Tools of the trade part 1

A 4 minute read written by Randall November 18, 2016

An illustration of some golf clubs

I have recently developed an unhealthy obsession with golf. There’s an interesting article that always follows every major tournament win called, ‘’What’s in the Bag”. This is an analysis of the kinds of clubs that the golfer used to win the tournament. So instead of another blog about “process”, I thought it would be useful to talk about the project management tools I use on a daily basis, and what I use them for.

Some of these tools are obvious - but I feel there is a lot of value in this information, as it may help you to become more efficient in your job by considering different tools and how you can apply them to what you do on a daily basis. This is the first entry of a two-part blog; the second part will be available in the fall.

Microsoft Outlook – This is my preferred email application that I mainly use for official client communications. I have it set to save every email I have sent or received, which allows me to keep a record my activities, conversations, approvals, and invoicing. I also find it useful for sending smaller files internally, or for mass communication.

Hipchat – This is a chat program that we use internally. It’s very useful considering we work in two separate offices and you cannot simply walk over to someone’s desk if you have a quick question. Each project and practice area has a chat room assigned to it and all the members of the project are expected to be active in that chat room. We use this far more than email since you can get instant feedback on any question you have. It is also useful to post screenshots of bugs, complex text such as URLs, and of course, funny gifs.

Yellow pencil staff giving each other awkward high fives

Google Calendar – This is what I use to book meetings. You can see your team member’s calendars, make recurring meetings such as standups, and it is easy to access via a mobile device. I often look at my meetings for the next day before I go to bed (or in the morning before my commute) to get a mental picture of my day. Also, all my meetings default with a google hangout, which is a little time saver. Furthermore, there is a google extension to link your GoToMeeting account with google calendar – very useful.

Google Hangouts – This is our internal video conferencing software that I use this several times daily. I much prefer video conferencing over regular voice conference calls because it allows you to actually see the expressions of the people you’re talking to. It’s said that 90% of communication is non-verbal, and using a video call allows you to pick up these cues that might otherwise get missed. It also helps foster relationships when you can see who you are talking to. I cannot stress enough that you and the other participants should always choose video over voice calls! In addition to looking at others, you can also screen share to give real-time examples of what you are working on; this helps with collaboration and demos. Bonus tip: you can outbound dial regular phone numbers from google hangouts by selecting add another person, and then click on the dial pad icon. From there, simply dial the number. This is great for setting up 3-way calls - and you can copy/paste in telephone numbers!

GoToMeeting – Although I prefer Google hangouts, we use GoToMeeting for most external client calls. This is because it provides a dial-in phone number for those who cannot use google accounts, or for those who are not set up for video conferencing. The same rules apply here as for google hangouts; share video and your screen when you can. This is really useful for Yellow Pencil, as we always demo our work for approval in real-time with clients. This eliminates wasted time while waiting for client approval and allows for real-time dialogue in case there are any questions on functionality. It also keeps our QA and developers honest as they will be demoing live to a client.

Mobile Device – My iPhone is basically a mobile computer that allows me to work anywhere and anytime. From checking ticket status, HipChat, emails, and calendars - my mobile phone is a lifesaver when I am not in the office. Also, pretty much every tool I mention in this series has an app that allows me to perform the same functions. The computer is by far more preferable, but the mobile device can do the trick in a pinch.

Two Large Monitors – With the amount of information that project managers need to have in front of them at the same time, this is a must for me. I would even like three screens if possible. We are often referencing spreadsheets, emails, Word documents, scheduling tools, chat windows, and video conferences all at the same time. Instead of expanding and closing windows, forgetting what you just saw, and generally fumbling around - it’s easier to get a larger display area. If you’re not already doing this, please do. Your work and life will improve immediately!

LeanKit – This application is our bread and butter here at Yellow Pencil. Every package of work or task is tracked within this application as a ‘card’ on a board with different ‘lanes’.

These cards contain all the information required to complete the task. This information includes a due date, a description of the task, the card size (effort required), who is assigned to the task, any sub-tasks to satisfy the completion of the task, and any team comments on the task.

The cards are all housed in lanes and these lanes represent varying degrees of progress. Example lanes include backlog, next weeks work, ready to start this week, in progress, ready for QA, ready for acceptance, and complete.

The reason that this application is so useful is because it uses a mixture of both Kanban and agile processes while allowing us to visualize all of our work.

Thanks for reading and check back soon for part 2.