Project management is one of the greatest challenges for the customer as well as the Strategic Technology Partner selected to do the development. We have experimented with several business tools and processes, and are happy to share some of our findings to date.
We can also share that engaging with customers before you have your processes in place can cause you to lose them, because they see you as ill-prepared, and perceive you as unprofessional. It happened to us in our startup phase here in Austin.
Collaboration is key to the way we like to operate, and inherent in that is good, clear, focused communication. We like for our clients to be able to see exactly where we are in the development process at any given moment, and we want to be able to track their thoughts and instructions.
We tried Jira for project management initially, but then moved to Basecamp, an easy to use, agile project management tool that provided a record of discussions between the customer and software development teams working on the project.
We used Harvest, from 37Signals, for time-and-expense tracking on our projects in our second year of business. As always, though, you can run into questions for which there isn’t an apparent answer, and you have to resort to using the Help function. Since we frequently use contractors with specific skills for special projects, we had questions about removing them from Harvest when we don’t need them (saving a monthly per-person fee). Tech support replied quickly to our questions, and got us moving forward. We like that.
We tried tracking User Stories in Jira early on, but found that for us, it just wasn’t a good fit at that point in time. We hadn’t developed our internal processes well enough. Not to say that we might not try it again later on, but we switched to Pivotal Tracker, an easy to use, agile management tool that provides really good collaboration. Pivotal Tracker brings everyone, even distributed teams, into the same discussion, where they can discuss and agree on priorities and stay on target with Tracker’s continuous, automatic prediction of milestone completion dates.
In October of 2013, we moved to the new Mavenlink app which included the features of Basecamp, Harvest and Pivotal Tracker. As so often happens, a new, agile, product appears that makes managing day to day business much easier, and Mavenlink was one that we adopted quickly after its introduction. It is online project management software with unlimited projects & team members and lets us prioritize tasks, set deadlines, and plan milestones on Gantt charts. We began the switchover after a couple weeks of testing, moving to the platform completely in mid-November.
Salesforce was a major part of our operations as it helped us keep track of the details necessary in tracking customer relationships. We kept a list of our partners, prospects and clients in Salesforce, and entered each contact with them, posted reminders about when to follow up with them, and could add to-do reminders that help keep us on track.
We experimented with Highrise for a short while, and it does a great job, but we returned to Salesforce for its richness of features that we value. Your situation might be different than ours, so you owe it to yourself to check out the alternatives.
We recently moved our sales and CRM functions from Salesforce to Pipedrive for Pipeline Management. We find that with our distributed sales team
Pipedrive helps us focus on the right deals, it’s easy to use, and our salespeople like its simplicity.
Phone and Video Conferencing
For those times when we are away from our computers, but need to have a conference call, we use ÜberConference. With UberConference, conferencing is a breeze. First, forget the pain of finding and typing in long PINs. Participants can just dial into the conference number and will be automatically authenticated based on their phone number.
A key element of successful relationships is communication, between team members, and between us and our clients. We use Skype, which is available, free, for desktop and mobile devices. When you’re away from your desk, you can still keep up on what’s happening with a smartphone or tablet.
We have several conversation threads going at any given time. We have a thread for developers, another for the Customer Development team, one for the leadership group, etc. We also create a thread for each client while we have their project underway, so they and the developers can have instant contact with each other. We also upgraded to the premium account, which gives us multi-user video conferencing.
We initially tried Campfire for this, but found that Skype fits our current needs better. One thing we particularly like about it, is that it stores all comments in all threads, and archives the conversations indefinitely, displaying messages however you need them: Today, Yesterday, the Last 7 days, Month, the Past Year, or from the beginning of the thread. This has been extremely helpful in going back to recover important discussions.
We’re currently also using HipChat, which features group chat and instant messaging built for teams. it gives us persistent chat rooms, drag-and-drop file sharing on desktop, mobile, and web apps. It eliminates a lot of the delay we experience in Skype, since we can send instant notifications to team members, and even invite guests into the conversation. You can also hop into a 1-to-1 chat with a coworker anytime, and if needed, video chats and real-time screen sharing too
Using Google Hangouts, our Scrum master can bring together development teams to catch up on progress, what might be blocking completion of a feature, and any other issues that need to be discussed. Hangouts video calls are limited to 10 video conference participants, with no time limit. You can also use Hangouts On Air to broadcast a Hangout to many more people, though there is still a limit of 10 active participants. If you activate Google+ premium features, the limit increases to 15 participants for Hangouts created from Google Calendar events.
We have used Dropbox from the inception of our business, because it gives us the ability to keep files up-to-date across multiple devices and stay in sync with our teams. Long gone is that “lost” feeling when you need access to a file that only resides on your desktop back at the office. There is a free account to get you started, and then as you grow you can upgrade to Dropbox for Teams offers administrative tools, phone support, and as much space as you need.
Google Business Apps
Google Apps for Business has become a workhorse for us as it provides familiar productivity tools that help you work the way you want, from anywhere, with anyone, and on any device. We give everyone on our team a Google business email account, which comes with shared and private calendars (with notifications and meeting scheduling), documents and spreadsheets (which can be shared with team members you select), and other tools that help us communicate more effectively.
You can access email, calendar, and docs from any web-enabled device, no matter where you are, and collaborate in real-time on Google documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and share emails, files, and other information with just a few clicks. We love to put a draft document up, invite team members to collaborate, and try to keep up as ideas start flying, all in real time. Its a very fast way to get something moving forward when you’re under a deadline. Try a free 30-day trial. It only costs a few dollars per user/each month if you want to continue.
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