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 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!


  • 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