How do you keep on top of a marketing program as the client and team members each change and refine their contributions? How can you avoid the jumble of disjointed email and out of synch attachments, which convert what should be straightforward project management into an exercise in detective work and archeology?
There may not be a magic bullet for this common problem, but here are six free tools which save time, keep focus and often deliver a better result. Many nifty services save time after you’ve invested in learning them. Not so with these. You can get to know any of them in a few minutes.
All these services are cloud based and this enables real-time cooperation. Except for DropBox, there’s no software or app to install. A computer and an up to date browser are all you need.
Elaborate project plan documents may impress clients. They can also take lots of effort better spent on actually doing the project. The old “solution” was to buy copies of Microsoft Project for team members, invest significant time learning how to use it, and then try to coordinate the different versions from each computer.
What you often need is a simpler tool to create Gantt charts and enable team members to update their portions. Enter Tom’s Planner. It hits the sweet spot between intuitive ease of use and enough features. Tom’s is entirely web based and works impressively well on a variety of browsers including on the iPad.
A fruitful exchange often starts at a whiteboard. Suppose you can extend the collaboration to those not in the room at the time, save the conversation and keep it going? Essentially what you get is multi-user chat, which you can store, share, or export to a read only web page. Its easy yet surprisingly useful.
As useful as it is, Writeboard is text only. Sometimes a “back of the napkin” sketch gets your idea across best. Flockdraw is a very basic tool. No instructions supplied or needed. With it you can draw straight lines or freehand, change the color and thickness of the pen and share the result.
If you like sticky notes, this ultralight website lets you share them with team members on a virtual cork board. If you change, delete or add a new note, all those with whom you share a workspace will see the updates.
A project plan is overkill for some things. In this case a task list may be enough. Ta-Da is one list you can’t simply loose or leave at home. Making it sharable and editable online may help get the items done.
Your project will likely include more elaborate documents – graphics, layouts, brochures, word processing files, etc. – any of which go through multiple revisions. This nifty file synchronization service allows you to manage document versions and ensure that you and your team members work on the same one.
DropBox requires a free app, which is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iPad, iPhone, and BlackBerry.
I could have mentioned other tools, but all these are fast, functional, and free. You can get to know them all over a lunch hour – which may be better than a free lunch.