Zenkit – New Organisational Tool

Zenkit – New Organisational Tool

Overview

Zenkit is a task and project management tool, which uses collections to create projects, where you can add items and information to each. You can add images, videos or documents to those items, allowing you to keep relevant data in one convenient location. As long as you know someone’s email address, then you can invite them to join your collection, enabling you to create a virtual or physical team, that meets the needs of your business or project. It is still in beta testing, but current functionality looks promising.

The ability to import via Trello, CSV files or by copying a spreadsheet means that you if you decide to change your service provider you don’t have to waste lots of hours, manually copying and pasting your information, reducing the likelihood of human error. You do need to import each project separately, rather than being able to select the relevant projects, but the import literally takes a second, and you can start to import the next before it finishes, so this doesn’t feel like an issue, even for someone as impatient as me!

The custom field option allows you to design a completely bespoke project, allowing you to add links, attachments or even checkboxes to a task. The really impressive thing, for me, is the ability to create a reference (link) between 2 collections and then use aggregations to link 2 fields within those collections, to create management information. It acts similarly to a relational database, so if you had a list of customers and a list of their invoices you could use an aggregation field to understand the lifetime value of that customer, or you had team members working on 2 concurrent projects, you could aggregate their workload to understand if you had unrealistic expectations of what they could do in that timeframe. The custom field also allows you to add estimates of time, so Zenkit then becomes more like a project management tool than some of the other free tools out there.

The in-program Help provides a great knowledge base. There are short videos that quickly and easily show you how to start something, such as add a collection or new team member, how to add additional fields to a task or how to do more advanced features such as move tasks from one collection to another, create a mind map or import from Trello. If you prefer there is the traditional documentation, where you can complete a search on the problem you need help on, and read up on how to resolve it.

You can multi-select items, then bulk replace, duplicate or delete those items. You can change the due date, change the label assigned to it or where in the collection it should sit. I love the fact that you can select a number of items and then change some of their properties quickly and easily, without having to manually go into each one.. A real time saver!

There aren’t many integrations available, with Google Drive, Dropbox, box and Zapier as the only one’s current options. You can use Zapier (through an API key), which integrates with the most popular tools out on the market. This is fine for those who use Zapier, but for those that don’t, it means another tool to understand and add to the portfolio. That being said, Zapier is a very useful tool, and does have a free option for personal use and even the paid version isn’t priced out of range of the small business owner.

If you are a visual person, or you have lots of ideas on what you need to do, but haven’t yet been able to focus on exactly how to do it and in what order, then the mindmapping function could be a real-life saver for you. For those of you who don’t know what a mind map is, or understand the basic principles, but have never used it, they can be a highly effective way of brain dumping that literally ‘maps out’ your ideas. You then create links to each of the ideas, which can then start to formulate a plan, which you can then use a collection to create the structure of your project. This feature is not yet available, but will soon be part of the beta testing and I cannot wait to try it!

Another thing that is not currently available, but is promised in the future, is the ability to provide analysis on your collections. The app promises that you will be able to “gain quantitative insight over your project. Stay on track with burn-up, cumulative flow and cycle time charts, or assess spending and delegation”. Until I have chance to see this fantastic sounding feature a review is impossible, but it does sound like it will be able to provide some really useful in-depth management information on project progress.

Strengths

  • Ability to add custom fields allows you to personalise your project so it meets your specific needs
  • Activity feed allows you to quickly get up to date with the collection and items
  • Mindmap function helps you be able to visualise and plan a project or workflow
  • Shows the data in a number of different ways, such as Kanban, lists, calendar, so you view your data in the way you prefer
  • Can assign labels i.e. high, medium, low, or urgent, non-urgent etc.
  • Ability to import via Trello, CSV files or by copying a spreadsheet
  • Simple to get started, with great on-line help, if you should need it

Weaknesses

  • Although it gives you the option to add a profile picture via dropbox and google drive you can only use your local hard drive
  • Knowledge of Zapier is required as it is used to integrate with other apps
  • You are not able to subscribe to project updates, so need to be a team member to access the information
  • No integration with a time monitoring tool, to enable you to track time for accurate billing

Costs

Zenkit Basic is free, and you can have up to 5 team members working within the same environment. Once you go over this amount of people, or you want access to premium features, the costs go up incrementally, depending on number of members and for a small business owner, could become expensive. However, for a small business the basic package could provide the solution to manage the main projects and workflows.

Conclusions

The tool is still in Beta testing and the team are still working on the integrations and mind maps. This tool offers a lot of great features and promises to be a powerful tool to help you plan and organise your workflows. It will be interesting to view in 12 months, once it’s been tested in depth and available commercially, to see how the team at Zenkit have developed this app to provide an even more useful tool to help you plan your business better.

 

If you want to do more research

http://thenextweb.com/apps/2017/01/22/trello-refugee-moved-loving-zenkit/
http://www.mindmapping.com/

Asana – Workflow Management

Asana – Workflow Management

Overview

Asana is a task and project management system to facilitate team collaboration and communication. You can create projects and as long as you know a person’s email address you can invite them to join your team. You can create tasks within a project, assign a team mate, or just add them as followers and mention them in comments, if they need to know what’s going on, but are not directly involved in the project.
The ability to create projects and invite team members to particular projects enables teams to share, plan, organise, and track the progress of tasks in each of the projects they are working on. A Manager can follow all of their team’s tasks and stay abreast of progress without the need for a long email trail.

As with any shared program, you need to ensure that you clearly describe the task, so that others know what the output should be. Asana provides a commentary box, so that you can add more information, ask questions or keep stakeholders up to date with a project. You can add sections into a project so that you can then organise tasks and their subtasks. You can then assign tasks to yourself or to other members of the team. Your inbox where all notifications relating to tasks and projects changes are received. If you later decide that a task is actually bigger than you first thought, you can change it into a project and then assign tasks to it. You can now create a project in a board style, rather than a list. You can then drop and drag items, but I couldn’t find a way of viewing older projects in the Kanban type view, but that might just be me!

You can upload attachments to tasks, combine related tasks, filter and organise to provide management information and establish a work flow. You can also delegate, prioritise and follow tasks and team members enabling you to understand project progress quickly and easily. Using tags can help make tasks more searchable, and the advanced search function is very helpful if you have incomplete data to search on.

You can multi-select tasks, then bulk assign, change due date, mark as completed, delete etc, by holding down the shift/ctrl key to select the relevant tasks. This for me, is a great feature, as I do sometimes take too much on, and need to be able to re-plan my week!

Tasks can be viewed in the editorial calendar, so that you can get a clear overview of all the tasks, what has been completed, what is overdue and what is still to be done. You can create a task template for each blog post, with the list of subtasks required to complete the post. You can then add the due date and clearly see what you need to do to enable you to complete the blog on time. You can then use the calendar view to review your planned activities and progress against them over an allocated period of time. So, if you’re a blogger, or just someone who has a blog page on their website, this could help you organise your workflows.

If you want to express thanks to someone for their help, click on the heart emoji to show your appreciation!

 

The dashboard allows you to produce some simple management information, where you can add up to 3 projects on the free version, in order for you to see data associated to the tasks within that project. You can drill down into each project and the data is divided into 3 main areas. A summary of the project and its due date, the ability to update status (with the option for a weekly reminder to update) and a summary of the number of completed tasks against the total number of tasks. This can be quite a useful discussion document between the team members, or to update management on project progress. Even if the team is just you, it can give you some clear insight as to how well you are doing against your planned dates, and whether you may have been a bit optimistic in the amount you thought you could get done!

I found it difficult to begin with, so starting was a lot of trial and error and does require some perseverance. There is good “Get Started” Guide, which is clearly set out into those that are getting started with Asana, those who have experience, but are training their team to get the best use out of the tool and then an advanced section for those looking to expand their use of the tool. This useful guide can support you through the process, but I can be quite impatient, so wanted something I could use straight away!

With the premium version, you can create dependencies and link tasks together, so if you are waiting for someone to complete one of the subtasks before you can complete your element of the project, you can highlight it is waiting for a dependent task.
There are a number of templates provided by Asana for team members to be able to quickly develop a project. Most of these are part of the premium feature, but they do provide simple templates for Asana onboarding and a meeting agenda as part of the basic package.

Asana integrates with WordPress, MailChimp, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Slack amongst others.

Strengths

  • Virtual workspace, so teams can work remotely together
  • Ability to set priorities and due dates, with updates on real time basis
  • The administrator can set project permissions, so if you have confidential or sensitive information attached to a project, you can ensure information is only visible to people who need to know.
  • You can see your teammates’ tasks and priorities, so you can understand team workload
  • You can add comments, assignees and attachments to tasks, allowing you to have all information in one place
  • You can follow tasks and add followers, so subscribers can view project progress on an ongoing basis
  • You can add relevant projects to favourites to store them in the side-pane for easy access.
  • See a complete history of tasks and project related activities through the activity feed, so you can understand the workflow and use this to inform other projects.
  • Use tags to categorise different types of tasks, add additional context and create subtasks as individual steps towards task completion.

Weaknesses

  • Not possible to assign one task to multiple people
  • Hard to move subtasks out a level, especially when you want to move a task to a level that isn’t the main project
  • Management information is very basic
  • Difficult to track task duration and dependencies, especially if you are on the free version
  • Not an intuitive tool to learn

 

Costs

Asana Basic is free, and you can have up to 15 team members working within the same environment. Once you go over this amount of people, or you want access to premium features, the costs go up incrementally, depending on number of members and for a small business owner, could become expensive.

 

Conclusion

Asana is not a project management system as you might be familiar with. It does allow you to keep track of the daily to-dos list, while also providing a better method than email to follow the status of jobs. It has lots of useful features and once you get familiar with the tool and its characteristics, it can be extremely powerful, especially if you have the premium version.

 

If you want to do more research

https://www.getapp.com/collaboration-software/a/asana/
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2408011,00.asp

Slack – Team collaboration tool

Slack – Team collaboration tool

Overview

Often said to be the “Email Killer”, this tool is a messaging platform for teams that can bring all communication together, by creating a team space, where you can add channels, which are different folders/topics and send images, or documents to the whole team, or DM to a particular subset. Notifications are highly customisable and the search function allows you to find relevant information quickly and easy.

As an administrator, you have more control over the tool, with the ability to manage who can do what and whether or not they can use the emojis that are available. You can also pin a message to the top of the channel, if it’s something you want to remind people about, but you do need to remember to unpin, once it’s no longer relevant.

Slack links to Toggl, so you can use it to monitor your time, as well as integrating with IFTTT, Google Calendar, Giphy, Twitter, Dropbox, Trello and Mail Chimp, to name a few, so you can use it as part of a suite of tools that you and your team use to manage your business on a daily basis.

I have recently helped out on #microbizmattersday as part of a virtual assistant team, which had VAs from both the UK and France working together to promote the day and highlight any #IGave13 posts. It was a great tool, where we had different channels for monitoring relevant tweets which automatically appeared in the relevant #channel using IFTTT. This allowed us to quickly see any new tweets and then retweet on facebook or add to the webpage that had been set up for the event.

Obviously if you are working as part of a team, just like a file structure on your file server, naming your channels clearly and appropriately is extremely important for helping your teammates understand where to go for certain information. Especially important, if you go on holiday or have an extended break, as you want your team to carry on efficiently while you are gone.

The reactions are great, if you like something, dislike, think it’s funny.. whatever, you can click on one of the emojis.. then if someone else thinks the same, they click on the same emoji and it adds to it… rather than each reaction needing its own email trail!

If you are in the middle of doing something else, the continual notifications can be extremely distracting, making you want to stop what you are doing and respond, well it did me anyway! A lot of productivity advice is to only look at your emails once or twice per day and to work on only one thing at a time as it takes between 15 and 20 minutes for your brain to switch back to the task it was previously focused on, so you may wish to put on your ‘Do Not Disturb’, either for a limited amount of time, or for a regular time each day/night.

If you do have lots of channels, then you can hide those that have had no recent activity, great for those who feel overwhelmed, if there’s too many tabs open, this would be me again! They become unhidden once someone adds anything to it, so you won’t miss any new posts even if it is hidden. If you do hide channels, enabling the ‘quick channel switcher’ will make it easier to quickly unhide them if you do want to use them again. You can start typing in the search bar and Slack offers suggestions based on what you are typing, so if you know it starts with a particular word/letter, but aren’t sure of the exact name, you can use this to find it again.

Slack has a Slackbot, which you can ask simple questions and it provides a quick response. If you have a more complicated question, there is a Help Centre with a great search facility and in-program articles, which provide information on how to get started, setting up channels, messaging etc. so you can easily pick up different aspects of the tool. You can also use the Slackbot to create private reminders for you, acting as a sort of task in your calendar, using the /remind command, which works anywhere in Slack and when the time comes, Slackbot will then send you a reminder.

Modifications can be made to messages after they have been sent, so the response might seem a little off. This is similar to those on social media, where people can delete or amend what they have said, making the responder look silly or even mean. If you trust your team, and they use it in a professional manner, then this shouldn’t be an issue.

There is no way of replying directly to a message, which is above another message in the same channel. If there are a number of different threads on a channel, relating to different conversations, then this can become confusing if you’re responding to one question, but it appears directly under a different question. You can get around this by using the @ Plus Name, but this drawback does make the choosing of channels particularly important, so that similar threads stay together.

Strengths

  • Good password – tells you how strong it is, so you can decide whether you want to make it stronger
  • Easy to set up your own team and you can direct message one member of the team or send a message to everyone
  • As long as you know someone’s email address, you can invite them to join your team, so great for creating a virtual team for sharing particular information
  • Few tips to get yourself started
  • Good security – you can ask for 2 step verification from each team member, for additional verification that they are who you think they are
  • Number of great articles to help you get started
  • Can use on PCs, tablets and mobiles
  • You can create private groups
  • You can leave or mute a channel
  • There are special characters to filter or search for relevant messages

Weaknesses

  • No comment threading
  • Can’t assign tasks to individuals, without using DM, which then means the rest of the team can’t see it
  • Doesn’t have deadlines or project management features
  • Not good for document management, as they are attached to the message, so you still need somewhere to store
  • If it’s a big team you can quickly get lots of news, but the thread can get confusing
  • You can’t assign priority to a message
  • Expensive if you need more than the basic features
  • Continual notifications can be distracting
  • Can be difficult to navigate through the different channels, making it difficult for a newbie

Costs

Free for basic application, which for a small business or soloentrepreneur is more than enough. If you are a slightly larger organisation, or if you need the additional features, such as group videos or calls, larger storage requirements, 24 hour response times, then there are 2 paid options, both based on number of users. This can then make it a more expensive option to using a mixture of an email provider, dropbox and skype. On the plus side, all these features can be found in one place, rather than having to continually swap between different programs. If you have an expanding/reducing number of people (ie project), then the pay per user can make it this quite expensive method, rather than having a flat rate charge per month.

Conclusions

A great tool for a virtual team to communicate effectively with each other, but could turn a buzzing office into a silent room, which for introverts is great, but perhaps more intimidating for extroverts! It is easy to learn, user friendly and allows additional team members to be added at any time. They can then read through the conversations and get up to speed quickly and easily. It’s a great tool for conversations and discussion, but for anyone looking to manage tasks and workflows, you’ll need something like Asana, Trello or Toodledo.

If you want to do more research

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2015/08/11/the-ultimate-guide-to-doing-anything-in-slack/
http://thenextweb.com/apps/2015/02/05/13-cool-things-might-not-know-can-slack/

Trello – A Project Management Tool

Trello – A Project Management Tool

Overview

Trello is a project management tool, which offers drag and drop functionality and a Kanban type approach to project organisation. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kanban, it originated from the automotive industry and was first used by Toyota as part of their production system. It was designed to smooth production by signalling from one workstation to another that needed more work. It was the first pull rather than push system, so instead of inventory piling up at a workstation, they only produced what the next station in the production line could use. This process was put in place to reduce stocks and waste and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

So how does that relate to you and your project, especially if you are producing a virtual product to sell to customers or you provide a service? You can add recurring tasks by using If This, Then That, which is a free tool (for another blog), and you can use it as a To Do list, where you can plan your daily tasks, but it comes into its own when you use it to organise a project. It’s user friendly and easy to learn and adapt to your needs. At the top level, there are boards and each one represents a project, where you can organize your tasks and collaborate with your team if you have one.

The board comprises a number of lists, which are based on your high-level activities. Mine tend to have one for brain dumping everything, one for each of the main topics which come out of that brainstorm and then one for completed tasks. If you use it to organise your week, you can use it to record everything you need to get done, then drag and drop to the appropriate day. If you find you’ve planned everything for Monday and Thursday, then you can reorganise to smooth out your workload around those days you have less on.

At the task level, there are cards. These are used to represent tasks and ideas and you can have as many cards as you like per board. These cards contain all the information that you need to complete the task. You can add checklists for tasks which require subtasks, due dates, attachments from both local drives and many cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive so everything you need is in one place. You can add more information regarding the task to your card including links to websites, or step by step directions.

Although it’s not something I’ve used yet you can also can add labels for filtering and data visualisation, so a really useful tool for managing your workload. Comments can be added to cards when communicating with team members about a task. You can also @ mention someone to notify them in a comment. The activity feed shows the history of actions that have taken place on a card and creates a timeline of events as progress is made.

 

Lists keep cards organised in their various stages of progress. They can be used to create a workflow, or act as a repository of ideas. Cards can be moved across lists as tasks go from start to finish, so its fast, flexible, and even fun to use. You can organise your projects into columns and cards that are easy to drag around, add supporting details to, comment on, and assign from person to person on your team. What’s not to love?

Strengths

  • Easy to change your preferred language within your account.
  • In program help with good search bar and articles separated into lists relevant to where you are on the journey
  • Good navigation to relevant sections of the tool, with easy drag & drop functionality to organise your project
  • A great visual tool, where you can easily see an overview of your project activities and easily change due dates on tasks if you need to
  • Integrates with Toggl, Google Drive, Slack, Dropbox, Mailchimp and Twitter amongst other things
  • Ability to add a check list and create labels to filter different types of tasks
  • You can have up to 15 members collaborating on a project on the free version of Trello

Weaknesses

  • No real reporting tools.
  • You can’t create a Gantt chart to show a timeline of your project
  • You can’t bill from Trello, so need to manually monitor time, through Toggl or other time-tracking tool
  • You can’t add a critical path to your project, so if you have something where everything will fail if that task isn’t completed, then you will need to use labels and create reminders.
  • Although you can view your tasks on a calendar, and therefore could create a weekly ToDo list, this isn’t any different than using Google or ICalendar.

Costs

The basic tool is free and you can have up to 15 people on your team, all being able to access the same project(s). If you have over 15 people, or want to integrate with more than just Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox, along with a number of other features, then you will have to pay $9.99 per user per calendar month, and even more if you a large organisation and you want to customise your experience, so unless you are happy with the features available on the free tool, depending on the number of people on your team, you may want to look at other tools, which charge a flat fee and could be more cost effective in the long run. But if you like the features that Trello offers, it’s a great, easy to use tool, which could help you successfully launch your new product or service.

If you don’t fancy spending time getting everything organised, need support in implementing any systems, or business support processes in general, the please feel free to contact me via the details below

Do you want to maximise your business potential?

Do you want to maximise your business potential?

Are you a relatively new online business owner, who doesn’t know where to start?

You haven’t got a niche… or you have got a niche, you’re really creative, but not at all organised. You have no idea which systems you need, but you know you need something to improve the way you work on a daily basis to support your ongoing business growth.

 

Well that’s where I was when I first started… it wasn’t clear what tools and systems were available. The internet is such a vast storage of data, that I was overwhelmed…. I kept starting to look at processes and systems and then get drawn down a rabbit hole.. looking at the next shiny thing… love reading and learning, so researching this new role took me to lots of new and interesting reading… I got work, but not in a co-ordinated way, or by following a strategy, but by “winging it” and in reality, I still am in some ways!!
Does that sound like you? Maybe you have just started an online business, or perhaps you have been doing it for a while, but recognise that you need to start organising your business life, so it doesn’t merge with your personal one…

 

The online industry is one that is growing all of the time and that means that there will become a greater need for those joining to onboard as soon as possible. There is lots of recommendations for systems on Facebook pages, based on personal experience, but little to show comparisons between different ones.

 

Doing all of that reading on different systems, processes, information that one needs to start a business, means that now I’ve got lots of knowledge, that I can share with others, so that they can make informed choices on what they need to get started. A pay forward for those of you who are now in the position I was twelve months ago…..#doitdifferent

 

What I want to do is create a knowledge centre, starting with different planning tools, and then looking at SEO, E-Marketing, Facebook Ads,  Hosting Platforms etc (not necessarily in that order!), to give you enough information to make an informed decision.

 

This “wikapedia” type of knowledge centre will provide deep dives on:

  • Ease of use
  • Features
  • Pros and Cons
  • Flexibility
  • Costs

As well as comparisons between the different type of systems.

WATCH THIS SPACE!

If you are stuck, need information on the best tool to use for the job, then please feel free to comment below, and I will definitely get back to you. I might even do a post on it ?

 

If you need support in implementing any of these systems, or business support processes in general, the please feel free to contact me via the details below

 

Whatever your business idea, I wish you the very best of luck.

 

Website:     https:www.jackysvirtualassistance.com
Email:          jacky@jackysvirtualassistance.com
Telephone: +44 (0)79 2005 6041

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