Whenever you have more than a few things going on, project management can get more chaotic than it needs to be. Thoughts and ideas flying everywhere, with occasional real things getting done. Changes in direction of whole projects, sometimes even questioning of the project itself. Its very own little existential crisis, the original intent lost at some point with that pesky evolution of ideas dulling the shine.
“… why’d we do this, again?”
“I can’t even remember anymore.”
If you’ve found yourself at this tipping point, where the shared “Active Projects” spreadsheet has too many tabs to make any sense, and nobody updated it last week anyway, and you have 4 different “Notes” files on your computer, which you should have named better, but you didn’t, and now you don’t know where those meeting notes from last month are… it’s time to consider getting help my friend.
Time for you to explore the wonderful world of workflow and project management!
In order to effectively manage the day-to-day of any office, you need 3 things:
Accountability, for each person to pull their weight.
Metrics, to study the data around who is doing what and for how long and when.
Goals, more specifically the achievement of goals. You did start that project for a good reason.
We have found that a combination of Teamwork and ZenDesk achieves this trifecta for us.
What is Teamwork?
Teamwork (https://www.teamwork.com/) is an online project management platform. They actually have three different offerings: Teamwork Projects, Teamwork Desk, and Teamwork Chat. At Cascadia we only use Teamwork Projects, and it’s great for keeping our many clients and projects organized. A lot of project management platforms share the same basic characteristics, including Teamwork. The ability to message regarding specific tasks and projects, upload files, create tasks, and set milestones.
Teamwork is no different than many other platforms, in fact it was a very easy leap for us from Basecamp. Our reasons for making that leap were ultimately two:
- Teamwork integrates with Quickbooks, and our version of Basecamp did not.
- Teamwork offers better and more nuanced control over client access to their projects.
In other words, sometimes we need to chat about a client (or their project) in a way that’s private. But ultimately we do want them to have as much access to their project and tasks as possible. With Basecamp it was more of an all or nothing proposition: client gets unfettered access or none at all. But with Teamwork we can set the privacy of just one comment or thread. The context remains intact, which is so much less confusing. With Basecamp we had to chat privately, and it easily became a mess.
So, when shopping for a project management tool, think about other programs and platforms you’ll want to integrate with. Think about how this tool is going to integrate in everyone’s workflow. Will it enable communication or bungle it? Consider each person’s job, and how it will make their life easier.
Will this tool help you make your team accountable, offer you metrics to gauge performance, and a user-friendly pathway toward achieving the goals of your projects? Then it’s a winner!
Here’s how Teamwork helps Cascadia in these key areas.
Accountability & Teamwork
Cascadia is made up of very independent people. We like to do our own thing, manage our own selves, and work toward our own goals… in addition to those of the team, of course.
The majority of us have experience at Amazon, which is a very sink or swim environment. So Cascadians are quite good at time management, project management, professional development, etc once they’ve made it through the wilds of the Amazon.
This means that we live all over the globe, work remotely, and sometimes keep very strange hours, but we’re accountable to each other. We keep each other informed, we keep ourselves on top of our assigned tasks, and we advise the others when tasks won’t be completed on time for whatever reason.
We each take personal responsibility for the energy we bring to the team, and we know our accountability to each other is what allows us the freedom to be a part of Cascadia. This is more of an overarching attitude throughout our organization, but Teamwork puts it in black and white right in front of us, so we can keep that commitment to each other and ourselves.
“Why isn’t this done?”
This question no longer needs to be charged with emotion or digging back into one’s mental notes from the meeting, trying to recall who was going to do the thing. At the time of the meeting, a task was created with a due date and an owner, and from that point it’s just a matter of getting it done or hitting a roadblock, and keeping notes on what transpires, so it’s all right there for everyone to see.
Accountability is empowering to the individual, and it builds trust and rapport with the group.
Metrics & Teamwork
Within Teamwork it is easy to run reports in any given project to let you know what tasks are still outstanding, how far you are from reaching certain milestones, and how long tasks are taking. This is helpful in making sure each project stays profitable, and is also useful for rooting out the big time suckers and getting to the bottom of why.
Goals & Teamwork
At the end of the day, we’re doing all of this so our clients are successful on Amazon. Our approach is very formulaic and task-oriented, because that’s how the Amazon platform is set up. So we can set long timelines of daily and weekly tasks that need to be completed, and once those task lists are finished, our first set of goals is complete. New task lists begin, which are aimed at gauging our success in the first set of goals, and setting new ones for continued success.
What is ZenDesk?
INCOMING! ZenDesk (www.zendesk.com) is a great way to manage all your general inquiries. Whether they come from an info@ email, Seller Central, your own website, Shopify, or any other place you might get inquiries from clients or potential clients, you can funnel them all into ZenDesk and have one large queue with all the messages that need answering, in one place.
We came to ZenDesk mainly because of that need for accountability, for everyone to get involved and pull their weight where we each can.
When Cascadia was really young, there weren’t a whole lot of messages coming in from anywhere. If a contact came in to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the person monitoring that address didn’t know the answer, they could ping any one of us and we could work through it together.
But as we began to grow, messages started coming at a faster clip to info@, people started commenting on blogs, we had questions coming in from clients and prospects alike, internal callouts and problems on client accounts, not to mention our own projects and ideas and questions, which are always flying around.
We saw a need for a clearinghouse of all messages, a “ticket queue”, where owners could be assigned to messages and team members could take responsibility for inquiries that fall within their wheelhouse.
In this way we can all share the load, and questions get answered with the most expert voice we can offer, so everyone wins.
For some of our full service account management clients, we handle all their CS from Amazon and other platforms as well. In addition to that we fulfill wholesale orders and other customer service tasks, and for those clients we create a ZenDesk account as well.
The logic we applied to our purchase of it for Cascadia, is the same logic we applied to our purchase of it for certain clients. It’s a great way to know at a glance what is needed, and it’s easy to distribute the load amongst the team.
Accountability and ZenDesk
Most any message that comes in is important. Whether it’s a message from a current client, a potential client, a supplier or a partner, with few exceptions you need to answer all the messages that come in.
Rule #1 of good customer service is to always answer incoming messages in a timely manner. People need to know you’re there and listening or they won’t trust you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you.
This is you, making yourself accountable to the public. Building trust through accountability.
ZenDesk is a great way to keep yourself on track and accountable. You can have a front desk person (in our case, Business Development) monitor the queue and assign incoming inquiries to owners. When a ticket is assigned, the new owner receives an email alerting them that they have an inquiry waiting. In this way the message is handled more quickly, efficiently and expertly than it otherwise might.
The person who sent the message receives a great answer, and the team member who provided the answer and done their part in remaining accountable and sharing the load.
Metrics and ZenDesk
Within ZenDesk you can group your incoming messages in buckets so that you can see what messages are coming in, what’s still unsolved, who is assigned to what, and even which macros are used the most. Macros are pre-set responses so you don’t have to type the same answer 10 times every day. You can just paste the macro and the pre-written message loads for you. Send it and you’re done!
Goals and Zendesk
It’s much easier to set the goal of answering all the tickets in one day, and knowing if that’s a realistic goal, if you’re able to see everything in one shot. Having ZenDesk be the catch-all for messages helps us understand our workload and set appropriate goals.
Where client success is concerned, again that goal is success on Amazon. For some clients it means success on other platforms too. This largely requires that every inquiry is answered efficiently. Every customer is happy. When these goals are reached, success follows, and ZenDesk makes that easy to track.
Choose the tools that compliment you
What does that mean? Cascadia now has a suite of tools that make sense for us, but there has been a learning curve. We haven’t always chosen the best tools for us, and it wasn’t until we’d begun using them that we saw it.
For example, Basecamp’s non-integration with Quickbooks. It was chosen partly because we were all familiar with it from previous jobs, and partly because of the bells and whistles.
We knew that it didn’t integrate with Quickbooks but were told that integration was imminent. So we went ahead with Basecamp, only to see that integration was not happening with any swiftness. It quickly became apparent that integration with Quickbooks was critical to us… more so than any other bell or whistle. We didn’t immediately see how important that was, or how debilitating it would be to not have it, until it was too late.
Of course you’re going to have your own learning curve, and you’ll make some mistakes along the way. Cascadia’s a few years old now, with some successes (and failures) in our rearview. We know now that it’s crucial to think about your needs, the things that aren’t negotiable, and not compromise. Bells and whistles can be fun but make sure this thing will do what you need. Right now, not “Coming Soon!”
One of my favorite managers used to say “it’s my job to make sure you can do your job”. She was right about that. Think of your tools as your managers. Choose the ones that will best facilitate the performance of your job, the ones that will make you shine.