Not a panacea, but trying: Comindwork is attractive

Management tools probably don’t bring to mind excitement and visions of “getting things done” the agile way. Nevertheless, it’s an important aspect of running any project — whether agile or not — and there are some tools, believe it or not, that are easy to use, hugely helpful in managing a project and sometimes even a little bit of fun.

One such tool is comindwork.com, a fabulously rich project management software as a service (SaaS) site. While not right for everyone or for every situation it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

Comindwork combines over 250 project management related capabilities under one roof, yet does it with a web interface that is, by and large, a breeze to use. Some of the strengths of the service include traditional project management tools, knowledge management, collaboration tools, information sharing and versioning, and both agile and traditional waterfall management tools (e.g.: think Gantt).

The entry point is easy, and that’s another strength for comindwork: A small team can get started for somewhere around $20 a month (for teams of 10 or fewer, it’s $1 per day that you actually use the service — if nobody logs in, it’s no charge). This offers up a wealth of really advanced tools at a fraction of the cost of most large scale management infrastructure. For companies that don’t have a system in place, it’s easy to give comindwork a spin.

Here are a few of the things I like about comindwork.

It all starts with the personal dashboard. I’m a huge believer in personal (meaning, customized and personally relevant) dashboards, especially if they follow the basic principle of “Getting Things Done” methodologies. Distraction is bad, focus is good:

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With the project dashboard, you can:

  1. Get a bird-view on all activities where you are involved, see who changed what and when
  2. See your nearest milestones
  3. Check team members’ status and mood
  4. Easily access detailed project-specific dashboards

It offers both traditional (meaning, typically, “large scale”) project management and agile management philosophies living under one roof. At first glance I was taken aback by any system that can claim to offer this mix of tools, but comindwork manages to pull it off. On the traditional side, there are Gantt charts and round-trip import and export of Microsoft Project files, not to mention a whole host of reporting capabilities. On the agile end of the spectrum, to-do lists, tasks and very easy time tracking support simple progress monitoring. Unfortunately, burndown charts have yet to make an appearance, although there’s enough information available that they may not be entirely necessary.

Knowledge management and collaboration are central to the product. Blogs, to-do lists, milestones and business wiki support which codify and share tacit knowledge are tightly integrated into the project. In fact, one of comindwork’s strengths is that so many services are so tightly integrated. For example, linked business wiki entries, tasks and time commitments can be shared and kept up-to-date, with progress being reflected in round-trip Gantt tracking in Project. Notifications of all activity take place automatically, sending out instant email messages or daily digests that summarize project activity.

One of the problems I’ve run into with customers that have no pre-existing system is simply keeping track of all the project artifacts and versions of each. With email flying everywhere, documents being authored, and half the team not knowing how to use source management repositories, how can you hope to keep track of every artifact the team produces? I like to implement a policy of “email doesn’t exist,” but this means you need a tool that’s going to support the policy.

In other words, if someone wants to get something done, it should be in a system, not flying around in email. The idea of half a dozen versions of a document living on everyone’s desktop is just unacceptable to me. Comindwork provides file versioning and drag-and-drop upload. This makes it possible to implement the “email doesn’t exist” policy, and comindwork does a great job of delivering an easy to use tool:

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Having a convenient and ubiquitous place to store project artifacts makes it easy for the team to share, manage, and collaborate. Comindwork put enough effort into the interface that it’s not painful:

  1. Create a convenient tree-structure of your documents
  2. Make common actions on a set of files (mass-delete, mass-move)
  3. Provide comments to any file version
  4. Versions are stored automatically whenever you upload a file with the same name. Check all revisions and easily revert if required
  5. Use drag & drop area for native multiple files upload

You can even email files directly to a folder in your comindwork project.

For more demanding projects, you can design custom workflows to support the security, policies and customer demands of the project. This is an essential tool in my mind. Any project management solution needs to be able to grow with the project. Custom workflow makes it possible:

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You can create graphical representation of your business process, modify the process with appropriate business rules and make sure your project is enforcing necessary policy:

  1. Define, control and track states and transitions in your business process
  2. Encourage process automation and standardization
  3. Break your business process into easy to follow step-by-step workflow diagram
  4. Reconfigure your business process as needed
  5. Clearly define your business process and avoid miscommunication and inconsistency

If you’ve been casting about looking for how to get project tracking off the ground, take the quick tour and see what you think. It’s not a panacea that will fit all project’s needs, but it is a very solid tool that’s been seeing a lot of success lately.

If you decide it’s not for you, take a look at Atlassian’s JIRA too. JIRA is by far my favorite project management tool, especially if you’re agile-oriented. It requires a bit more of an up-front investment to get off the ground (both in terms of deployment and financial cost), but in my opinion, it’s one of very few first-rate tools available today. I’ve been trying to finish a detailed article on JIRA for some time now, so check back in a bit.

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