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Climbing the stairway to PM app heaven: Three quick tips

February 22, 2012

Do you really need a stable of Gantt charts to run your practice efficiently?

The dirty untold secret in the project-management software industry is that software usually gets implemented because business people think they need a killer tool in order to get their act together. Said product is purchased, implemented and...usually left largely untouched for the remainder of its days.

(I say this with reasonable confidence because I used to sell and implement project management software at large Fortune 500 companies—there was no shortage of smoke and mirrors being utilized!)

1. Get your “to-do” list in one shared spot

Because you—-and not some VP suit high up the chain—run the show at your firm, it’s important that your project-management apps actually help you get stuff done. Skip the flashy charts and focus on the to-do list bullet points, please!

A shared Google Doc would work fine for this purpose. Just invite your colleagues to view and edit the document, and you’re all set.

We have a better option for you, though—and a free one to boot! It’s called Workflowy, the simplest project-management app you’ll ever see.

With Workflowy, you create a bullet-point list of items that need to get done. You can indent below each bullet to create sub-items (and so on, and so on).

When items are completed, you click a Completed button to cross them off. And when priorities change, you just drag the bullet points themselves up or down.

Workflowy is web-based, so you can share the list with the rest of your team. There is always one, and just one, official source.

This is the simplest option for project management and, quite frankly, maybe the only one you need. We used to have a saying at Chrometa that if our roadmap can’t fit on a whiteboard, we’re doing something wrong. We have since softened our stance a bit to allow for a whiteboard and a Workflowy.

Workflowy is currently free to use. (I would expect some sort of premium paid option in the future, as these guys need to eat somehow.)

2. Add in milestones, deadlines, and advanced collaboration

Basecamp, for much of its eight-year existence, has been the gold standard for simple project management and collaboration.

It has the to-do list capabilities of Workflowy, and a lot more—most notably the abilities to:

●        Set milestones and deadlines

●        Assign tasks to a specific team member

●        Track time spent on a given project

One knock on Basecamp is that it’s interface looks like it’s out of 2004, because, well, it is. That’s the year Basecamp initially lauched. In web app years, that’s ancient!

If you prefer a more modern app experience, the team that made Basecamp will soon be launching a rev 2.0 called Basecamp Next. Heres the link to request an invite.

Basecamp has a spartan free plan, and starts at $24/month beyond that.

3. Graduate-level PM apps

Want some alternative options to Basecamp? Here are a couple more that are popular with fellow CPAs:

Remember the Milk is an advanced to-do list that is a favorite of tech guru Josh Poje. Josh writes:

Remember the Milk offers a simple, intuitive tool for managing your to-do list. Organize tasks by client or matter, tie them to specific geographic locations, and share and collaborate on tasks with colleagues.

Like Workflowy, Remember The Milk is currently free. I would also expect a paid premium option in the future, because when it comes to software, there aint no such thing as a free lunch.

Smartsheet is a dream come true for Microsoft Excel fans - it’s basically a spreadsheet on steroids! Smartsheet is blinged out with project management and collaboration features—all from the comfortable confines of your neighborhood spreadsheet.

Smartsheet has a free 30-day trial, and starts at $15.95/month.

Project management for CPAs: Easy as 1, 2, 3

We’ve discussed the apps above in order of ascending complexity for a reason. The project management software space is a useful one, and a dangerous one at the same time. It’s very easy to get in over your head in terms of complexity—and actually spend more time managing your software than your projects themselves!

So make sure you follow our “stairway to project-management app heaven” outlined here, and you’ll upgrade your apps in tandem with your project management needs without a problem.

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and

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