Getting the Most Out of Your Project Management Tools

video conference meeting

Posted by Ariella Saucier on February 02, 2018

We’re living in a digital world, with all kinds of communication and information-sharing made possible over the Web, and the workplace is no exception. This growing trend has made the traditional office all but obsolete. More employees are working from home, and it’s just as convenient – if not more so – to regularly meet with clients, vendors and partners remotely instead of on location.

All this is to say: if you want to be a successful project manager in a digital world, you’ve got to have quite an extensive arsenal of collaboration tools. We’ve talked before about our favorite project management tools to help you get organized and partner with your teammates. But it’s not just enough to have them at your fingertips; how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of these tools to execute in today’s digital office?

Communication Tools

There is no shortage of ways to communicate, and every platform has its own systems for messaging, notifications, and the like. The first thing you can do to get the most out of whatever tools you use is to standardize communication methods among your group so important materials and updates are always in one place for everyone to see.

That doesn’t mean you can only use one communication tool – it’s also important to know the most appropriate method for whatever you’re trying to communicate. For example, Skype is a great way to send quick notes or touch base throughout the day, but you should use an email or post in Basecamp, Wrike or a similar program if you want to keep big chunks of information together, as well as a documented chain of updates, for easy future reference.

If your team uses a program like Wrike or Basecamp, you should also make sure your projects and tasks are organized with their own titles, projects and to-dos. Keep relevant information, feedback and updates in their respective threads so discussion doesn’t veer off-topic – and so you can track down the comments again later when you need them.

Many communication tools also include scheduling functions, which are great features for project management. Google Hangouts is a great place to set and hold meetings so you can keep working together and coordinate closely even if all team members aren’t in the same space. We’re also big fans of not only creating to-do tickets in Basecamp, but setting due dates and marking tasks complete so our team is aware of what needs to be done, what’s up next and how work is flowing.

Automation Tools

These tools are great for running larger projects and campaigns without needing to handle every single step manually. HubSpot, an inbound marketing automation tool, and HootSuite, a social media management platform, are both great examples of software with built-in automation capabilities.

These programs allow you to – you guessed it – automate certain chunks of your marketing and sales process, making them very friendly for project management. Take advantage of the automation and scheduling features to ensure that planned work is being executed without having to go back and do it yourself.

Schedule out email blasts ahead of time to stay on top of your marketing plan, or do the same with social media posts to carry out a campaign. And while you’re scheduling out posts, take a wider look at what tools like HubSpot or Google Calendar offer to see the big picture of what you’re publishing. Though you might have to maintain some of it yourself, take it a step further and integrate content across different platforms to manage an entire content campaign.

You should also use these tools to set up workflows to trigger actions or divert certain process steps to a specific member of your team. Workflows are one of the things we love most about HubSpot. You can set them up so that form submissions are sent to the right member of your staff, or a follow-up email is sent once a lead in your database reaches a target lead score threshold.

File-Sharing Tools

What these types of programs do is pretty self-explanatory: they allow you to share files – documents, PDFs, images, spreadsheets, pretty much anything you can think of – with clients or team members. On our team, we’ve found Google Drive is an excellent place to store and share working files so everyone has access to them.

There’s not too much to dive into here, but for best practices, make sure you’re utilizing the cloud-based software that comes with each of these tools so that your files are stored safely, and nothing is lost or deleted beyond all recovery (thanks to cloud storage, you’ll at least be able to get a hold of a previous version of your file).

If you use a project management tool, try and keep the folder structure organized the same way within your Google Drive for everyone to follow along. It’s also wise to develop some kind of naming convention for your files. The most important thing here is consistency in naming, but you’ll also want file names to be informative. Stanford University Libraries offers some great file-naming tips which, although research-focused, apply to almost any context.

Project Management Tools

A major key to getting the most out of project management tools such as Basecamp, Trello, or Workzone is to use the program to distribute work evenly. Take a look at upcoming tasks and what’s on each person’s plate so you’re not piling on more work where it can’t be handled. And while not overwhelming your team is essential, so is not over-managing things yourself.

Good project management essentially comes down to good people management. Assign each task to the right person for the job, and keep the necessary people in the loop of important updates or feedback for each part of the project. This is when it becomes especially important to keep things organized inside the project management tool, so you know who needs to know what, when.

It’s also a good idea to use whatever data you can to track productivity and analyze what’s progressing well, and where there might be some hiccups. You might notice certain tasks keep getting delayed, or that one arm of the project went really smoothly and you now have open bandwidth to dedicate more time to something else. If there’s built-in analysis in the project management tool you use, take full advantage of it.

Tools for Creating

These aren’t tools just for managing the project but for actually executing and getting work done: on our team, G Suite and Adobe Creative Cloud are major players that support our marketing and design work from start to finish.

Though it may be hard to acclimate everyone on your team to one tool, try and keep all work in one standardized place so that team members can jump in where needed, at least when each piece of the project is far enough along for feedback and editing. And if you’re using G Suite, for example, you can make it easier for everyone to find files and pieces by keeping them organized with a file structure so they’re not just saved somewhere in the abyss of your Drive.

Be innovative with the creative process and tools at your disposal to make it more collaborative. For example, our design team uses Adobe Acrobat, and has used ProofHQ in the past, to share proofs with copy editors and our creative director, who in turn use the commenting and editing functions to track changes and make suggestions, all in one place. By finding ways for everyone to complete their part using the same tools or software, you’ll quickly notice how much more streamlined your processes become.

Ariella Saucier, Project Manager at AAC

Ariella Saucier
Project Manager