What might be a project management system that works for me?
February 7, 2020 1:48 PM   Subscribe

There's a decent chance that I'm going to be promoted at my non-profit job; one thing that this means is that I need to work on my project management--managing buckets of work, timelines, deadlines, supervising staff and their workloads, etc. What software, app, system, or overall approach might help me get this under control?

I am good at many aspects of my job, but keeping an eye on multiple things at once, managing deadlines, and keeping prepared for new phases of my work and others' are all very, very challenging for me.

My job is basically to oversee the development and implementation of jobs programs for people from the safety net system. Commonly, I am working simultaneously on research projects, relationship development, developing organizational processes and procedures, hiring, employee development, and multiple projects, some with short-term deadlines, some long-term, some no deadlines at all.

I'm looking for something that works for me. Some particulars:

** I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer. The Internet is always available to me.

** I probably use Google Calendars inefficiently / ineffectively. Related, the main thing that distracts me at my job is a meeting. I have a lot of meetings.

** I am involved in a lot of projects where my role, and my ability to create accountability, is informal. Lots of other people involved in much of my work, generally not managing their time any better than I am.

** I have an easy time starting projects, and a harder time following through.

** I need reminders, but I find that MS Outlook-type reminders become just a rolling catalog of things I don't look at.

** I could probably work on my self-discipline.

** I'm a real list-person. Use lists for project management, by instinct, but after many years of this working, I'm too busy in my job for lists to work any longer.

I'm probably just asking: (1) What helps you see your immediate and ultimate deadlines at work, (2) helps you plan for how to get the work done, (3) keep your eye on other people's work as well, and (4) reminds you when shit needs to get done.

Open to all solutions! Apps, software, elaborate color-coded post-it note systems, other non-computer-based solutions.
posted by kensington314 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
posted by seemoorglass at 2:54 PM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think Asana is your best bet unless you want to spend a bunch of money. Note that you need to budget time very regularly to keep it updated.
posted by Pacrand at 3:06 PM on February 7, 2020

If you have a little budget for it, Basecamp may work for you. There’s a 10% non-profit discount and although I have some things I’d change about it, I feel like the interface works well to get other folks on board and understanding the system easily and also works both for those who want to use it directly and those who only need to be included via emails.

If you already use Office products, possibly Planner?
posted by stefnet at 3:40 PM on February 7, 2020

If you use Gmail, you can send yourself messages with a 'plus' and route them to a label. For example, you could Send 'kensington314+mytasks@gmail.com' to a 'Tasks' label in Gmail. Combined with Gmail's swipe-to-snooze functionality, this provides (for me) a very simple and effective way of keeping track of pretty much everything. There's a little more detail to getting it set up, but nothing too challenging.

Maybe a bit out there, but simple and free. YMMV...
posted by jmfitch at 4:13 PM on February 7, 2020

My previous workplace put me through about 10-12 project management systems (yup! It was over 3 years) and the one that stuck best with me and my coworkers was Asana.

Some Asana-specific things that worked for us:
  • Setting up Asana's Project feature as our own personal project board. So instead of calling the project "Q4 Promotional Campaign," we'd called it our name. That way we could each set up a workflow in the cards view and manage our own workloads. But since we made each Project/Card/Task public, we could loop other people into the tasks and check where everyone else was by clicking on their name/project board.
  • Actual projects would go on the person's board as Cards, and be filled with subtasks that could be made into their own card and/or assigned to people and given due dates and all that.
  • Even though everyone has their own Project to keep track of their work, we had to establish a couple of ground rules so we could work better together and easily see where everyone else was. Two simple ones: we all had to use Card View instead of list view or the other view options, and in Card View, we all needed to have the same workflow layout. I believe the columns were "Today" "On Deck" "Ready for Review" "Done" "Waiting/On Hold" and "Dump." Everyone had to comb through all of our cards and drag the right card to the right column on Friday to set up their week and the our manager would review it. Or, was supposed to anyway :x We all tried our best, but it can get exhausting if your manager isn't on board and doesn't see the need. Recipe for failure IMO.
  • Clearly establish where official communication would occur for any given project. Our team used Slack, email, comments on various programs like Google Drive/Sketch/etc so we quickly learned that if all communication and file uploads and sharing would only go on that project's Asana card, everyone could keep track of where the project was and see the history of how we got there.
And some observations on how to actually get people to use it and not hate it:
  • For us, the best project management tool was the one we all would actually understand and use, and not have it taken out from under our feet every 6 months to a year because x feature didn't work for x team/team member. Pick one, make that the one you use, and then use online communities dedicated to that project manager to find solutions to issues that come up, or consult the software's creators themselves.
  • Consistency was key, and if there was a change to the system, if it wasn't handled with oodles of open and clear empathetic communication, followed up on, and implemented team-wide, even my project management loving ass could not get on board. People need to see the reason for the change, the benefit to them, and that it is not a flash in the pan.
  • Organization will only work from the top down. IMO the most imporant things from a manager are consistency, setting clear expectations, vigilant but empathetic communication.
  • To certain people, going through the motions of using a project manager will seem like a total waste of time. This is a view that comes from thinking that they could be working on tasks instead of managing them. This mentality was super common, actually almost universal, and for our team was divided right down gender lines. It's nice that they are focused on productivity, but don't seem to understand a team's productivity grinds to a halt without some project management. To other people, this is super intuitive and those are the people who will be most on board with what you set up -- consider rewarding them for it.

posted by moons in june at 5:34 PM on February 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you could benefit from Gant charts.

Wrike is free (up to 5 users) and has a very easy to use visual Gant chart system. Handles dependencies well. Regular reminders through email.
posted by porpoise at 5:47 PM on February 7, 2020

I think Trello is pretty damn good for us list-based people.

This probably comes down to an Asana vs Trello question. You should probably just spend a week with each and decide which one you like the most.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:37 PM on February 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

System wise - read (our listen to Getting Things Done). It's really helped me get a grasp on all the myriad projects im involved in.

Software wise to implement it I use
Google keep for quick capture
Email (obv.) For capture
Trello for organization
Gcal for Calendar
Google reminders or snoozed gmail messages for prompts

But the system can be implemented in anything from paper to project management software like the aforementioned Asana or Basecamp.
posted by pyro979 at 5:14 AM on February 8, 2020

This is more of an overall system/mindset/overall approach than an app, but you might be interested in some of the resources available from The Management Center — they focus on professional development for managers in progressive non-profits and mission-based organizations.

If your organization would support it, I'd strongly encourage you to attend one of their 2-day "Managing to Change the World" trainings. I've attended, and my organization sends all management-level staff to this training.

Although I'd had "manager" in my job title for a few years before I attended this training and started using their systems, it really shifted my focus around some of the "soft skills" that you mention in your post (holding others accountable, protecting my time and attention when in a lot of meetings, etc.).

I also liked that their systems have a very explicit framing around diversity, equity, and inclusion and helped me see how, as a manager, I can be more aware of opportunities to check my unconscious biases (for example - why I might think to delegate a "stretch" assignment to one person on my team over another). Good luck!

Edited to add — the specific software I use is a mix of Teamwork for collaboration, Evernote for my personal list management, and Outlook calendars with an emphasis on color-coding for different projects and and heavy use of work blocks to protect my own planning and thinking time.
posted by pants at 5:19 AM on February 8, 2020

I have heard good things about Asana. If that it is too much to start with, consider Google Sheets. Your should be able to export to Asana at a later time.
posted by javelina at 3:58 PM on February 8, 2020

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