When I started my business, I focused on making things happen. I wanted to deliver as much as I could in the shortest time possible.
It was demanding enough, or so I thought, to balance the different aspects of producing, following up with clients, preparing estimates, taking care of accounting. I thought I was efficient. After all, I am an expert in my field and can a lot done, quickly.
An annoying trend
However, after a few months in, I noticed some annoying trends. As a team, we were spending an awful lot of time trying to find information, in various written notes on paper and emails, about previous projects. The type of service we provide is deeply customized to each of our client. Therefore, these notes and emails contained important information on their specific needs, products, on what we had agreed on and on interesting solutions we developed for them.
Best case scenario, we would finally find the information after spending, way too much time, looking for it. But in many cases, we ended up having to “reinvent the wheel” over and over. We would have to retrace steps of the previous research and redevelop a solution based on it. This was very inefficient. It was both a waste of time and a lost opportunity to build on existing knowledge.
By looking into the causes of this particular trend, I came to the realization we were improvising on many aspects of our work. All that wasted time looking for information had a source. We did not have a good process in place to document our client’s specific needs and details. And generally, we did not have processes in place for many other aspects of our work.
Time-frame is the key to understand notes
The best way I found to effectively categorize logs, notes and memos is to look at the timeframe when I use them. Without this trick, I used to find it confusing to know which one to use and when.
With this method I use :
Note : Before I continue, let me be clear. As a team we use SAM9000 Kanban software.
That being said, you can use other apps for your logs, notes and memos. You could use Evernote, Google Docs etc..
Examples in this article, you will see the workflow with a solution built to manage projects, with notes as an integral part of them. This is a huge advantage, and I recommend using project management apps, not notes apps.
However this is easier said than done. Notes apps are really easy to use and intuitive. Project Management apps... not so much. It took me a long time to find a project management app easy enough to use, yet powerful enough to do that I will show you next.
Document what happened with logs
One thing I learned is that it is important to document what is happening during a project. And probably more importantly it needs to be done in a place where it will be easy to find, later on.
There are many good reasons for this. Many things usually happen during a project, especially in the context of Agile projects, that you don't think matter at the time. Unfortunately, it is usually only months later that you will realize that you need that information, and by that time your memory is failing you.
A few examples:
Unlike with emails there are no official records of zoom meeting or phone calls. It is good practice to have a recap of these meetings and to communicate it with the other attendees.
As the old dictum states: "words fly away, writings remain."
This is especially true in the context of an Agile project with many iterations and last minute adjustments. These notes, this history will go a long way when it comes to investigate what happened, if your client or your boss has questions about something you delivered.
Example: At anytime, while we are working on a project we can go to Logs in the left panel and add a new one with a simple click on + Log. We can then just enter a quick description which often all I need as a log. As in the example below:
When a log is created, the creation date and the author is automatically added. Below, we can see Ann C. and Tim. H. collaborating.
Emails as logs
In addition to adding Logs manually, we use emails as logs to document the history of our projects. In our team we use emails extensively with our clients. And we are not the only ones, emails are still one of most used form of communication for business. https://www.emailisnotdead.com/
Sam9000 is one of the easiest system, we have found, that allows integrating emails to any of our ongoing projects.
We simply need to go to the inbox function to see all emails we received in our regular email accounts, Outlook in our case.
Then we quickly go through the list and decide, with the help from Sam's Guess function, in what project the email should go and if we want to keep it.
Emails "ignored" in Sam are not deleted from our Outlook email account, so we can be very selective with what we decide to keep.
It is a easy as that!
Once added to a project, emails become an integral part of it and they are available to everybody else in the team.
Overtime that creates a very detailed history with the date and person who asked for new requests or adjustments or any other important information related to the project.
As for the logs there is a star function to tag emails we want to find more easily and there is a field to add a comment, as well.
Using Comment/Tag has two advantages, emails with comments stand out when scrolling through all emails attached to projects. And, if I use smart keywords, this makes the Search function very effective. We can easily search for anything in Sam. It is a top menu function, and it scans everything including emails, notes, logs, tasks, etc.
Here is an example below of communication on a project with one of our clients.
Some emails are tagged with a comment and a star.
Use notes for your project, a great collaboration tool
The way we use notes as a team, is as temporary piece of information. They are work document that we use and share for the duration of the project only. The intent is not to store or reuse that information later on.
If we think that a note might be useful for other projects we create a memo for it, instead.
If it's an information about what happened during the project and that we think we might need later on, we create a log for it, instead.
Here are some examples of what we would use notes for
As a rule, if it is an information we know I might need later on, they should either be entered as a log when it is to keep a history, or as a memo when it is knowledge that can be useful for all projects.
Examples of how to use notes for your projects
Brainstorm on a particular issue we want to solve.
Notes are great for this. We can add all our ideas and input in one place. If we have a brainstorm session in person we enter the recap, there. But these days since we can't meet in person, we found that it also works very well remotely.
Each team member adds their input in the note. It is very interactive, we can see what the others are writing.
Paul, Tim and myself (Ann) were collaborating on this note.
I personally use it when I have ideas about solutions for the project that I want to organize and examine later.
In my experience, I get ideas at the strangest of times. While I wait at the supermarket, in the car.
It's great to be able to just take a note of it from my smartphone and not forget about it.
Part of our work involves some research specific to each project.
List of material needed for the project
Most of the time we can use emails from our clients directly as documentation.
We use the Inbox function and assign the email with the material to the project.
We added an annotation and star to indicate that this email contains material.
Create a snapshot
However the material is not always communicated with an email. That is when we use a manual note for it.
For example one of our clients provides the material for their project on on their document sharing system.
Document sharing system are great but they have the disadvantage of not having document version management.
We decided to download the material and add it to our system as reference.
This gives us a snap shot of the initial document.
Memos as knowledge database on clients
Memos are an entirely different beast. That is where we really started to get the most leverage out of our collective knowledge.
During most projects we develop interesting strategies and solutions. But by not documenting them, we had to rediscover them again, for other projects. Also, by not reusing them, we did not get the full leverage out of these strategies and solutions. And we did not build on them which is another lost opportunity.
Stop reinventing the wheel!
Knowledge database about your clients and their projects.
It is a good practice to gather information, as you go, on anything useful about your work. This may include typical challenges, special instructions from clients, best practices, to name a few. Building this knowledge database is extremely valuable for all future projects. It will also benefit other people in your team.
This acquired knowledge will give you a head start. You won’t have to start from scratch every time. Not to mention, it will also give you an edge on your competition. It can also be a good way to develop a good relationship with your clients, because you remember so much about them. Clients appreciate this attention and they will want to keep working with you.
Examples of how to build a Knowledge database with Memos
Since this type of information will outlast a specific project, Memos make the most sense.
Sam’s memos function for example has been designed to be easy and streamlined to use.
The function is easy to access with its own top menu button, at anytime and independently from projects.
Folders mirroring the Clients folders are already there to save time, when you access it for the first time.
All we need to do is add the memos in this preconfigured folder structure. That made it very easy and quick to integrate adding memos to our workflow.
Depending on the situation, we like to use the Memo’s text field to enter:
You should also document your own processes, and take notes about yourself and business.
We use Sam’s Knowledge base folder structure from the Memos functions, to create and store them.
Knowledge base Folders are ideal to do this because they are independent from the Regular Folders we use for our projects.
This way we can build a complete knowledge database in parallel that does not interfere nor clutter our projects. Another reason we use the knowledge database folder is because these processes apply to all projects and would not fit into any regular folder (client folder).
By keeping them separate it is very easy to navigate and find our various notes, memos and documents. And when we can not find them by navigating, we can use the search function.
Notes, logs and memos are very important, a lot more than you may consider.
Information is extremely valuable. Use it to your advantage for your business and for yourself, to get to the next level.