This is part two of series of posts focusing on GTD and project. Last week I’ve covered the natural planning model. This week I want to focus on some of the tools which you could use to make the process of managing projects a lot easier. Having the right tools around can assist in making sure that the project was fully captured and we can access the plan to review next actions and track progress.
When working on a project there are three categories of information that need to be taken care of.
- Brainstorming – this is where you collect all your ideas that are related to a project. Key element in the idea creation stage is to let them flow freely and record as quickly and easy as possible.
- Project plans – once you’re collected all your ideas related to a project you can start organising them into sections, components, next actions.
- Project support material – a major project will require a lot of research, planning, idea creation sessions, setting up new relationships, testing documentation etc. All these documents need to be kept on file and in one place so one can always refer to them when needed.
There are 7 tool types that can handle any project.
- Pen and paper – pen and paper is one of most versatile project tools. It’s dead simple and readily available. However the key of it is that it can be used for any aspect of project flow. You can use if for brainstorming, for organising your ideas into project plans. As you go on your research again pen and paper that can help you capture the stories behind things, the images, the details etc. For me almost every project starts with some scribbles captured on paper. I find it super easy and super simple to get things going. There is nothing distracting me. To kick off any project simply grab a pen and some paper that’s around you and start writing.
- Text outliners – another simple way to work your projects is to use text outliner. This application allow you to create multilevel structures that can be very easily reorganized and reshuffled when needed. For people who are fast typists using outliner can be a great way to dump all their ideas very quickly and then rearrange into a plan. There is no need to rewrite thing as you would do it on paper which some of you might find discouraging and waste of time. Due to simplicity text outliner can fulfil any purpose in project workflow. Although I’m no longer a big user of outliners I had some great results with applications like MS Onenote, Evernote and simple text file. If you’re big MS Word user the outline mode is pretty powerful.
- Mind maps – if visual representation of your projects is important for you than mind maps are definitely a place to explore. The concept of mind map is very simple and it basically describes creating a web of ideas interconnected with lines and relationships starting from one central point. If you use mind maps on paper they are a great way to brainstorm an idea, flesh things out and clear your head. However if you go a step further and start using mind map on a computer the possibilities expand greatly. You are not only able to brainstorm but you can manage the whole project from establishing the purpose to tracking next actions. You can move things around, drag and drop them between branches. There can be added almost infinite amount of detail as you add layer after layer additional points. As maps can be expanded and collapsed you can set the see only the relevant amount of information. The reason I like mind map is twofold. First I like the visual side of mind maps including web like structure, colours and lines. Second element is flexibility to organize things exactly as I want.
- Excel /Gantt charts – if you’re looking for little more advanced ways for managing projects and want to capture an lot detail associated with a task that later is analysed for various criteria excel and other spread sheet solutions might be for you. As oppose to mind maps this type of tool is most appropriate for actual tracking and laying out task rather than any creative work. It allows seeing the sequences and dependencies of various sections and elements of a project.
- Project management software – if you need to do some heavy lifting in terms of managing projects you may turn to a specialised applications. These programs allow tracking multiple steps, dependencies, resources, critical paths etc. For most individuals and smaller companies using this type of software wouldn’t be necessary and more likely would require more work to manage to system than it’s worth.
- Whiteboards – I must admit I don’t have a lot of experience with this tool but It’s inevitably great way to kick start a big project when you have to deal with a group of people. In a team or group setting the key is to make sure everyone has access to information. Whiteboard allow precisely that.During the brainstorming process every member of the group can see other ideas, build on them, purpose new solutions. Once the plan has been put in place whiteboards can become project dashboards communicating progress, current focus, obstacles etc.
- Document databases – some project require gathering a substantial amount of information and research that need to be stored and accessible by the team of kept for archiving purposes.One of the easier ways to manage this is to use already existing file and folder structure to save documents, notes etc. The key element is to make sure that information can be easily located and retrieved and act as a trigger for further idea generation or project development.
Managing a project can be an art of itself and it’s super easy to get focused on little details, finding a 20th way to organise the actions. As result you end up using project management software to keep track tyre change. The key is to use tools that are just right enough and for majority of people and project they have to deal with a simple sheet of paper or text file with ideas will bring more clarity and progress than the fanciest management tool.