This week we were asked to evaluate and choose a project management application to use for our Master’s courses and projects. We were provided three options for popular commercial grade “freemium” online platforms that offered a limited version of their software. If your needs grow over time you can move to a paid plan for additional functionality or additional user access. Once I had looked at those, I decided to do some research and see what else was out there. I fired up the google search and entered the letters “PMS”, after all, everyday we throw around terms like CMS (content management system), OS (operating system), DBMS (database management system) and RMS (risk management solution). Google immediately corrected me “Oh you stupid, stupid man…..did you mean: “Project Management Software” or “Project Management System”? Ahh, sorry….thank you all knowing google algorithm….my mistake. Not surprisingly, thereafter I discovered that not many of the (and none of the popular ones) PM software providers used that particular acronym for their product. I imagine it didn’t go over so well in marketing. It felt like one of those moments where I could feel my wifes eyes glaring at the back of my head. “That is what separates us from the machines dear..”. Ahem, you live and learn.
Cringe worthy and embarrassing moment aside, I also learned that project management tools have been around since the turn of the twentieth century when the first bar charts were developed to plan and track the progress of ship building activities. Named after Henry Gantt, these Gantt charts are still in use are are considered a basic and necessary method for project managers.
Normally, evaluating software for a company is a long process. It usually involves sending out surveys to users and key stakeholders identifying their needs and priorities for functionality. Setting up test groups, writing a report and recommendations for a contract. It can be a long exhaustive process before you even begin deployment and training. Whew!, you might need project management software just to decide on project management software. But for personal use we can skip some of these steps and just jump into some trials, but it could be helpful to create a short wish list before looking at solutions. Today, the criteria to evaluate your choice of PM software are complex and vary across industries, but all platforms at the bare minimum must perform the following:
- Set up goals, activities and tasks
- Assign tasks and deadlines and send notifications
- Provide a central repository for all project related documentation and materials
- Set up group members or teams
- Allow collaboration and communication among team members
Beyond those requirements, the following functionalities are nice to have:
- Central calendar (for important milestones, dates and deadlines)
- Cost tracking (Could be a simple spreadsheet stored in repository)
- Activity duration estimation and tracking (Could be a simple spreadsheet stored in repository). Handy if you are billing hourly.
- Ability to store contacts or create directory (for clients, vendors, resources or staff)
- Approval/Feedback mechanism (for submitted materials)
- Chat or Video Conferencing
For my personal needs I had the following requirements:
- Needs to be intuitive, I have used basecamp and other products before and there was a significant learning curve. I would not want members of my own team having a negative initial experience with the tool. It should be easy to understand and set up for work.
- Multi-platform, multi-device, and mobile compatible, I could not use a system that was limited to a device and or specific platform. If the system had an iOS app it was a plus.
- Have the ability to set up and switch between multiple projects with different teams (internal or external email domains) with possibly different needs or scopes. In short, I should be able to collaborate with anyone and switch between a video, mobile app, website or marketing campaign project easily.
- It needed to play nice with my other stuff. I live by gmail and google docs. Not compatible? No API? Goodbye. No proprietary file formats, I should be able to export and import into other applications and software I use with ease.
- Needed to be scalable. I know from experience that once you have committed and started working and entering data into a system, it can be difficult to move in the future. The company I choose needs to show signs that it will be around for some time, is stable and committed to developing a good product with many development partners. For example, I may not need an interface with a CRM now, but if I read that they have one with Salesforce, it is reassuring.
Once I had figured out what I needed and wanted, I went shopping. I was quite impressed by Podio. Podio is like a swiss army knife of project management tools. I selected Podio not just because it met all of the aforementioned points but primarily because of its flexibility. I liked that you can customize the application and shape it for many different types of uses. If you perform different roles across projects, have different types of clients, work across different industries or need a tool that can can function as more than one thing then consider Podio.
After looking at Trello, it appeared to be just a task list creator with a kanban board. Very simple but extremely limited and challenging to have oversight over multiple projects. It lacked user control in the free version. Asana was promising but lacked customization and is primarily just a PM system. It appeared to be geared to middle and larger businesses who just needed it to perform that single role but well. I strictly applied what Cal Newport terms “the craftsman approach” to tool selection. I am already very organized and have been keeping lists for years with trusted applications already in my toolbox. I need something that went beyond the organizational benefits and helped be communicate and aid productivity. I prefer to limit the tools I use to a vital few and if a solution promises to be a Swiss army knife, that outweighs the negative.
The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative.
Podio’s basic structure is based on a three tier hierarchy: There are workspaces (categories or clients), where you keep items (projects, stages, milestones, scenes, events whatever is appropriate) and tasks within those items. It’s simplicity is also its strength and what allows it to be ambitious in potential business uses. Within workspaces you have the ability to add beyond the basic functionality through apps, podio plugins or templates that let you customize around the way you work. For example you can add an area for a kanban collaboration board or a mind map within a project. Think of these as being similar to wordpress plugins or chrome/firefox extensions. Like these other programs, Podio has also set up a marketplace repository for easy browsing, downloading and deployment. https://podio.com/market
Workspaces >> Projects >> Tasks
Examples of use cases on its website include project management system, a company intranet, a client expenses and billing portal, sales lead tracking and a catering service.
It took me a little while to wrap my head around it, but once I understood that model, I was intrigued.
I decided to take it for a test drive. The interface was OK, very minimalist, maybe too much. Personally, I like action items to be higher contrast in interfaces and in my opinion the light grey icons on the white background were too small and hard to find. Not a show stopper, I assume that once I know where everything is and how it works, I will be grateful they are not “in the way” of my content. A few google searches and videos and I was well on my way to setting up workspaces and tasks. That was a breeze and completed opening the account and set up over the course of a couple of days between work and other activities.
Next was working it into how I already worked. Podio offers many integrations https://podio.com/site/features/integrations . For me, what was most important was how it played with google apps. The google integration is OK, it needs more work and was once in the form of a gadget. Its development stalled a few years ago. But once I followed the instructions in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ8A0Q7RI5w and allowed Podio access to my google account, I found that I could:
Create a task from an email in Gmail:
Sync Podio Calendar Items to Google Calendar:
Set reminders for tasks:
Post and share documents with my team in Podio from Google Drive and Docs: (key feature)
I imagine that the stalled development of the add-in for gmail was a result of changing API for google once the email service evolved and incorporated its own task feature. This happens, so I always advise anyone who will listen to never become too dependent on one system and always be ready to pack your bags if you need to move to something else. A good way is to always keep your information backed up and in universally accepted (or close) formats like .csv, .pdf, SQL .html, .docx or plain text if possible. We are often at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of an ocean of corporate purposes and business changes. Despite the clunky start, it looks like the two work well together. Hopefully we can see renewed interest in a gmail add-on in the future. One exists for outlook. I noticed that the glitchy add-on was not unique to podio and other software suppliers like Trello were having challenges with their own gmail interfaces.
Podio’s mobile apps are very similar to the online interface. One advantage of the minimalism is that it keeps the interface consistent across devices.
In addition, since it is a Citrix product, you can set up video conference meetings from within Podio using Go-To-Meeting, formerly a Citrix product. Advanced users can create web forms for data input.
Pictured below is a screenshot of my graduate studies workspace:
There are some very powerful automation options offered by third party Zapier if you receive numerous project related email using gmail or use public facing podio web forms. Look at some of the things you can do, I am sure you can think of some business uses already:
I am very confident that I made the right choice with podio. I look forward to actively working in it and building teams. This product has everything I need and more. So far, so good, I will post a follow up on the platform once I have used it more. Right now it looks like it has a bright future.
For a great video on the power of podio, check this demo video by Patrick Steil
There are some additional helpful video links below.
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
The Top 29 Free and Open Source Project Management Software for Your Small Business. (2018, September 22). Retrieved from https://blog.capterra.com/free-open-source-project-management-software/#27
Podio Reviews and Pricing – 2018. (2018, September 22). Retrieved from https://www.capterra.com/p/128631/Podio/#reviews
Podio: Project Management and Collaboration Software. (2018, September 22). Retrieved from https://podio.com/site/use-cases/project-management
Learn more about Podio – Videos
Introduction and Managing Freelance Graphic Design Jobs with Podio:
Introduction and getting started with a free account:
Recent Posts from the Graduate Series: