If you’re expecting to find a long list of project management apps in this article, then I’m sorry but you’re in the wrong place. I don’t believe that software is the be-all and end-all for managing projects. There is some software in the list, but most of what I use to manage projects isn’t software-driven. I think that project management software is such an individual choice that you need to pick what works best for you, your working preferences and your project environment.
So, with that caveat out the way, let me share my list of 15 awesome tools that I use to run my projects.
1. My Action Log
This is the number one tool I use and I really couldn’t manage without it. It’s a simple table that I created in Excel because I was finding it hard to track the actions from each of the meetings I chaired or took minutes for. The action log meant that I could have all actions from all meetings (and phone calls, and corridor conversations) noted in one place.
I can filter by the person responsible and it’s so easy to chase people up when you talk to them because you know exactly what you are waiting on them for.
It is actually part of my RAID log. RAID traditionally stands for Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies, but for me it’s a multi-tabbed Excel workbook that covers the project areas that need updating the most. I’ve ditched Assumptions for Actions and included Decisions.
Scroll to the bottom to get a copy of the same action log template as I use on my projects.
2. My Milestone Tracker
Another Excel document I use, this one holds an extract of key milestones from the project schedule. Why? Well, most of my stakeholders don’t want to review a 600-line project plan every time they ask about project status.
The milestone tracker pulls out the big things that they care about and it’s really a communication tool.
3. Outlook: My Inbox To Do List
I know many people have moved to Gmail and whatever but I still use Outlook. I also use Horde for my Otobos Consultants email work (it’s ugly but I’m very happy with it).
I don’t use my inbox in the same way as most people: my inbox is a To Do list, either of things I have to do or things I am waiting on others to do. I try to keep it at under 100 messages. Anything done or that isn’t a task gets filed or deleted.
I delete a lot of stuff. I had to look at the email account of someone who had left recently and he had thousands and thousands of emails just saying ‘thanks’ or other things like that. He’d even kept marketing mails from companies we didn’t work with and those annoying cold emails from recruitment firms you’ve never heard of. Delete, delete, delete.
I don’t mindmap often, but when I do I use iMindQ. It’s easy, gives a clean result and I like that I can share the output in different formats depending on what I want to do with it. I can also incorporate pictures, which makes it an even more visual output. It just saves time presenting data in ways that stakeholders want and they don’t need to know I haven’t done it from scratch J
I’m also impressed with the work that Seavus is doing on intelligent mindmaps – basically predictive mindmapping or auto-generated maps. Here’s a snapshot of part of the one that I generated in 30 seconds for Peppa Pig. How useful is this going to be for the boys’ homework in years to come?
Auto-generated Peppa Pig Mindmap. We were watching Mr Skinnylegs just the other day!
6. My iPad
OK, I don’t use this so much for managing actual tasks, more for staying in touch with what’s going on. I use it for work when I travel, because it’s easier than lugging around a laptop and it has a much longer battery life.
I use an Advent Bluetooth keyboard and it has completely changed how I use my iPad for work. I can do more project management tasks (erm, basically email) because I can type faster and more efficiently. I can work on the train too. The trains are so bumpy that using the touchscreen on the iPad normally means hitting the wrong thing on the screen and having to redo work several times.
For my blogging and copywriting work it has made social media updates easier as I can work more easily with Feedly and Buffer. I have also used it to type book reviews while travelling and that’s so, so much easier than trying to type while moving.
If you don’t have a wireless keyboard I strongly recommend getting one, even if it is something else to carry around. Now all I need to do is crochet a cover for it.
8. A Post-Meeting Checklist
Life’s too short to try to remember everything, every time. I use checklists where I can so that I can tick things off. I use them for packing suitcases, writing articles, inducting new members of staff and meetings.
People always ask what planning tool I use and the simple answer is that I tend to do most of the detailed stuff in MS Project and the high level stuff in Excel (like the milestone tracker I mentioned above). It’s just habit. I’ve used Project for a long time and I like what it can do.
10. My Budget Tracker
Another of my fantastic Excel documents. It’s different for every project but after years of not knowing where money was going on projects I now have an easy tool where I can track budget, forecast and actual on the same sheet for opex and capex.
11. Cisco WebEx for Conferencing
I use phone calls, Skype, and phone conferencing too, but for sharing slides, internal presentations and remote training, I use WebEx. It’s another tool that has become a habit: something I once thought wouldn’t be much use and is now something I’m using regularly.
12. My Contacts List
Every project needs a contacts list. I have an email mailing list for the core project team, and sometimes other key contacts too. Then I’ll have a list of names, phone numbers, email addresses, job titles and other useful information somewhere in my project files (normally as another tab in my RAID workbook) so that I don’t forget the details of the contractors or suppliers on the team.
13. My Project Glossary
Perhaps it’s just my industry, but I don’t think so. Every new project seems to have an amazing amount of jargon and shortcuts. Recently I’ve started to add a new tab to my RAID log for a project glossary.
It is just two columns, listing the acronym and what it stands for. When necessary, I also add what it means, because sometimes the expanded acronym isn’t enough to actually work out what it is.
14. My Notebook
I’m pretty low tech most of the time. And I have a lot of notebooks.
15. My Project Plan
This starts life as the project initiation document and goes on to cover the rest of the project. I refer back to it often, partly because I need to remind myself of what we actually set out to do.
It’s also useful to refer to when something changes as it prompts a reassessment of what else needs to change.
Those are the 15 tools that I return to time and time again. You’ll probably have a similar list of things that you use to speed up your project management and support other aspects of the systems and processes you use.