By David Berget
The project management profession is growing into its own. Just last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued project management its own occupational category, a confirmation that project managers are more important players than ever. Yet in today’s climate, project managers are increasingly being asked to run more projects with fewer people.
Project Managers in the Learning and Development (L&D) field are not immune to the burgeoning workload. In fact, L&D Project Managers are responsible for an ever-growing stream of projects and processes -- from scoping and launching projects to coordinating SME reviews and feedback. As a Project Manager, organization and productivity is essential to your job. And, let’s be honest, letting things accumulate in your inbox is a recipe for disaster.
To help you step up and do more with less, check out these project management tools recommended by highly productive project managers. Nearly any complete project management app or service will provide most or all of the features discussed below, but if you don’t need all of the bells and whistles (and want to save some money), consider the following.
“Collaboration software” comprises countless apps and services for everything from video conference calls to letting your team edit documents at the same time.
You’ll find most project management tools include communication and collaboration tools, or they let you connect to the apps that your team already uses, like Slack, HipChat, and Google Docs.
Ease of collaboration between team members should be at the top of your list, whether you use tools provided in the project management application or connect to an outside service. The idea here is that your team is able to log in and have everything they need to finish the job, including all the necessary assets, notes from other colleagues, and a place to ask questions.
Once you realize how important collaboration and communication are, you’ll come to find why a favorite feature among the Dashe team is the chat function in Skype for Business. Having access to a chat application doesn't mean your team is required to use it, but it's nice to have the option to send a quick message rather than wait for a response to an email. Zoho Projects, Volerro, and Clarizen all offer an included chat app.
Without a doubt, tracking tasks is the bread and butter of project success. Project management apps will almost always include task management features in them, but if task management is the only piece you need, price-conscious managers can get standalone task management apps.
One of the most popular examples of a task management app for learning and development professionals is Asana, which is also sometimes considered a workflow management tool. Asana gives you the option to have tasks assigned to specific individuals. What’s more, these tasks can have descriptions, deadlines, and attached documents.
What sets Asana apart from project management software is its usability. Asana is as versatile as a deck of cards, leaving you to make up your own rules and use it as you need. You use a project management app, however, with the understanding that you are going to follow the established “rules”: manage projects by assigning tasks and deadlines, monitoring work, tracking billable hours, and so forth.
Looking for something besides Asana? Remember the Milk, available as an application both on the web and a mobile device, allows you to create several categories of tasks and manage them according to the category. For example, a list of household management tasks, a list for Project X, and an overall career management category. Remember the Milk is also helpful to set certain tasks as recurring (e.g. to review certain accounts or websites monthly).
For project managers looking to work with teams, Nozbe brings your team onto a single app. This has the advantage of fewer emails sent back and forth, which is everyone’s least favorite way to run a project.
Microsoft Project allows you to plan tasks, create a Gantt chart, and manage resources, all while integrating beautifully with the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. The one challenge is the sheer power and complexity of the software. For example, everyone uses Microsoft Excel regularly, yet, most people only use a fraction of the application’s power. Fortunately, there are many companies, books, and other resources available to help you develop your skills with Microsoft Project.
Productivity begins with knowing what it is you actually have to accomplish, and to-do lists are every Type A personality’s best friend. To-do apps, though similar, are distinctly different from those designed for project management. Some to-do apps are collaborative (like Todoist and Wunderlist), allowing you to assign a to-do to members of your team, give a deadline, and follow the task to completion. But they're not to be confused with project management apps.
Like those designed for task management, to-do list software does not give you the entire range of tools and features to track a complex project. For lightweight work, collaborative to-do apps are the way to go. Apps like Taskworld will keep you organized. You even have the option to view your lists in Kanban style if you prefer that visual representation.
As Stephen Covey explained in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there is a constant juggling act between the urgent and the important. Successfully managing both requirements takes a robust calendar.
Getting out of the stand-bys like Google, Outlook, and iCal allows for some flexibility, especially when it comes to mobile devices.
Week Cal displays Google Calendar in a readable and useful way when you’re out and about, even syncing with iPad and Apple Watch. This smartphone app integrates smoothly with Google Maps to show you where your appointments are located. The company boasts over three million users, so expect them to be around for years to come.
For the manager who organizes countless meetings and phone calls, especially involving people outside of the organization, Schedule Once is a great tool. Rather than trading emails back and forth (a waste of both time and inbox real estate), you can create your calendar availability with Schedule Once and give someone a link to request an appointment. This resource is like gold for consultants and coaches.
The importance of keeping your information organized and available goes without saying. Everyone has heard of Google Drive and Dropbox, but maybe you’re looking for something else.
With over 90 million users, Evernote has earned its top position in the market. Evernote is a one-stop shop to store meeting notes, keep notes on your goals, or anything else you can think of. There is also something to be said for using Evernote as a means to go digital, a place to store ideas, outlines, and project notes – all those thoughts that you used to write in traditional notebooks. Project managers might be most interested in Evernote Business, an upgraded version with added storage and the option to share information with other people.
For brainstorming and organizing your thoughts, Cardsmith works wonders. It operates like a whiteboard and sticky note combined, giving you the option to arrange notes in any order you wish, depending on how you prefer to work.
Don’t worry if your brain doesn’t operate in lists or sticky notes; iMindQ’s mind mapping tool might be worth a look. The online version is free and has built-in image search, the ability to add links and notes to topics, and plenty of other features to make your brainstorming session a success. Plus it has templates, so you never have to start from scratch if you don’t want to.
Ultimately, everyone has different needs. What boosts one person’s productivity won’t necessarily work for their colleague, so the best method for finding a productivity tool to work for your team is to give some a try and discover how your team operates.
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