As we have grown and scaled one of the biggest challenges we have faced is ensuring that we maintain the type of collaborative environment we had when everyone sat in the same small office in Arlington, Virginia. Now with team members, partners and clients spread across time zones and the world we have had to work a little harder to keep everyone working towards the same goals. We’ve tried a bunch of different tools and combinations of tools with varying levels of success. While I’m sure this is something we will continue to evolve over time, I think what we have now is worth sharing.
We recently started using Asana and Harvest to manage our consulting services projects and internal product development. Asana is a web and mobile application designed to enable teamwork without email and Harvest is a time tracking tool that tightly integrates with Asana. The combination is a great lightweight project management suite that while probably not capable of handling a heavyweight project management style marries nicely into our very agile and lightweight execution process. Basically Asana lets me assign tasks to team members, track progress and if necessary bring partners or other external stakeholders into a project simply by inviting them in. These partners can be provided access to just the task they are assigned, the project or the entire workspace (all projects).
One a project member has been assigned a task the first step for that person is always to estimate the time to completion and register it as a comment in against the task. When scope changes or if the assigned resource is going to exceed that time frame we ask that they provide an amended time estimate and an explanatory comment. This is not meant to be punitive, in fact we expect 10% deviance within task estimates. The goals is to improve our estimating internally so that we can provide better estimates to our management team and to our clients. Understanding over time the level of effort associated with a particular type of UI change, data exchange or configuration task enables us to bid projects more competitively and understand where we may want to invest in order to reduce repetitive tasks. As a side note we also ask that resources request more information if they can’t provide an estimate without additional information. This helps us tune the type and level of detail provided by business analysts, project managers and other team members feeding requirements into the process.
Once the estimate has been provided its time to start working! Team members “check into a tasks” which directly tracks their time against the project.
This enables me to have literally up to the minute understanding of how our resources are being expended and better manage our budgets and client side execution. If a team member forgets to check into the task, they can simply log into Harvest directly and put their time directly against the assigned task.
As the time flows in I’m able to track what our resource means from a budget standpoint and maintain a tight control over resource allocation. For clients requiring weekly status reports I can automate much of the reporting requirement as the time keeping system (Harvest) also pulls in data from project management system (Asana) in order to enable a richer detail around what is actually being done during time keeping increments.
That’s really all there is to it. Our rollout of both was literally done over a weekend without any special consulting services needed. I simply imported pulled our existing projects list into Asana and then followed the very simple instructions for integrating the tool with Harvest. A month later the system is functioning fairly simply with very little instruction having been required to onboard internal staff or team members on the use of the application.