automatic notification when any file is loaded or changed. A tool that helps you with your current workload, doesn’t require extra work and is so easy grandma can use it.
Backpack – Also by 37Signals, Backpack is great for capturing thoughts from brainstorming sessions, creating task lists and keeping track of things to do, and share notes, calendars, files and lists among your team. It’s intuitive and easy to use, and for people who don’t need the full-blown project management of Basecamp, might be a better choice.
Self Management Tools
Skype – Yes, many of us online types have been using Skype for awhile but for those new to the “geek” scene this tool is a nice surprise. This VoIP application allows unlimited free domestic calling, video calling and instant messaging with other Skype users. You can also quickly upload files and send resource links during conference calls. The tool integrates with a multitude of address books and allows calls internationally and to non-Skype users for a premium charge.
Remember the Milk – Built with the “Getting Things Done” philosophy this is a great tool to manage all aspects of your life …personal, school and work. They have a variety of mobile app’s to support an on-the-go lifestyle and include map integration that can track where you are to notify you when you are in the vicinity of getting a to-do done. I personally like the tag cloud capability to help me see where my time is being spent and to highlight where I can get two birds with one stone.
Google – The mother of all tools. In addition to gmail, calendar, and google docs we also use google groups, google voice and google reader to help simplify our daily responsibilities. Yes, you do sometimes have a glitch here and there but the flexibility, accessibility and simplicity outweigh any of the bumps you may experience from time to time. What makes us the most excited?? Google Wave came out September 30th and a lot of folks seem to be loving it.
These really only skim the surface of the cloud-based apps we use everyday… Delicious for bookmarks, Evernote for capturing disparate types of info around the web, Twitterface for monitoring twitter keywords, analyics apps, plus our smartphones which let us access many of these apps while mobile are like an engine powering Fresh ID to run.
We are always looking for new and improved ways to operate our business so if you have a killer tool that we didn’t mention here please leave us a comment and let us know about it!