Knoxville, Tennessee, where I live, is a short drive away from the Great Smoky Mountains. This national park is the most visited in the country. On any given weekends, thousands of people flocks to the Smokies to fish, hike, backpack, swim, and of course, camp.
I’ve done my share of camping, and can tell you that nothing makes you appreciate a hammer like forgetting one. When you go to put up your tent and drive in the tent stakes, you must bang away at the stakes with a rock like a caveman. You end up bending, warping, and breaking them while cursing your lack of foresight. An otherwise pleasant afternoon morphs into an object lesson for the children in the campground.
Whether you’re in the Smoky Mountains or the digital landscape of app development, good tools make life easier and better. They free you up to spend your time on other more important tasks and adventures. Better yet, many of the best ones are free.
But before we get into recommendations, let me share two quick examples of how I have streamlined project management with Bright Newt.
Example #1 – Put all the info in one place.
When we begin a new app development project, my assistant or I must set up the app in iTunes Connect or the Google Play developer console, as well as other relevant dashboards like Flurry, Pushwoosh, and Upsight.
Those unique SKUs and IDs and fancy alphanumeric keys go into a Basecamp doc entitled something obvious like “Viva Match Battle Info.” Whenever the programmer on that particular project is ready for the different credentials, he can access to them at any time.
We thus avoid lots of “Can you please send me…” messages and the delays that such back-and-forth introduces to a project.
Example #2 – Use screencapture videos to minimize bottlenecks.
App development involves innumerable tiny decisions, and at any given time dozens of tasks, conversations, and decisions compete for our bandwidth. I’ve often make my programmers wait days for a new bundle ID.
Hiring my assistant finally gave me an excuse to record videos showing exactly how to set one up. All of log-in credentials live in a spreadsheet on Google Drive, and all the videos live in a Dropbox folder where they can’t be deleted or lost or misplaced.
My goal has been to ensure that I am never the bottleneck!
Simple Project Management Tools
Now for the tools themselves. Regardless of what choices you make—Basecamp or Asana? Box or Dropbox?—the concept of Occam’s razor applies: the simplest solution tends to be the best. Conversely, a complex solution may introduce more problems than it solves. You don’t need a bazooka to kill a groundhog.
Focus on consistency. Consistency will help you build new, more beneficial habits that, in turn, lead to better outcomes (not damaged tent stakes).
Simple project management keeps you focused on finishing.
When a new project comes in, the first thing I do is create a Basecamp project for it. With Basecamp, you can invite team members to join the project, create text documents, and share them with specific members of the team. You can upload and send any kind of file. You can assign to-dos, add milestones, and send messages. You can also forward emails to a unique address that feeds only into that specific project. I like Basecamp because it is one of the simpler project management platforms out there. I don’t get sidetracked trying to find a use for bells and whistles that don’t make a significant contribution to my team’s efficiency.
2. Google Drive
Basecamp doesn’t allow you to edit and share spreadsheets, so I do use Google Drive every once in awhile. We keep a spreadsheet of log-in credentials so that we don’t waste time trying to track them down. Copy and paste this link into the Projects doc in Basecamp. Only those people with whom you have shared the spreadsheet will have access.
Disclaimer: I’m a rabid Evernote fan and therefore not to be trusted. I even bought an ebook called Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly to help me geek out.
I use Evernote to draft all my blogs posts. Evernote is installed on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook so that I never miss a short 5- or 10-minute window to be productive.
When I write out notes by hand, I take pictures, tag them, and upload them to Evernote. The web clipper tool enables me to bookmark and organize blog posts, tools, services, and other kinds of information. My unique Evernote Upload address can capture important emails and keep them grouped with the right notebook. To-do lists, shopping lists, and bucket lists; ebooks, pdfs, and photos—Evernote appeases the information pack rat in me. And I can share anything I want.
Life Hack: If you’re a fan of Moleskine journals, then buy the Evernote-branded versions. Why? Each notebook comes with three months of Evernote Premium for free. At $5/month, that means you get the journals for free.
Carbonite keeps a copy of all my old files, and Dropbox holds my most important stuff. It serves as a desktop of sorts, and the desktop on my MacBook Air is a temporary work canvas that I use to manage current projects.
The “desktop” version of the app makes for easy uploading, but the drag-and-drop functionality of the online app works well too. My iPhone automatically backs up all my photos on Dropbox anytime I open the app. Because I’m constantly sharing, moving, and receiving large files—source codes for apps, folders of pictures, design files, and sound files, to name a few—I love being able to create and share a new folder to receive files from other people. I also love being able to email the link to a folder that would have been too large for email. Workdays free from upload restrictions, error messages, and wasted time are nice.
My friend Jon uses this little program to create a symlink of desktop folders that he wants to be synced in his Dropbox folder. A symlink is not an alias or a hard link, and this quick process creates what looks like a copy of your folder with a little arrow over the top of it. You can then drag that folder from your desktop into your Dropbox folder. You can also rename the symlink version if you want to. For instance in the screenshot, Jon symlinked his primary Sites folder, but he renamed it to “Jon’s Sites” so as not to conflict with another folder in his Dropbox account.
Pretty cool, right?
But Wait… There Are 10 More!
All four of these services have their quirks and limitations, but you have noticed a common thread: they all live in the cloud.
If my MacBook crashes or someone swipes it at a coffeeshop, my business can be up and running again in the time it takes me to borrow a laptop or buy a new one. And I can even make do with my iPhone in the meantime because all four of these services have iOS apps.
As exhausting as email can be, simple project management is all about looking for opportunities to be more efficient and turning bottlenecks into repeatable systems. To that end, here are ten more helpful simple project management tools that you may need sometime in the near future:
5. Screenflow – Record screencapture videos of different tasks or processes to keep as a reference for yourself or for admin assistants. Ning is also helpful for shorter videos.
6. Reflector App – If you ever need to record a video of an unpublished build on an actual device, then you can use Reflector to mirror your desktop screen and make the recording.
7. Testflight – This handy app makes distributing and testing new builds of your apps a breeze.
8. Bitbucket or Github – Ask your programmer to make daily commits (also called “pushes”) of new code to the code base in your own code repository. If anything goes wrong with the project, you’ll have all your code. You can avoid the horror story of a dishonest programmer and thousands of dollars in lost code for $7 a month.
9. TeamViewer – This app enables you to control someone’s desktop remotely or to give someone else control of yours. For example, let’s say you want to give your iOS programmer access to your iTunes Connect account without sharing your credentials. You can use TeamViewer to log him into your account. (Obviously, if you don’t trust your programmer enough to share the credentials, then you might want to remove this bottleneck by hiring a new one!)
10. Tahometer – This service is similar to oDesk’s Work Diary and enables you to get Big Brother on your contractors and both track their time and see how they’re spending it.
11. Gneo – This is by far the best task management app available for iOS.
12. SignNow – Upload contracts and other docs, sign them digitally, and send the signed versions to whoever needs them—all in less time than it takes to print a hard copy of the document.
13. Skype – Duh.
14. Voxer – Short, walkie talkie-like voice chats are nice when you’re on the go and need to send instructions to someone on your team.
Do you have any smart project management tips? Do you recommend free project management tools? Share in the Comments section below.