Design projects are extremely time intensive, and our surveys show that a good chunk of that time never gets billed. Management software can help reduce the time you or someone else in your office spends on administrative tasks. Chances are you’re already using a design management product to keep track of your projects, orders, billings and such. But how are you keeping track of staff, outsourced service providers, other professionals and tradespeople on your team, and stakeholders? Managing all those communications, documents and idea exchanges also can be time-consuming.
Project management software saves you time in two important ways. First, it takes you out of the middle of the conversation. Any and all parties can communicate directly with each other and with everyone else on their distribution list, which you control. Second, records of all conversations and bright ideas, documents, images, plans, etc. are kept in one location. No more hunting through your e-mail for an attachment you need to put your hands on. And no more time creating, sorting and managing folders in various programs. Everything related to your project stays in one spot. You determine who has access to them and how.
Many project management products are available, from smartphone and tablet apps to enterprise-wide programs for large corporations. They offer a variety of features and range in complexity from very user-friendly to mind-numbingly micromanaging. The following three products are the ones we have found to work best for most design firms.
In terms of cost, comprehensiveness and ease of use, it’s hard to beat Basecamp. The company, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, has an impressive list of corporate customers, but Basecamp also works well with small teams. The heart of Basecamp is a project dashboard that lets you quickly check who’s posting messages, what documents or other media have been added to the file library, upcoming meetings and deadlines, etc. With Basecamp you can create lists and sub-lists of all contacts with profiles, project calendars with scheduling capability, project alert e-mails and project folders, as well as host discussions and share documents for review, comment and revision. The free trial version allows you to host one project, but you can host multiple projects with a paid subscription, which starts at $20 a month depending on how much cloud storage you need. Basecamp is compatible with all Google services, and apps are available for iPad/iPhone and Android devices.
If you need an online collaborative workspace, you might want to consider Central Desktop. Like other project management tools, Central Desktop enables you to host files, calendars, conversations and project plans; automatically assign tasks; update databases; send e-mail reminders; and route documents for approval.
But its real strength is in facilitating collaborative work projects. You can create separate workspaces for different projects or teams; conduct Web meetings; share documents and other media; and communicate with team members, vendors, suppliers and others in a social networking-type of environment. It also includes a mood-board function for idea generation. Apps are available for iPad/iPhone and Android devices. A Central Desktop subscription starting at $99 per month can host up to 20 team members and 10 external contacts.
Perhaps you are not currently using a business management tool and would like to have your project and business management functions together in one package. If that’s the case, ProWorkflow may be a good choice. Along with managing projects, tasks, documents and contacts, ProWorkflow also can track staff time and generate timesheets, manage resources and workflow, create quotes and invoices, and export your business data to QuickBooks. It also includes file sharing and storage, e-mail, discussions, notifications/alerts and messaging. With drag-and-drop functionality, ProWorkflow is easy to learn and to use. The mobile version works on any smartphone or tablet. Subscriptions start at $10 per month for one user and up to 10 projects, but multiple user options are available for similarly low costs.
All of these products are cloud-based and mobile-friendly, which means anytime/ anyplace access and no software to buy, download, install and upgrade. They also all offer free trials, so you can choose the program that works best for you and your team.
Gail Doby, ASID, is the co-founder and chief vision officer of Design Success University. Download a complimentary copy of Doby’s latest ebook, the 2014 Interior Design Fee & Salary Survey. ($179 Value)