Archive for November, 2012

What is social task management? How is it an improvement over traditional project management?

HyperOffice had the privilege of being featured in a recent report on “getting work done with social task management” by expert analyst Alan Lepofsky.

As the “team work” market evolves at a dizzying pace, and throws up new memes left, right and center – social collaboration, social business, social intranet, enterprise 2.0, enterprise social networking – end users are understandably lost. The natural question to ask is – what “social” solution meets my needs?

Social task management is suitable for companies which are mainly looking to coordinate the activities and effort of a team spread across locations and company boundaries. The emphasis is on “projects”, where everyone contributes a specific part, at a specific time in a chain of activities.

The “project approach” is important in modern businesses, so project management software has been popular and around for a while. These software let you create the structure of a project, lay out the exact sequence of activities, set milestones, specify complex relationships between activities, assign tasks to the right people, set priorities, attach resources and so on – a massive improvement on managing projects doing this through Excel spreadsheets and email.

However, traditional project management software suffers from the some major drawbacks, which social task management improves upon:

What about the conversations? Projects don’t operate in a vacuum. Often, intense conversations between managers and the team happen before the project, and even during the project, as the project often evolves to a form quite different from how it started out.  While project management software is good for getting organized once the project is underway, it completely ignores the conversations.  Conversations end up taking place disjointedly on email, IM, or through verbal conversations and are forever lost once finished.

Social task management begins with conversations. It’s open, conversational environment, allows everyone to get together, discusses issues, and then, at the appropriate times, tasks and projects are set up and assigned  on the fly. And the conversations don’t end there, they continue right up to the end as new issues arise, specifications change and deadlines are altered. These conversations are forever captured for anyone else who might want to look at the project.

Emails are inefficient for updates. Even traditional project management software needs to keep the team informed about changes in the project. Say, if someone completed their task, people further up the chain and the manager need to be notified. Traditional systems use email for these notifications. This however, has disadvantages, where these notifications might get lost in a sea of other email, and the recipient still has to log into the PM system to get more details. With frequent updates coming in, and so much else to work on, these extra few clicks make all the different where people never log in and end up missing deadlines.

Social task management systems have a feedback loop built in, where everyone can have conversations, get change notifications, and access and update their tasks all from a single place – their project walls. Not only that, this is a single place they can access everything across projects, not just a single project.

Project management systems are not share-friendly. Traditional project management systems mostly confine every participant to their specific part of the project. There is no easy way to show your task to other people, get their advice, or even get clear visibility to what others are working on. In a real business situation however, activities are never demarcated in neat packages, and everyone helps everyone else in a joint effort to drive the effort to completion.

Social task management solutions bring with them the openness and free sharing of social tools. Inviting others to look, advice and contribute to your task often means just a click.

As Alan Lepofsky lays out in his report, social task management systems come as pure social task management systems, or broader social business suites with task management as a component part. HyperOffice represents the latter approach, because we feel that task management, even with a social layer, is not independent of other collaborative effort – meeting coordination, document collaboration, workflows. Companies, as they grow in size, and take a strategic view of their collaboration software might prefer this approach. You make want to take a look at our social collaboration tools.

Small Business Apps Guide

XNL Telecom, a small telecom provider based in the UK, have created a neat infographic on web apps for small businesses, which we had the privilege of being featured in. It is a very comprehensive list of important apps for a small business considering jumping into the world of online productivity (basically any small business).

20 Small Business Apps

With many businesses feeling the pinch, XLN Business Services has listed 20 of best apps to streamline operations. View more details here

Manage Simple Processes with Do It Yourself Database Apps – Guest Post by Megan Webb-Morgan of Resource Nation

Database applications are essentially programs that enter and retrieve information from a computer-managed database; your business may have databases full of customer information, fleet data or inventory lists. And while much of this is already stored in various platforms, such as your fleet tracking software, being able to pull it from one database app is more convenient and efficient.

While there are many out-of-the-box options, a do-it-yourself database app can help you organize your business’ data and simplify your management processes in a way that is designed just for you and your business.

Do-It-Yourself versus Out-of-the-Box

If you have standard database needs, it’s easy to purchase a basic program out of the box and be satisfied with its functionality. However, if you have unique needs specific to your organization, a standard program just won’t cut it.

- Instead of trying to modify an existing database program to fulfill your business’s needs, you can avoid those limitations by creating your own database application.

- Creating a database app for your business can help you manage processes more efficiently. Rather than emailing spreadsheets back and forth between employees, you can keep all your information in one place that can be accessed by multiple users whenever they need it.

Experts at Nonprofit Technology Network suggest, “As a general rule of thumb, we usually say that if an off-the-shelf product meets 80% of your needs, you can probably use that product and figure out a way to deal with the other 20%. But if the off-the-shelf product meets a lot less than 80%, then you probably should look at a platform to get exactly what you need.

Cloud-Based Apps

No matter what kind of business you run, you can build a database application to manage many of your simple processes. DIY databases allow you to enter exact data that you need and to generate reports, charts, and other output from that data. There are a number of database building platforms available to your business on the web.

If you choose to use a cloud-based database provider, be aware that there is a chance the provider itself may or may not be around in the long term. For this reason, being aware of the viability of your database provider, and the years of experience it has is very important. This holds true for other cloud based products as well (see whitepaper on how to select a SaaS vendor). You also want to be sure that you can easily export data from the database.

- Once you build your database application, you need to monitor its functionality to make sure it is running correctly and make configuration adjustments as needed.

- Protect your business and your information from server failure and provider insolvency by regularly creating a back-up of your cloud-based application and data to be stored offline.

Many small businesses inefficiently manage their processes by emailing spreadsheets around the office, which can cause confusion and disorder through lack of organization. There are many online providers that can walk you through the process of creating your database and managing it proficiently. Utilize the flexibility of a do-it-yourself database app to keep your information organized, easy to access, and easy for multiple persons to edit.

Megan Webb-Morgan is a web content writer for ResourceNation.com. She writes about small business, focusing on topics such as business software.