First of all, if there are better places on the internet where I should ask these types of questions about project and company management, please let me know. You guys are awesome, but I have plenty of other types of questions I'd like to ask in here, and, plus, I need to find the best source for answers to specific questions like this and fast.
I need the proper technological solution for managing the flow of tasks and information of an entire company. The company is about 20 people in the office (half of them engineers) and about the same in the fab shop, so it's small. I am not the owner, but the oft-ignored second-in-command. See my other questions (here
) for more details about my specific working situation. Right now, the company can only be described as chaotic. We have taken probably on probably too much work, people (especially me) aren't aware of what others are doing, collaboration takes place in inefficient bursts in the conference room, and the massive amount of information we generate per job and in the rest of the business is never easily found when needed. The owner causes a lot of these problems with his capricious style of running the business and tends to only add to the entropy, but I think that centralization of information and communication may save it before it's too late. I need the proper tool or tools to do this. I'll discuss where I am thus far, and we can go from there.
posted by KinoAndHermes to computers & internet (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
To me, this seems to have fallen into two categories: file management and task/discussion management. We generate and accrue a lot of information here, both for jobs and for the other aspects of the business. This includes technical drawings, calculations, vendor quotes and POs, contracts with our customers and vendors, equipment data and manuals, materials data required for our ASME pressure vessel stamp, etc. I have a small NAS that I use as a server that some people use to share and backup data, but most don't. It's cumbersome to set permissions on it, so I can’t get too complex with it. Files are typically emailed around and reside on peoples’s hard drives, even when I encourage people to use the NAS. We have terrible file dispersal problems, whereas I’d like to consolidate everything in one place.
For all the file management, I've been looking at cloud services like Dropbox (wonderful for personal, useless for business) and Box (purports to be great for business, but I have a few concerns and keep getting different answers from people there). Ideally, I’d like a cloud place where everybody stores everything. There would be folders for individual jobs where everyone working on the job would dump their info as quickly as possible as well as folders for quotes, Accounting, the shop, etc. I would probably go through later and sort it more effectively at the beginning until it takes care of itself, but I want that info in the “box” ASAP so we don’t lose it (which happens constantly).
I love Dropbox’s simple syncing folder, but their insistence on everyone being able to edit and delete everything is worthless for business and flat out insane in my opinion unless you trust everyone you share with 110%. Box has permissions, but I’ve gotten flaky answers about whether they’re strictly top-down or if they’ve added granular permissions recently. Egnyte, which I know the least about, boasts that it absolutely has granular permissions, which is why it’s better than Box. I’ve grown on the idea of having a comments page for each file online with Box, because I’d love to be able to carry on a multi-person discussion about a particular drawing or simulation file as it is revised. Dropbox (for a totally-worth-it extra fee) saves unlimited separate revisions of a file every time I save. Great backup option. Box claims to save 50-100 of the past revisions, and I have conflicting info on whether anybody with Editor status can delete those past revisions. You need Editor status just to add and change files in a folder. I absolutely only want the Administrator (me) to be able to delete past revisions of files. (We’ve dealt with disgruntled ex-employees before, so I get fearful.) I know I need a proper backup system in house, but if it’s going to have to be too complex to keep watch on the cloud, I’ve actually INCREASED the amount of work I have to do. Right now, I’m leaning towards Box, and I’m open to comments on it, its competitors, and my idea in general.
The other side of the coin is that I need a way to collaborate on a task, project, whatever that is also centralized (preferably also with permissions on who can see what). Right now, my boss/dad tells the other employees what to do verbally or occasionally by email. Almost invariably, I have an opinion on any matter based on my experience that might either contradict him or add some additional detail. A ton of these important issues are never communicated to me, though, and once a $100,000+ purchase order has been made without my knowledge, usually the best I can do is just cuss loudly and without heed to who hears me. Also, once he tells somebody something, they go off and it’s hard to get updates from them. He claims he’s the only one who can manage everything (dead wrong). He neither has the time, nor the management mindset to do it. In addition, we just lack the necessary talent in our staff right now, so he and I have to review just about everything as a check. Of course, I can’t review things I’m not told about. I also give a lot of instructions to people myself, and without any
What I envision is some way of creating a task or discussion, probably as part of a bigger project structure (though maybe not), where everybody involved updates their progress and discusses problems and solutions. It could be like a comments page for that task or idea, or maybe a full-on message board. For example, say someone is working on a process simulation. They comment on their choices in the simulation and others can comment back. Maybe the actual file resides there where the discussion takes place, or maybe not. We have an ongoing record of people’s thoughts and directions. It’s maybe slightly more cumbersome than just walking down the hall to someone’s office, but the advantages are that it would out there for everyone necessary to see, and you wouldn’t have to rely on your brain and a few scribbled notes to remember what was discussed.
On both side of the coin, it may be desirable to also let our customers get in on the discussions or view the files. They would need severely limited permissions: no file editing of any sort and very specific places they could go. It could be more efficient than email, though, in certain cases.
As I have said in the past, I am neither an IT pro, nor a PM pro. I’m a frazzled engineer, who sees mostly chaos around him. I desire a system or systems that makes file accountability easy and that provide a central place to discuss and keep a history of discussion about just about anything that needs discussing. The whole business is basically one big project that I think can benefit from PM tools. I need to be spending most of my time engineering, so I’m looking for low-maintenance options that keep me in the loop. If it works, I want the entire business (which does not intend to grow too much in terms of people) to run this way.
I’d appreciate any and all thoughts on the matter. Thank you.