If you are like me, you would rather spend most of your time working on what you like the most about your projects. That usually means working on activities that bring the highest value for your business. And I am pretty sure that does not include managing all the documents and digital assets related to them.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The thing is, in order to minimize the time spent on looking for your files, to share them or making sure they are secure takes time and effort. You will need an effective document management system. One that is adapted to your need, not too simple but not too complicated either. You can read more about document management in this interesting post that explains the origins, challenges and different types of solutions.
In my case, one of the challenges I was faced with was finding an effective document management system that was project based and not an end on itself. There are some very sophisticated document management solutions out there but, in many cases, they include all kind of, costly, bells and whistles I do not need. Worse, they take time to learn and implement and still do not really address my problem:
How can I make sure I spend most of my time on working efficiently on my projects and not waste it on managing the documents, files and assets I need for them?
One thing I like is that Sam9000 has been designed to have its different functions, like planning, tasks and document management, work together as a whole. This way as a small team we can focus on working more effectively and deliver our projects faster.
In this use case I will describe everyday document management challenges we face, as a team, and how we leverage Sam to solve them.
How does Sam's document management helps?
My team and I, handle and generate large amounts of files for our different projects. And these files take different form. From digital assets we receive from clients, material on their product, scope of work, working files, supporting files and final product we deliver.
We receive files mainly from two sources, emails and file sharing systems. And in the beginning, once we received these files, we did not have a formal system in place to share them. Each of us was storing and organizing these files locally. We only shared files when we needed them to collaborate on a project, by copying them on our network.
This system worked initially, but as the number of files and folders grew, this led to some efficiency issues. We were spending more and more time looking for specific documents, for example.
Another issue we had was missed information, documents or emails that one of us failed to share with the others for a project. This led to discrepancies and errors in the final product we delivered. I realized that these issues were all related to a lack of a well-organized file structure used by everybody. A logical, standardized and dedicated structure integrated to the flow of our projects.
To solve these issues, we take advantage of several functions specifically designed for this.
The tool is organized with a set of smart file folders within each project. This makes it easy for all of us to follow the same logic to file everything for all our projects. These smart folders also file many of our documents and files automatically while we do our job. All files attached to emails we assign to projects, for example get automatically filed. Same thing for files that we upload for the project, that we share with our clients and that we attach to notes and tasks.
This is great, in addition to be well organized, with a minimum of effort, they become available to everybody in the team. At a glance we have access to:
With files and documents directly in projects our productivity has increased.
In addition to spend less time finding what we need, this also ensures that all the relevant files documents are there, and ready to go for the next step.
Once we have all the material, we need to know what to do, we can easily create tasks to make it happen. This keeps everything well organized in one place and minimizes greatly the problem of missed information we used to have.
Files can be attached directly into tasks
Files are securely saved on the cloud.
Sam document management’s main goal is to support projects. But one important aspect often overlooked, when focusing on our productivity, is the safety of important files and documents.
This is something that unfortunately become apparent when it is too late. Important files representing weeks or months of work are lost to cyber-attacks, natural disasters, fire and human error.
One interesting added benefit to use Sam is that all files we upload for our projects are automatically safely backed up on the cloud.
We can share documents from our projects with our external partners.
Sharing documents with external partners is another area where we used to lose time, money and efficiency. To do this we needed to use a separate tool not integrated to our projects. We tried some of the main file sharing system but found many issues while using them.
The shared link can be created directly from a task, a note or a Log file. We use this function to document releases in projects, with the file we are planning to share added to the task as in this picture below:
All shared files are organized and easy to manage.
Another function that is saving us time is the Public Files function.
With this function we can quickly retrace what files and document we shared. Thanks to a complete history of all files we have shared over the years for all our projects.
For each of them we can also, assess what is the expiration date and change it if needed.
This function is very be useful to go back to previous version of released files to investigate what happened or recover old information. Clients do change their minds, and this proves to be a life saver in those cases.
Public files can be sorted by folder, by date and by a specific folder.
Files are fully searchable.
Thanks to the project-based document management structure, most documents and files are easy to find, especially in active projects.
However, files, document and emails from older or closed projects can be harder to find. These can still easily be found by using the Search function. You can do search on different type of items you are looking for: files, emails, tasks, notes.
Emails directly in your tasks and projects for everyone in the team.
Emails are documents on their own right and they often contain attached documents, crucial for our projects. One of our challenges was to have all the information contained in these emails directly in the correct projects, ready to use.
We welcome constant feedback from our clients
As an agile team we want to embrace feedback and changes our clients constantly communicate with us. However, when dealing with multiple projects in parallel, keeping track of these changes for each project, takes a lot of extra time and effort to do the right way.
Each time we receive an email with a new request or change to a project several things need to happen. The person who receives the email needs to first make sure all that information is transferred to the most relevant team member and inform the rest of team. Secondly, based on that information, tasks need to be created and assigned. And they need to refer to that email. And lastly, a typically overlooked action, these emails need to be filed to keep a history of changes that happened during the project.
Another issue with emails is the disruption they represent. Yes, we welcome feedback and changes but not the interruption and distraction they represent. So, when I receive an email from a client while I am focused on my work, the only thing I would like to have to do is answer, “I will get back to you as soon as possible”. Unfortunately, while doing this minimizes the interruption it increases the risk to forget about it. So how to effectively take care of requests while minimizing the interruption?
To minimize interruptions, our secret weapon is Sam’s Inbox function. Sam’s inbox function does not replace your regular email account, but it complements it. Its purpose is to transform emails into useful documents for our projects.
Thanks to it, when we get emails in our regular email account, we can quickly answer that we will get back to them as soon as possible.
This is possible because the email will still be in Sam’s inbox, ready to be processed when we are ready to do that. For more efficiency, we allocate a specific time during the day to process Sam’s inbox. This works very well, in addition to minimize the interruption we can take care of all our emails in a very efficient way, all at once.
How to process emails efficiently for your projects
Here is my method to deal efficiently with my inbox. I start by cleaning up all the junk mail and emails that do not contain any new information, by using the convenient Ignore button. Once this is done, this gives a clearer picture of what is left to process.
In a second step I assign all emails that I only want to keep as reference for my projects and do not require a task. This goes very quickly. I select an email in the inbox and assign the correct project to it. Then I click back on Inbox in the top tool bar to continue. I repeat this until the only emails left are the ones that require an action and task.
Create tasks directly linked to emails
For these last emails the process is the same as in the second step except that instead of clicking on Inbox, I click on the + task button to create a task linked to this email.
Once the task and the email are linked the content of the email can be accessed directly from task and vice versa. The content of the email becomes the description for the task.
In order to help Sam guess what project to assign to your email, enter your contact’s email address in the folder info Contacts/Notes field. The contact can also be specified for each project.
In some cases, when an email is time sensitive, I will interrupt my work to process it, right away. The good news is, assigning an email to the correct project and person, create a task for it and documenting the new request or change takes only a few minutes of my time!
Sam9000 has been designed to have its document management fully integrated to the task management and planning functions. They work together as a whole. This way as a small agile team we can focus on working more effectively and deliver our projects faster.
It is an ideal ally now that we are at a point where we would need an expert to organize our files professionally. And it answers several of our specific needs as an agile team.