Order or Project Management System Suggestions... I am drowning!
September 20, 2012 5:27 AM   Subscribe

My business is booming and it's driving me crazy! The process that worked when only a few orders trickled in isn't scaling and I am finding myself prisoner to my workflow. Email and google spreadsheet is clearly not cutting it and I need input on a project management or order system.

The process goes like this: An order comes in and the customer is directed to my Website (this is done with Digital Access Pass) to download a questionnaire which they fill out and email back to me.

Once I receive it, I review it and assign it to someone. That someone then schedules a meeting with the client and later completes the assignment. They notify me when they are done and then I set up a meeting and review the work with the client.

This seems awfully simple but just managing it is becoming overwhelming and there are so many failure points.

Right now I am doing everything in Google Spreadsheet but it's so easy not to update it when emergencies come in.

I've tried MavenLink and it just didn't work at all for me.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Or at least give me an idea where to look? I don't know if I need a CRM or an order management system or project management system.
posted by hellodonna to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What about a calendar type app with task tracking? If you were on exchange I could give you a work around with public folders. :| What is the typical turn around time for each step, what kind of secondary tickler should go with each step?
posted by tilde at 5:40 AM on September 20, 2012

Depending on your budget, this seems like a pretty simple process that would translate well to custom software.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:41 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems like you've already identified process as being your main issue here. What you don't explain is the nature of your business, which makes it difficult to understand why your order processing process looks like the way it does.

Without the details of your usiness, a general tip is to improve your order processing process by removing as much manual work by you and your staff. Start looking at standardizing your product. Offer customers tools to do assessments and evaluations themselves. Collect data electronically or, better yet, allow customers to purchase your product online by guiding them through your process.

But seriously though, can i haz details?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:42 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

The process goes like this: An order comes in and the customer is directed to my Website (this is done with Digital Access Pass) to download a questionnaire which they fill out and email back to me.

Create customer contact, open new project, assign customer to it.

I review it and assign it to someone.

Assign staff member to project.

That someone then schedules a meeting with the client

Staff member creates task (or milestone, depending on the terminology of your PM system) with date as deadline.

and later completes the assignment.

Staff member creates 2nd task or milestone with date as deadline.

They notify me when they are done

Completing task notifies you.

and then I set up a meeting and review the work with the client.

You create a task or milestone, and revert tasks that come out of meeting with staff member. On acceptance, you close the project.

I do all of this with Teamwork PM.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:43 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Isn't this something for Sales Force? (or SugarCRM)
posted by devnull at 5:59 AM on September 20, 2012

Response by poster: DarlinBri--- I am going to look at Teamwork PM.. THANK YOU!

Foci for Analysis - here is more detail: We are writing bios for people--- they purchase online--- and once the payment clears, they get the login info to my website where they download the questionnaire. They then fill out a questionnaire with their information, we review it with them. We then write the bio and I schedule a meeting to review the final product with them.

The issue is keeping the projects moving forward. I need to easily see where the client is in the process... and that's why MavenLink failed. Sometimes it takes months for people to get the questionnaire back to me. Other times it's knowing that the process stalled or that I need to remind people to fill out the questionnaire. I also don't always know if the people I have working for me are completing stuff on time.

I really want to hire a VA to help me but I feel like I need to streamline the process before I hire a VA.
posted by hellodonna at 6:02 AM on September 20, 2012

I personally like TeamworkPM but there are other options. A lot of people use Highrise but I just hate the interface, it makes no sense to me. You will find something that works for you.

Getting all staff members to USE the PM system is going to be a large but significant hurdle. You can motivate them by tying payment to compliance: "We pay invoices on project closure. We cannot close projects if you do not report milestones." TWPM will also track hours, if needed.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our team uses and swears by Asana, which is a free (and very aesthetically pleasing) tool that will do exactly what you want.
posted by jbickers at 6:12 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Basecamp is a different 37 Signals product (like Highrise) that may handle a workflow like DarlingBri describes better. I found the interface intuitive and usable even as PM newbie, but of course YMMV. It has a nice email system that makes it easy to start "on record" message threads and receive alerts about milestones and activity without leaving your inbox.
posted by 0 at 6:27 AM on September 20, 2012

Teamlab is a free clone of Basecamp, btw. Might want to try it out before paying. You could make a new project and just assign tasks to your staff.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:05 AM on September 20, 2012

Zoho CRM might also work-integrates nicely with google business uses, but may be a bit product centric. Also much cheaper per user per month than most crm suites, and pretty flexible.
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2012

Thanks for the additional details, hellodonna. Clears up lots of stuff (and invalidates my initial response since I assumed you did retail e-commerce).

It seems that you have a relatively straightforward process but that it suffers from a lack of checks and balances and progress tracking. Another problem is that you're using an array of disconnected tools.

Highrise, Basecamp and Asana are all really good tools and I would definitely recommend that you try all of them (some do project management better than CRM and vice versa). Trello is another project management tool but its underlying metaphor is a bit different that the others, but you might find its flexibility and $0 price tag very interesting. Apollo HQ is another alternative and it tries to do both CRM and project management. Podio is yet another alternative.

But there's a problem here. The systems above will still cause some issues in your process because they don't manage the web site (marketing?) or e-commerce part. It's not a HUGE problem but it means there will be gaps where things need manual work.

What I'm suggesting is further developing your web site so that it becomes the system that you use to manage your projects. Most CMSs these days have plugin systems which a competent developer can use to create a solution that exactly fits your needs without tying you to that particular developer. This is obviously more expensive than using a project/crm web application and it will take some time to develop, but it could end up saving you lots of time and money because you don't have to jump between the gaps that having disconnected systems create. Going with a custom solution that builds on your CMS will most definitely be cheaper than hiring someone in the long run, especially if your business is growing.

If the above sounds like overkill, take a look at Zapier. It's an interesting service that allows you to connect your web apps - it supports dozens of them - with another. For example, if x happens in Basecamp, you get an email or an event is triggered in Highrise. Maybe useful to bridge those pesky gaps?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2012

I'd second Salesforce.
posted by deathpanels at 12:23 PM on September 20, 2012

I've used Trello similarly to what you're talking about, moving people from one stage to another and seeing who is at each stage of the process at any point; but pretty much any CRM system can be made to do what you're talking about. I'd pick the lightest-weight one that works reasonably.
posted by grudgebgon at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2012

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