Tools of the Trade - Part 3, The Best of the Rest


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:

  1. Collaboration Tools
  2. Artifact Creation Tools
  3. Resource Management Tools
  4. IT Management Tools
  5. Accounting Tools

Supplementing Google

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

Meeting Software

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 SkypeGoogle Hangouts and Google Chat for ad hoc collaboration between two or three peers.

Phone Communication

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:

Document Interoperability

MS Office
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.


MyBalsamiqthe 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 planningtask management and tracking work completed together as sub components of Resource Management. To manage these functions we used a combination of Google SpreadsheetsWrike, and Jira Agile.

Google Spreadsheets

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
    • Tasks
    • Timelines
    • Dependencies
  • Non-development Tasks
  • Financial Pipelines
    • Contracts
    • AP Invoices
    • AR Invoices

Jira Agile

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.

Code Repositories

For code repositories, we have used XP-Dev and Beanstalk (cloud instances of Reversion) but recently standardized on a self hosted Git Hub server.

Password Management

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.

5) Accounting

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 SpreadsheetsFreshbooks and Quickbooks.

Google Spreadsheets 

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Useful Links:

Steve Lomas
Idea Mechanic
Professional Services Consultant
For more articles, visit Digital Bits at

Tools of the Trade - Part 2, Professional Services Toolbox


In this installment, starting with the basics, I will discuss the collection of tools we employed to manage Agilix Professional Services.

About Agilix

Agilix is an ed-tech company based out of Orem, UT, and the professional services team is essentially a product team for hire, creating custom solutions for large educational publishers in the ed-tech industry. As the company name implies, Agilix prides itself on being, “agile”; as in fleet of foot. So, nimble process, flat hierarchies, and lean UX are all important to Agilix -- and that meant choosing a flexible toolset. Since we created the group from scratch, we had the luxury of starting with a clean slate. We were essentially a startup within Agilix, with our own infrastructure and culture. And like all startups, we were cash conscious. Our toolset decisions were driven by these realities.

5 Buckets

Agilix specifics aside, the requirements of enterprise project management are pretty similar across industries and the toolsets can be organized into five, broad categories:

  1. Collaboration Tools
  2. Artifact Creation Tools
  3. Resource Management Tools
  4. IT Management Tools
  5. Accounting Tools

The Basics: Startup? Google Up!

Call us religious zealots, or fanboys, I really don’t care. Agilix Professional Services was established as a Google Apps shop. Given the selection criteria I shared in Part One of this Series on Tools of the Trade, it isn’t hard to understand how we landed on this decision.

For $5 a user per month, consider the value proposition of Google Apps for Work:

  • User Management
  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts
  • Google Docs (docs, sheets, slides)
  • Drawing & Charting Tools
  • Google Chat
  • Google Tasks (personal todo’s)
  • Google Hangouts (video chat and file sharing)
  • Google Sites & Forms
  • Google Drive (shared storage)
  • File Management (robust file sharing)
  • Cloud Storage (5 gigs/user included)
  • Backups and Disaster Recovery
  • Extensibility (Google Script and Extensions)
  • Robust Publishing Options
  • Free Hosting
  • Zero hardware and maintenance costs

Taken together, the Google feature set addresses most all of the functionality outlined in the five major categories above: collaboration, artifact creation, resource management, IT management and accounting -- okay, accounting is a bit of a stretch, but spreadsheets do have a role. ;-)

In other words, you can practically run an entire enterprise on Google Apps alone!

Not to be left out...

If you are a Microsoft shop, you can still integrate Google Apps into your Exchange environment to reap the benefits of both platforms. Google offers various articles about how to implement this.

A Few Google Highlights

Let me highlight a few areas where Google Apps shine.

Google Docs Collaboration
Before Google Docs, few people, if any, considered the notion of real time, multi-author collaboration in a single computer document. Google Docs collaboration is brilliant! Once you experience the productivity boost of working together in real time, it is painful to even consider reverting to the old school practice of circulating documents for input, one author at a time, each adding their initials to the filename. So 2006!

Authoring vs. Publishing
One of the great things about Google Docs is its ability to read other formats for preview or conversion to native Google documents. Likewise, Google Docs offers a wide variety of publishing formats, including Microsoft Formats (.docx, .xlsx and pptx), Open Document Format (.odt), Rich Text Format (.rtf), PDF Document (.pdf), Plain Text (.txt) and Web Page (.html).

My standard process is to author in Google Docs and publish in whatever format the client needs. If a publishing format isn’t specified, PDF is our default publishing format. Once a document is published, especially if it is an editable format, be sure to communicate clearly to your team where any updates are to be authored; typically, I recommend maintaining the original authoring source doc, to prevent later confusion.

SSO User Management
It's not surprising that Google user management offers SSO (single sign-on) across the Google suite, but many 3rd party systems, including Wrike and Jira, also offer SSO integration with Google Apps. What this means is if you create a user in Google, they are also created in Jira and Wrike, for example. We chose not to employ this feature at Agilix, in order to have more control over user licensing management.

Shared Storage
When Google Drive first came out it seemed buggy and unreliable; especially on the iOS platform. For this reason we experimented with Dropbox and, but ultimately, we standardized on Google Drive. One thing than many people overlook is the the native reversion capabilities of Google Drive. If you want to update a file on Google Drive without losing its version history, right click on the file to be updated and you will see a dialog that allows you to upload a new version.

Hassle-Free IT
One huge benefit of any cloud-based solution, is hassle-free IT.

  • No servers to buy
  • No growing Pains
  • No hosting to manage
  • No backups to manage

24 x 7 Phone Support - Included
No provider can promise there won’t be glitches, from time to time, and Google was no exception. The difference is the quality of support, and in this department, Google was best of breed: quick access, short hold times, excellent CSRs and over the top follow-up, both email and by telephone!

These are just a few highlight. If you want to learn more, you can visit the Google Apps for Work homepage.

Beyond Google

Having made the case for the power and excellent value of Google Apps as a foundational toolset, we still found the need to supplement the Google suite in various ways for various reasons, which I will share in the next installment of this series.

If you have any comments about this series or your experience using Google Apps or other project management tools, please share them below or with me directly.

Next post: Part Three - A Professional Services Toolbox, The Rest of the Chest

Steve Lomas
Idea Mechanic
For more articles, visit Digital Bits at