Say goodbye to unproductive workplace practices and build a culture of collaboration with Project Management apps – Part 2

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projects_blog2meeraThis is the second part of a 2-part blog series. Read the first part of the series here.

The myth of multitasking.

When you’re trying to get multiple things done with different sets of people, it might seem easy to multitask by doing everything together. But this can be counterproductive because your attention gets split between activities. You’ll take much longer to complete each activity, and this can negatively impact your overall output and quality of work. Several independent psychological researchers have established that multitasking results in reduced efficiency due to cognitive ‘switching’ costs.

Switching from a task before you complete it also causes the Ziegarnic effect – the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about unfinished tasks. The only way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that comes from a lack of closure on an unfinished task is by completing that task.

A good project management app is one that lets you simplify complex projects so that you spend enough attention and energy on each task.

To simplify complex projects, you can organize them according to a hierarchy of easily manageable units such as milestones, task lists and tasks. Split your tasks into the simplest sub-tasks that can be easily completed before you move on to the next task. You can also set task dependencies to help identify and complete dependent tasks. And of course, the sense of completion that comes from finishing these tasks can help avoid the Ziegarnic effect!

Encourage everyone in your team to restrict their focus to completing one thing at a time – complete one task or participate in one discussion or just catch up with activity streams in one project portal. Finish any one thing before you move on to the next.

Treat different project portals like separate rooms – you cannot be in more than one at the same time.

Resist the temptation of switching to another tab or project portal before you’ve completed what you wanted to do. Read more

Gantt Chart: The Incredible Story Continues

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We have already seen how the Gantt Chart was used in several projects, big and small, across industries over the last century. Its original use was to plan production in factories, to allow all components to be available when needed for subsequent production activity. Today, as we hear from our customers, they are used in a variety of other applications and this includes marketing! Find it hard to believe? Take a look at these examples.

Caldera Group is a company based in the Netherlands, that offers shared marketing services. It provides its customers the marketing department they always wanted, at an affordable cost. “As part of our work, we have to communicate with multiple companies,” says Leon Hamstra, a director of Caldera Group. “Our operations require our employees and our customers to be on the same page at all times. The Zoho Projects Gantt Chart helps us do just that.”

Moving to Johannesburg, South Africa we have Spaghetti TV, a company that produces corporate movies, presentations, TV commercials, documentaries and other content for broadcast and online distribution. “We work with clients all over the world and we use Zoho Projects as a means of not only planning the project for internal resources, but also for giving clients a view of project progress,” says its founder Andrew Lester. “The Gantt view is something they are used to interacting with and being able to edit tasks here was a real improvement for us.

We see that the Gantt chart continues to be an important tool for managers and we want to make sure they get the best out of it. So here are some more enhancements we’ve added to the Zoho Projects Gantt view. Read more

Say goodbye to unproductive workplace practices and build a culture of collaboration with Project Management apps – Part 1

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My colleague recently blogged about how project management apps can greatly help improve collaboration especially for geographically distributed teams or companies. As a remote employee at Zoho, I’ve experienced this a lot. My marketing role requires interaction with multiple teams, all based in other cities and time zones. And yet we all manage to collaborate seamlessly across multiple projects.

We do this by creating and reinforcing a culture that encourages collaboration.

That’s where project management apps come in to the picture. They work as an antidote to unproductive practices that could prove harmful for a collaborative culture. If you’re a growing start-up or company that’s trying to become more collaborative, these are the work practices that you might want to upgrade from:

Email ping pong.

Email Ping Pong

If you’re using email to make decisions or to discuss specific tasks that require inputs from multiple people, you could end up back and forthing and wasting time:

  •     creating email threads that are too long for people to follow through
  •     discussing the same topic over disparate email threads and have a hard time combining inputs
  •     just trying to get everyone on the same page

Not only is email ping pong unproductive, it is also unhealthy. In a recent research, occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell listed email ping pong as one of ‘the seven deadly email sins’ that could have negative health repercussions for employees.

Sifting through piles of email to look for important tasks or trying to achieve a “zero inbox” state should never be a work goal for anyone. Read more

Business in Florida Shifts Base to Zoho’s Camp

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“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — Albert Einstein.

I like many things about the company Basecamp. They have written some remarkable books and maintain an interesting blog. Having their roots in design, their products provide a good user experience. Like us, they too have eschewed venture capital. Both companies don’t like the bubble-mania that so often sweeps our industry; our focus is on the the long haul. 

However, when it comes to product management, we part ways with them. The simplicity of Basecamp comes at a cost that it does not have the depth needed to handle complex projects. Their constant refrain of “Less is more” or rather “Less is less” comes in the way of the recognition that complex projects do exist. We, on the other hand, come from a conviction that simplistic slogans cannot substitute for product management. Product management is about making difficult choices in facing complex problems.

We provide a hierarchical structure consisting of milestones, task lists, tasks and subtasks to break down complex projects into easily manageable units. Views like the Gantt Chart and the Resource Utilisation Chart are needed to ensure that a project with different people in different places working on different tasks, sticks to schedule. There is essential, irreducible complexity in the real world. An app that can meet this complexity needs to be feature rich and sophisticated. Failing to acknowledge this practical truth, sounds to us like, “We don’t like complex problems, so let’s pretend they don’t exist!”

To understand how this difference in ideology can impact businesses, take the case of Sunny Land Tours, a Florida based operator specializing in trips to Egypt and the middle east.

Zoho Projects Egypt

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Tracking the Flow of Time

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A friend once called me to talk about a totally unexpected question he was posed in a job interview. The interviewer had simply asked him to ‘define time.’ I asked him what his reply was. He turned the question around and asked me how I would have answered.

Immediately, I didn’t know what to say. It was one of those things that you were always aware of but just couldn’t put into words. After considering a few approaches I came up with this:

“Time is that, which continuously turns the future into the past!”
“Haha, good attempt,” said the friend, “But words like ‘continuously,’ ‘future’ and ‘past’ are defined using time. So this cannot be taken.”
“Then what is the answer?”
“I searched about this. Albert Einstein came up with one of the most popular and accepted definitions. He said, ‘time is what the clock reads!'”
“Are you joking?”
“No I am serious.”
“Then how do you define a clock when you cannot say it is ‘that which shows time?'”

The friend just laughed and changed the topic.

The problem of utilizing resources such that their time is spent optimally is a crucial one for any project manager. And simplifying this is a prime area of focus for Zoho Projects. A couple of weeks ago, we rolled out several updates in our Gantt Chart, a direct visual representation of tasks with respect to time. Before that, we’d announced an advanced analytics add-on powered by Zoho Reports that gave you more than 50 ready made reports with rich insights. And now, we’re adding another bunch of features, that lets you take charge of time!

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Can Project Management Apps Kill Start-Ups?

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Do start-ups really need project management apps? Do these apps simply act as a tax on a fast moving team?

Posts like this one show that some people do feel this way. Let’s acknowledge that no software, however cool, can make up for poor vision or broken culture in a team. Software can enable us to work better, but software, by itself cannot make us better human beings. So if you have issues with team chemistry, don’t look to software for a miraculous cure.

With that out of the way, we are convinced that these apps can bring in significant advantages to any team when used aptly. Allow us to walk you through some of these. 

Zoho Project Collaboration

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The Incredible Story of the Gantt Chart

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Most of us see Gantt Charts within computers today. Hence, it is easy to assume that they are another offshoot of the digital era. If that’s what you thought, you are in for a surprise: for here is the incredible story of the Gantt Chart that spans across an entire century!

Rewind to the United States of 1918. The First World War has just ended. Colonel John T. Thompson, the inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, receives the Distinguished Service Medal, “for exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service with the design and production of small arms and the ammunition thereby supplied to the U.S. army.” Thompson promptly sends a copy of this to a certain ‘Henry Laurence Gantt,’ with the following note, “A large share in this reward for the accomplishment of a great war task is due to H. L. Gantt and his assistants. The Gantt general control production chart was my compass.” Henry Gantt, mechanical engineer and management consultant, had already finished developing the Gantt Chart a few years before! 

Gantt chart

The Evolution of the Gantt Chart

Moving ahead, we reach the period when America comes under the clasp of the Great Depression. The Colorado makes its way into Arizona from Nevada through an arid, desolate stretch called the Black Canyon. And at this location, to control floods and generate power, the Congress authorizes the construction of the world’s biggest and heaviest dam. Apart from the sheer scale of the endeavor, torrid desert environment, the need to use unproven techniques and the lack of facilities at the venue, present additional hurdles. Still, Six Companies Inc, a consortium of construction companies takes up this challenge and turns in the ‘Hoover Dam’ to the government two years ahead of schedule! It stands today as a monument of courage of the 21,000 men who built it and attracts about a million visitors every year. And once again, Gantt Charts are given credit for playing a key role in the management of such a massive project.

As time progresses, the charts continue to get used in one successful project after another. The areas of application are various ranging from construction to finance and shipping to administration. Personal computers emerge in the 1980s and Gantt Charts become more complex and elaborate than ever before. With the internet gaining popularity, they begin to get employed in web based applications.

ganttchart_quote

In the August of 2006, we launched Zoho Projects, our web based project management app. Taking into account the significance of the Gantt Chart, we shipped the very first version featuring one. We bear in mind that it is indeed a great journey that has brought the Gantt general control production chart of the first world war to the Gantt view that comes to you from the Zoho cloud today. And this inspires us to take the story further in interesting, new ways.

On that note, we are happy to announce that we’ve rolled out a set of new enhancements to our Gantt Chart. The Gantt view now has two charts; the one you have been viewing shows task bars sequentially and we’re calling it the ‘Chronology Chart.’ We have added a new ‘Milestone Chart’ to give you the bigger picture. You can now view your milestones, the task lists they contain, and the tasks in these; all in one place.

The only way to set dependencies between tasks was to go to the dependencies view; not any more. You can now do this right within the Gantt Chart. Just click and hold on the predecessor task bar and drag to the dependent task bar, and your dependency is set. 

You could set the period for which you viewed the chart to the current month, the previous month, the whole year or a custom period of your choice. We’ve added a new option here called ‘project span’ that  automatically displays the chart for the duration of the project.

Please view the below video for a detailed walk through of the new features. Our Getting Started Guide also has an article on Gantt Charts.

UPDATE: These enhancements were well received and we have launched a newer set of updates. The Incredible Story of the Gantt Chart continues here.

References:

  1. ‘The Gantt Chart, a working tool of management,’ Wallace Clark, The Roland Press Company, 1923
  2. MegaStructures – Hoover Dam (National Geographic Documentary)
  3. Wikipedia articles on related topics (en.wikipedia.org)