Enhance the way you do business in the cloud with Intuit’s Quickbase

intuit_logo

My recent experiences with Intuit’s QuickBase product led me to write this article.  I found it to be a great tool for project management – and beyond my needs, several departments adopted it as a means to build custom, cloud-based applications.  Here are a few quotes from my former team.  I’ve also reviewed the application on TrustRadius for any of you that may be looking to purchase.

Quickbase allowed our professional services team to fine tune our delivery processes, reduce delivery time, and ultimately improve our margins.

We felt more connected as a team due to the workflow and notification capabilities.  We felt in-sync!

Quickbase allowed us to quickly adapt and keep pace with our ever-changing business.

I felt more empowered to write my own reports and see data the way I needed to in order to run my business unit.

The flexibility of Quickbase’s platform allows for almost limitless use for the product.  If you are considering a similar tool (i.e. SalesForce), here are a few features that we enjoyed.  Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way by Intuit.

  1. Get started quickly with best practice templates.  My favorite?  The Project Management template.
    • QuickBase provides numerous out-of-the-box templates.  On many occasions, we thought up a concept and then realized that Intuit already had a template available that solved 75-80% of our needs.  We were then able to quickly customize this template to build our “custom” application.  It was simple to add fields, modify forms, etc.
  2. Easy-to-use reports, charts, and graphs.
    • Not only is it easy to setup reports around your data, it is also easy to view and modify the data directly from your report.  The QuickBase platform allows you to drill into the data from the reporting elements.  You can then use ‘Grid Edit’ mode in many cases to directly edit the data that you’ve drilled into.  This assumes that you have the appropriate access to that data, of course.


  3. Control access easily through customizable roles.
    • Access and security is sometimes an afterthought.  Quickbase allows you to setup custom roles and then secure that data that resides in your application tables down to the data element.  You can choose the basic functions of view, add, modify, delete.  This flexibility allows you to setup complex security in your application to reflect the unique needs of your business community.  You can also nest roles for individuals that may be in more than one.

  4. Easily add custom fields to support your business need.  There are a variety of data types which you can select.
    • Be it a custom application, or the customization of an existing QuickBase template, it is tremendously helpful to be able to add custom fields to your application.  This is done easily by the ‘Add New Fields’ feature.  Intuit has made it really easy by predefining a number of logical data types.  You can even use their scripting language to create a derived or calculated field.  Personally, I’ve found that calculated fields come in extreme handy.  In terms of project management, I’ve used calculated fields to determine the variance between two dates.   This helped me to analyze how long a certain activity was taking to complete across several projects.

  5. Subscriptions and notifications are a powerful way to keep your users engaged and target communication to them at the right time.
    • QuickBase has an excellent built-in feature to handle notifications.  These are helpful when setting up complex workflows.  They are also very nice for prompting users to take action on particular pieces of data when it has changed.  We were able to reduce our delivery timeframes by notifying different functional groups when activities were completed ahead of schedule.  This had a direct impact on our business and helped us to achieve better margins.

Don’t take my word for it.  Quickbase offers a free 30-day trial (no credit card data required).  Sign-up with your email address and let me know what you think!  In the trial, you’ll have the ability to use all of the features above and get a look at the available templates.  If you’re looking to build a pilot ‘business case’ for your boss – this is the spot!

Advertisements

Management via Email? Think Again!

Even with the proliferation of online tools, SaaS software providers, and free Google apps, I constantly see teams that attempt to manage projects via email.  When joining a team or project midstream, below are some of the questions that I often ask:

  • How many requests have been made for certain types of data?  Are you seeing any patterns?
  • How many requests are you receiving per day, per week, per month, or per quarter?
  • On average, how long does it take the team to respond to these requests?  Do you have an SLA and are you meeting it?
  • How long does it take the end-users to test once the change has been loaded in the UAT environment?
  • How many requests have we seen that are really “training issues” (i.e. where the report or data already exists, but the user was unaware)?
  • Are we seeing more custom report-related requests, or requests to modify the underlying data model?

Are you able to answer these questions from email alone?  The answer is maybe – but it will take a long time to sift through your emails and arrive at the appropriate answer.

Why not track this information in a system and manage these types of statistics daily via a dashboard?  Oh – and by the way – if you setup your tracking system in the right way, it can become intelligent.  You’re probably wondering what I mean by that statement.  Well, let’s look at an example:

  1. Request is made for a new custom report (System notifies the team that a new request has been received)
  2. Team member is assigned to “own” the creation of this new report (System notifies team member which is assigned)
  3. Team member works with the end-user to create a functional requirements document (System has the ability to store this document inline with the original request)
  4. Team member creates the report and writes an accompanying technical specification (System has the ability to store the technical document inline with the original request and functional requirements document)
  5. Team member places report in the UAT environment (System notifies the end-user that the report is available in UAT and provides a link to accept or deny)
  6. Report is approved and placed into production environment (System notifies the user community that the report is available)

This is a very basic example, but this is what I mean by having an “intelligent” system.  Your system should be designed not only to capture the right pieces of data for your project, but also the associated workflow.  Many systems have email notification and basic reporting functions built-in as well.  Throughout my career, I have used many systems to manage a process through technology.  Depending on your budget and how quickly you need the environment available, you may prefer different vendors.  Here are a few of my favorites with a bit of my personal analysis:

PM Tool Comparison

PM Tool Comparison

If you are looking for a recommended tool, I will provide the following analysis based upon my own experience.  You should always carefully consider your requirements and procure the right tool for your organization.

Robert’s Quick Recommendations:

  • Intuit Quickbase:  I recommend Quickbase for projects that require a solution to be in place quickly – and one that requires a great deal of flexibility around workflow and notification.  I have used Quickbase very successfully to manage three separate business intelligence projects.  It is a great tool that is flexible and easy to setup.  It also doesn’t require programmers like a sophisticated application on the Force.com platform might.  My favorite Quickbase feature:  The ability to control the data model and write your own Excel-like functions.  Built-in report features are nice, too!  Please see my previous post, “Technology isn’t everything, there is PROCESS too!” for additional screen shots of a pre-configured instance of Quickbase.

Function in Intuit Quickbase

Standard Report in Intuit Quickbase

  • Basecamp:  I recommend Basecamp for projects that require a high degree of collaboration.  I’ve used Basecamp successfully to manage iterative web design projects.  It’s a great tool to keep communication centrally located, store documents for the team to share, and to track critical milestones.  My favorite Basecamp feature:  the mobile app!  I like the “latest updates” feature, too.
Basecamp iPhone App

Basecamp iPhone App

Basecamp Latest Updates Feature

Basecamp Latest Updates Feature

  • Microsoft Sharepoint 2013:  I recommend Microsoft Sharepoint 2013 for more mature shops.  I have used Sharepoint successfully to manage the development of software projects.  Combined with the functionality of Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, Sharepoint can become an invaluable tool.  If you are working with a business intelligence project, Sharepoint also has components such as PerformancePoint and PowerView that may interest your data guys.   Sharepoint requires the right hardware and technical expertise to setup and maintain, but it is feature rich and integrates seamlessly with the Office suite.  Microsoft now offers Sharepoint Online if you’d like to offload the technical headache and put it in the cloud.   My favorite feature of Sharepoint:  As I BI guy, I love PowerView and PowerPivot.  Very cool!
PowerView

PowerView

  • Smartsheet:  I recommend Smartsheet as a replacement for Microsoft Project/Project Server in start-up shops.  Smartsheet is an excellent collaborative project management tool.  It’s not fancy, but it is an effective way to track work, collaborate, and ensure that critical projects stay on time and on budget.  My favorite Smartsheet feature:  The ability to setup automatic alerts when items in the project plan are changed.
Smartsheet Alerts

Smartsheet Alerts

Technology isn’t everything, there is PROCESS too!

I have had the opportunity to work with many different clients, groups, and businesses during my career.  I’m always astonished when executives get distracted by a shiny new product and forget about what really matters – PROCESS!  Don’t get me wrong, I love a new product as much as any other technologist.  However, when it gets down to basics, each product requires a set of governing rules and processes to define its use.  Now, here’s the fun part.  You can use TECHNOLOGY to implement PROCESS!  This is mind boggling – I know!

One of my favorite tools is one named Quickbase by Intuit.  You’ve probably heard of their QuickBooks product, but Quickbase is more like a Force.com product.  I’ve used it in numerous places to help design a process and manage workflow.  The architecture of the product allows you to quickly stand up the application for your needs.  It also has robust features surrounding reporting, email notifications, data validation, and workflow.  If you were wondering, I am not affiliated or compensated by Intuit.  Use the tool that is best for your organization, but remember, it is about the PROCESS!

Here are a few areas where Quickbase has helped me:

  • Clear communication (helping to set expectation and shape perception)
  • Set and manage service level agreements (SLAs)
  • Track and manage delivery metrics
  • Knowledge management
  • Capacity and staff management

I have provided a few screen shots below of a recent dashboard in Quickbase:

Quickbase Bar Charts in Dashboard

Quickbase Bar Charts in Dashboard

Grid View of Work Items in Quickbase Dashboard

Grid View of Work Items in Quickbase Dashboard

So – the next time that you consider implementing a new product, don’t forget the PROCESS!  Be it Quickbase or another tool, think through your strategy and define your process before you start down the path of implementation.  You won’t regret it!  If you are mid-implementation and haven’t already considered your process, it is never too late to start.  You can always find merit in tracking and codifying information to guide your implementation and communicate status to your stakeholders.  Beware:  this takes hard work and a lot of effort, but the overall outcome is a successful one.