Buzzes, Beeps, Bonks, and Big Red Arrows
Note: This post was originally published February 3rd, 2011 on the Voce Nation blog and is being republished here (archive pdf).
“How do you organize yourself?”
That’s the question I had been asking potential candidates interviewing for the “MacGuyver-like, Coordinator-Extraordinaire” Project Management position you might have scoped on Voce’s Careers page a while back. I thought I’d finally answer my own question.
I ask potential new candidates this because I think it says something about the type of person you are, how you go about managing your responsibilities, and the quality (and quantity) of work you’re capable of putting forth. As as Project/Client Management role is often incredibly detail-oriented and fast-paced, having a solid working system in place can be the only thing keeping important details and nuances from slipping through the cracks. Organized systems also help elevate our level of customer service, the quality of our work, the efficiency of our team, and helps facilitate maintaining some semblance of order amongst the schizophrenia experienced managing many different projects in various different stages. To give you some sort of an idea, I think I’m actively juggling somewhere between 10 and 14 projects, all of varying degrees of complexity. Eepsters.
Our office is dually fun and challenging as we’re not explicitly co-located. While the Platforms team is based just outside Orlando, Florida, I operate out of NYC. At the moment, we’ve also got two other team members working remotely (Iowa and Georgia) and three of the Florida members often work from a coffeeshop in downtown Orlando a day or two a week. As you can imagine, having a near-virtual Project Manager requires clear, concise communication via various mediums. A mix of team-based and personal preferences, here are the tools utilized on a near-daily basis to overcome distance and organizational challenges:
Email / IM / Phone:
As with most businesses, these are the cornerstones (tri-corner hat, maybe?) of one-to-one communication. We employ a short daily “stand-up” call to cover each team members’ status. Google Apps makes email (and calendar, docs) management bearable. AIM (& YiM/Skype/Gchat) is an age-old instant message standard. Skype (especially the iPhone app) helps keep cell phone bills low, makes long conference calls easy (and cheap), and even allows screensharing.
Campfire (via Propane App):
Possibly one of the most important tools enabling our dislocated working environment, it acts as a way to communicate small things amongst the entire team or individuals in real-time. It also functions as the team water cooler, allowing for a shocking variety of embarrassing personal imagery, the circulation of awesome internet memes, or simply an unobtrusive way to say, “I’m stepping out to lunch.”
Our preferred shared tool used between PjM and clients, only when necessary (for shared to-do items between clients and PjM, storing wireframes and mocks, collecting internal documents from clients)—no development organization happens here.
Short of rolling our own tool (which seems a waste of time), it’s the best thing we’ve come up with for tracking development tasks. If it needs to get developed, it’s gotta go into JIRA. Robust enough to accommodate needs specific to the internal development process we’ve created, (a variation on agile, 1-week scrum methodology, ticketing system w/ configurable states & notifications, etc.) JIRA still remains (barely) usable after configuration. We certainly don’t love it, but it’s the least painful tool we’ve found that meets our specific needs.
Powers an intricate web of file storing and sharing amongst team members. From a personal perspective, I enjoy having ALL of my working files copied to the cloud as an always up-to-date backup, accessible from any computer (or iDevice), and sharable. There’s no excuse for lost files anymore. And sometimes you just need to add a clickable link to a client meeting invite that shares the designs that’ll be reviewed on that call. Easy, breezy, CoverGirl.
The catch-all for organizing myself. I keep all actionable items (or anything I’m tracking from a client or team member) in Omnifocus. If it’s not email, and not a task entered into JIRA for our developers, it’s probably being tracked in Omnifocus.
Sometimes you just need to take a note, capture some quick detail before actioning it into the appropriate other tool, make a quick punchlist, or write a blogpost. Who needs the weight of a full-fledged word-processing program just to jot down some meeting notes?
Command+Shift+4 with Preview.app (or Skitch):
May seem like a funny item to list here, but I spend a terrifying amount of time taking screenshots and annotating with big red arrows, boxes or text. Sometimes you just need a picture to get your point across. You’d be surprised what a big red arrow and some “fix this” text can do for UX oddities, front-end bugs, or sending a client directions on how to use a WordPress feature we’ve created. Pair with a menubar tool like CloudApp, and you don’t even have to upload files, you can pass people links instead.