Daily Dispatch

Project Management Software: Easy as 1-2-3

By | Feb.27.12 | Collaboration, Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology, People, Productivity

Legal project management has become a bit of a buzz term in recent years, but what exactly does “LPM” entail? Do you really need a stable of Gantt charts to run your law practice efficiently, or is there a simpler way?

Sure there’s a load of project management software out there promising to maximize your efficiency, double your free time and make you smarter, richer and taller. But the dirty little secret in the industry is that project management software usually gets implemented because some business people think they need a killer tool to get their act together. Said product is purchased, implemented, and … usually left largely untouched for the remainder of its days.

So let’s get smart and approach the question in terms of what you really need (and will use!) in a project management application. Starting with the most basic.

1. Get Your To-Do List in One Shared Spot

Since you run the show at your law firm, and not some VP suit high up the corporate chain, it’s important that your project management apps actually help you get stuff done. Skip the flashy charts—just the to-do list bullet points, please! Actually, a shared Google Doc works fine for this purpose. Just invite your colleagues to view and edit the document, and you’re all set.

I have a better option for you, though, and it’s a free one to boot! It’s called Workflowy—the simplest project management app you’ll ever see.

With Workflowy, you create a bullet-point list of items that need to get done. You can indent below each bullet to create sub-items (and so on, and so on). When items are completed, you click a Completed button to cross them off. And when priorities change, you just drag the bullet points themselves up or down. Workflowy is web-based, so you can share the list with the rest of your team. There is always one, and just one, official source.

This is the simplest option for project management, and quite frankly, it may be the only one you need. We used to have a saying at Chrometa that if our roadmap can’t fit on a whiteboard, we’re doing something wrong. We have since softened our stance a bit to allow for a whiteboard and a Workflowy.

Workflowy is currently free to use. I would expect some sort of premium paid option in the future, though, since these guys need to eat somehow.

2. Add in Milestones, Deadlines and Advanced Collaboration

For much of its eight-year existence, Basecamp has been the gold standard for simple project management and collaboration. It has the to-do list capabilities of Workflowy, and a lot more—most notably the abilities to:

  • Set milestones and deadlines,
  • Assign tasks to a specific team member, and
  • Track time spent on a given project.

One knock on Basecamp is that it’s interface looks like it’s out of 2004. Well, it is, because that’s when Basecamp initially launched. In web app years, that’s ancient! If you prefer a more modern app experience, the team that made Basecamp will soon be launching a revised version. Here’s the link to request an invite to try it before the launch.

Basecamp has a spartan freeplan, and starts at $24 per month beyond that.

3. Graduate to Some Sophisticated PM Apps

Want some alternatives to Basecamp? Here are some apps that are popular with lawyers.

  • Remember The Milk is an advanced to-do list that is a favorite of ABA tech guru Josh Poje. He writes: “Remember The Milk offers a simple, intuitive tool for managing your to-do list. Organize tasks by client or matter, tie them to specific geographic locations, and share and collaborate on tasks with colleagues.” Like Workflowy, Remember The Milk is currently free. I would expect a paid premium option in the future, though, because when it comes to software there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
  • Smartsheet is a dream come true for Microsoft Excel fans. It’s basically a spreadsheet on steroids! Smartsheet is blinged out with project management and collaboration features—all from the comfortable confines of your neighborhood spreadsheet. It has a free 30-day trial, and starts at $15.95 per month.
Don’t Take On More Than You Need

I’ve discussed the apps above in order of ascending complexity for a reason. The project management software space is a useful one, and a dangerous one at the same time. It’s very easy to get in over your head in terms of complexity—and actually spend more time managing your software than your projects themselves!

So make sure you follow the “stairway to project management app heaven” outlined here, and you’ll upgrade your apps in tandem with your legal project management needs without a problem.

Brett Owens is CEO and Co-Founder, Chrometa, an automatic timekeeping software product designed for solo and small firm attorneys.  You can use Chrometa’s automatic time tracking software free for 14-days here.

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