In Part Two of this series, I outlined five, broad categories that pretty much sum up all the project management tools required by a professional services group:
- Collaboration Tools
- Artifact Creation Tools
- Resource Management Tools
- IT Management Tools
- Accounting Tools
While Agilix Professional Services was established as a Google Apps for Work shop, we needed to supplement the Google suite with other tools or various purposed. Using the above list as a structural construct, let’s discuss how we supplemented Google Apps.
1) Collaboration Tools
Our primary meeting tool at Agilix is Citrix GoToMeeting (GTM). From my experience, GTM is by far, the most stable and reliable of all the major meeting tools, including WebX, Adobe Connect, Bluejeans, Skype and Google Hangouts. This is especially true of long meetings. We have frequently kept a bridge open throughout the day and sometimes into the evening -- jamming to meet a deadline or resolve a production issue -- six, eight even ten hours without any degradation of audio or video clarity!
As good as GTM is, it may not be the right choice for certain certain corporate IT environments, due to GTM’s requirement for frequent automated updates. Many corporate users do not have local admin rights and therefore, cannot approve the installation of software updates, leaving them frustrated and locked out of the interactive aspects of the meeting.
For this reason, we also maintain a few shared licenses to WebX, in support of certain customers that can not use GoToMeeting. WebX does not share this quirk and therefore seems to play better in the corporate IT world, but its VOIP quality is not as good as GoToMeeting.
Internally, team members also use Skype, Google Hangouts and Google Chat for ad hoc collaboration between two or three peers.
In this day and age, telephone communication doesn’t necessarily mean a phone is involved and your telephone number doesn’t have to relate to your location. I use skype for my desktop telephone calls. Both Skype and Google Voice offer virtual telephone numbers for VOIP communication.
2) Artifact Creation Tools
Areas where we typically supplement Google Apps for artifact creation include:
There's no getting around it, you have to be prepared to read, write and add comments to the MS Office docs. This is especially true of contracts where the use of track changes is universally accepted as S.O.P.
As I mentioned in the last installment of this series, Google does a pretty good job reading and converting MS Office documents as well as publishing in the MS Office formats.
Adobe Acrobat - PDF Format
PDF has long since become the publish standard format for business world-wide. Acrobat, Adobe's PDF authoring and reader application is such an important tool and yet seemingly underrated and often overlooked. I use it pretty much daily for a variety of reasons leveraging its rich feature set.
MyBalsamiq, the cloud-based version of Balsamiq was the original group standard, but lately we have been moving toward Axure more and more.
We use a little known gem, Diagram Creator, created by Chipp Walters. Diagram Creator offers a natural language interface for quickly building logical diagrams. Diagram Creator is not hard to use, but like most software, it takes practice to master its subtleties. For that reason, some members of the team rely on Gliffy, an Industry standard charting program, fashioned after Microsoft Visio. Gliffy offers plug-ins for GoogleDocs and Jira. For simple workflows, used in presentations, we often use the Google drawing tools available in Google Slides.
Ui Graphics and Image Editing
Adobe Creative Suite is still the standard for serious professionals.
Sales and Marketing Presentations
Early on, we adopted Apple Keynote for authoring sales and marketing presentations. Keynote offers much more powerful and more elegant authoring capabilities compared PowerPoint or Google Slides and robust publishing options including Powerpoint, PDF, HTML, JPEGS, and Video output with direct sharing to many social media sites such as Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube.
3) Resource Management Tools
For the purposes of this article, I am lumping resource planning, task management and tracking work completed together as sub components of Resource Management. To manage these functions we used a combination of Google Spreadsheets, Wrike, and Jira Agile.
Of the three applications mentioned for resource management, Google Spreadsheets is probably the most widely known and understood. Using a series of related Google Spreadsheets and Google Script we created a project management platform that allowed our internal Producers to lookup, cost and allocate resources to their various projects and rollup actuals in realtime to an executive dashboard.
Wrike is a relative new and evolving tool. Wrike bills itself as a project management platform, but I feel it is more accurate to describe it as a task management platform. Wrike is is a bit of an acquired taste, but once you master its metaphor, it can highly effective.
Wrike is built on a tasks and folders construct. Folders may contain a combination of tasks and sub-folders. Tasks may include sub-tasks and interdependencies with other tasks. The real power of Wrike is the ease with which you can create complicated folder/task structures to create process templates that can be quickly and easily cloned at the start of a new preserving interdependencies and even individual task assignments,
Key factors for our choosing Wrike included its native support for both Google Docs and Microsoft Office Documents, tight integration with both Gmail and Outlook, threaded discussions around any task, robust reporting, personalized dashboards, watch lists and notification management.
Common Uses For Wrike:
- Preliminary Planning
- Non-development Tasks
- Financial Pipelines
- AP Invoices
- AR Invoices
Jira Agile is an agile methodology project management extension for the popular Jira issue/bug tracking system from Atlassian. Since it was designed for agile development, Jira Agile provides many useful management tools including:
- User-story Backlog Repository
- Backlog Grooming (prioritization)
- Sprint Planning
- Developer Assignments
- Sprint Management and Developer Progress
- Burn-down Charts
- Unit Testing and Bug Management
- Developer Collaboration
4) IT Management Tools
As previously mentioned, we Agilix Professional Services standardized on Google Drive for shared storage and file sharing. It comes with Google Apps and the cost of storage is hard to beat.
For code repositories, we have used XP-Dev and Beanstalk (cloud instances of Reversion) but recently standardized on a self hosted Git Hub server.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of password vaults to a manage our personal passwords. IT organizations have similar needs; in fact, even more so. From my experience, this is rarely managed well at most small to medium sized companies. LastPass offers an enterprise version of their popular personal password management software, that is powerful, but spendy. Ironically, for $12/year, the personal professional version of LastPass works great for group password management. One of the coolest features of LastPass is you can share credentials with another LastPass user without ever exposing the username or password. If that individual leaves or no longer needs access, you can simply delete access with a click of a mouse -- without having to update credentials or notify anyone. Likewise, if you decide to update credentials you can do so without impacting anyone's virtual access! Very slick.
As noted, the most obvious area where Google Apps comes up short, is accounting. Spreadsheets are useful for budgeting and tracking actuals, but they are no replacement for a dedicated accounting system. At Agilix we used a combination of Google Spreadsheets, Freshbooks and Quickbooks.
As mentioned above, Agilix uses Google Spreadsheets for budgeting, tracking actuals and forecasting.
Agilix uses Freshbooks for timekeeping, team timesheet reporting and to quickly calculate T&M invoice for clients. If you are wondering why we didn’t use the timekeeping capabilities of Jira Tempo, Wrike or Quickbooks. In the case of the latter, Freshbooks is simply superior in every aspect of collecting time sheets from a distributed team. As for Jira and Wrike, both offer decent timekeeping capabilities but neither program was used by the entire staff. Jira was exclusively the dev teams and Wrike was more, design, PMO and management. This we settled on Freshbooks for ubiquitous timekeeping, company-wide.
Agilix uses Quickbooks for its corporate accounting and for generating invoices to its professional services invoices to clients.
As you may rightly surmise from the patchwork quilt that comprises this toolbox, in my opinion there really isn’t a unified, end-to-end enterprise project management tool suite suitable for small and medium sized businesses; and by suitable, I mean affordable.
If I am wrong about this, I'd love to learn otherwise. Please share a comment, or contact me directly, with your thoughts.
- Google Apps For Work
- Diagram Creator
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Apple Keynote