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Using OneNote to Package Information for Others

Being able to organize and share information easily and effectively is one of the core tenants of collaboration.  I’ve been applying OneNote as the main tool in facilitating a collaboration project for the end of this year. I’m going through the exercise of cleaning up a year’s worth of engagement notes and turning them into something viable that can be used by other team members to support work done and work yet to be done.  Normally this would be a fairly convoluted exercise but by leveraging the capabilities of OneNote I’m finding some efficiencies I had not anticipated.

Gathering everything in one place

OneNote’s easy drag and drop interface on the desk top coupled with the ability to duplicate pages is making the gathering of relevant information into one spot easier and cleaner. By creating a section in a notebook for all the transfer notes I am able to pick and chose what needs to be shared and what doesn’t, all while retaining the original copies for reference.

Grouping and organizing

By taking content as pages in the section, I can drag and drop the order of the pages far easier than I could cutting and pasting in something such as Word.  Images, notes, diagrams, etc. are all treated equally.  It really is like organizing the chapters of a book more than it is reworking work notes.

Outputting for sharing

Since the notes are all winding up in one section, they can now be output as their own OneNote notebook (something I would use if the recipients were more comfortable with OneNote), as a Word document, or as a PDF file. Whatever works best is now a clean, organized deliverable.

Something to think about

It’s important when using tools such as OneNote for note taking over an extended period of time to take into consideration not how easy it is to capture information but rather how easy it will be to retrieve that information and share it with others.

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Springpad and Project Management – Parts 2 and 3

In Part One I talked about the ideas behind using Springpad for project management.  Now here in Part Two we’ll cover one of the ways to set up your Springpad for just such a purpose.  One of the keys to setting up your Springpad environment for project management is to decide how you will handle notebooks.  My recommendation is to use one notebook per project to make things easier to keep track of and to assign to resources.

Step One – Create a Project Notebook

Inside your new notebook you will want to create some basics springs to organize your project information.  Start with what I like to refer to as, ” the governance spring”.  The idea with this spring is to provide the basic project information as well as a place to create all the tags you will need to manage the other springs you will be creating in this notebook.  If you look below you will see an example of a governance spring setup with basic project information as well as the tags needed for the project.

Beginning of a Governance Spring

At the beginning of the governance note put in the basic details about the project including the project title, project manager, another vital information including major deadlines and deliverable information.  The other important section within the governance note is a section listing all of the tags you will be using.  Tags are the most important part of organizing Springs for a project.  Without a master index, you can lose track of what tags you are using and what relevance they have to the project as a whole.  At a minimum you will need three sets of tags:

1. Resources
2. Status
3. Milestones / Phases

Part 2 of a Governance Spring

Tags – Resources

Using tags to identify what resources have been assigned to the various springs in your notebook makes cross referencing who is doing what much easier later on.  We’ll talk about how to put those to use in Part 3, but for now, just make a list of all the team members you will have on your project.

Tip:  If you have a team that is working on multiple projects, create a notebook for their contact records separate from the project notebook and then just add the contact record to each project notebook they are going to be working in.  This way you have only one contact record to maintain information for

Tags – Status

Aside from Tasks, Springpad doesn’t really have a way to track the status of Springs in a notebook.  By creating Status Tags, you can change the status of a Spring just by changing the tags that are assigned to it.  This also gives you the option to filter all the Springs of a particular status for easy reference and modification.

Tip:  If you want to have an easy time organizing your statuses, I recommend the following format:

“Status-1-status

Put the statuses in numerical order as they sequentially progress through to completion.  By using this format you will be able to filter and sort based on Status and by order of execution.  We’ll cover that in Part 3.

Tags – Milestones / Phases

If you are managing a larger engagement, it is often helpful to break it down into various phases so you can focus on the work at hand rather than being overwhelmed by the full project.  By creating Phase Tags you can assign Springs to various Phases easily and move springs between phases just by changing the tag assignments.

Example Tags for the Governance Spring

Now that you have a note with the core structures you need to get your project organized, we can move on to the next part…putting this all to use.

Part Three – Managing the Project

(please note that not all these tips transfer cleanly to mobile so I’m focusing solely on the web for this post.)

Assigning Resources

First, let’s get your team members connected to the project.  Since you’ve already created tags for them you’re ahead of the curve. Now we just need to make the resource contact information accessible from within the project notebook.  If you created a resource notebook as recommended earlier, you can just go into that notebook and use the Bulk Edit feature to select your team and assign them to your new project.  If you are not using a master resource notebook you will need to create a contact record for each resource in your project notebook.

Note:  Make sure you assign the tag with the resource’s name to the resource note.  Without that when you filter for everything connected to a resource later you won’t have an easy way to get to the complete resource record.

Tracking Tasks and Checklists

There’s a big functional difference between tasks and checklists in the Springpad world, so I suggest you decide carefully as to which is appropriate for the work at hand.  Tasks can have due dates and each task is it’s own Spring.  To me, this is good for significant items on a project, especially deliverables.  You can track when they are completed, their status (by changing the status tag you created earlier) and assigning them directly to resources.

Checklists are best used in cases when procedures or processes need to be followed but not to a line item level.  Something like a review checklist, production process, or communications plan fit well into this structure.  Since checklists are Springs you can assign a checklist to a resource and track the status of the whole list through the same process as you do for the other lists.

Filtering and Sorting – Pulling it all together

Being able to see what you need, when you need it is really the key to the entire implementation.  Here are my favorite tricks to making this happen:

Springs Assigned to Resources

  1. Switch to List View Grouped by Type
  2. Click in the Search box and select the tag for the resource want to filter
You now have a list of all the Springs for this project that you have assigned to this resource

Updating Statuses on Springs

  1. From the View Selection drop down, change to List View and then select Bulk Edit
  2. Select the items you want to assign a status to and then click on Tag As and select the Status tag you want to assign to the selected items
Example:

Changing Status on a Spring

  1. Repeat the steps listed for Updating Statuses but this time remove the Status Tag that doesn’t apply and then add the new tag you want for the updated Status

Organizing your Springs by Status Tag

  1. Switch to List View Grouped by Type
  2. In the Filter box enter tag:”Status*”
When you press enter you will get back only those Springs that contain any tag beginning with “Status”.  Since we also added the number after the dash, they will show up in the sequence you assigned to the Status Tags to make them easier to review.

Tip:  If you switch to List View Grouped by Tag rather than by type you will wind up with nice sections of each of your statuses to review.  They’re mixed in with groups of the other tags, but they’re not hard to find.

Moving Forward

There are many more tips and techniques I’ll be sharing on how to get the most out of Springpad to manage your projects.  If you have questions or wonder if and how something can be done, just drop a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you.

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Springpad and Project Management – Part 1

This is the first part in a three part series about implementing the Idea Pump approach of using Springpad for project management.  Part one will focus on the why and why not to use Springpad when managing projects for teams.  Part two will cover getting started setting up your project management system in Springpad and part three will cover putting it to use.

Part 1 – What is project management the Idea Pump way?

When we discuss project management in polite circles you’ll often hear terms such as “Agile”, “Scrum”, or “PMBOK” tossed about.  Rather than focusing on implementing a specific methodology or worse yet going down the rabbit hole of which is the best methodology, I’m going to focus on the Idea Pump approach – managing expectations.

Arguments can be made that project success is dependent on resource utilization percentages or estimated time to completion, but when you boil it down the key expectation is to get the jobs done. In the Idea Pump approach I follow the CAR model:  Capture, Act, Report.  It sounds too simple for larger projects but think about it carefully.  No matter what the project size, there is an expectation of you to get the work you are assigned finished and for others to do the same.  Using any project management solution is an application of CAR, just on varying scales.

What’s the right size for Springpad?

Springpad, while a very flexible and powerful tool, is not a project management tool by design.  There is a great deal of functionality that a formal project manager would be missing when using a tool such as Springpad.  Does this preclude it from use?  Not in the least.  If you remember the Idea Pump approach, focusing on Capture – Act – Report, all the core features you need are there within Springpad including many that enhance your project management beyond basic steps.  Let’s break some of them down.

Capture

One of the most common expectations in project management are requirements.  What do the project stakeholders expect when the project is completed?  How will it work? What will it look like, etc.?  You can use formalized documents such as requirements traceability matrixes for detailed tracking and planning, but what if your needs aren’t quite so rigid?  Task Springs combined with Tags can be an excellent combination of identifying requirements, discussing them, and then marking them as complete when done.  Project documents can be stored in Springpad or stored in external file shares and attached as web links to Notes.  Milestones can be recorded using Task Springs or Events for tracking related to dates.  You can even library images for the requirements using the Photo Spring.  It all comes down to managing the expectation of Capture.  Things needing to be done will be recorded for action and reporting.

Act

Get the work done.  It’s an expectation that needs no description.  What it does need is a way to track who is doing what, and when it will be complete.  Using some of the same structures we used in Capture, we can track tasks that need to be completed, checklists that need to be worked, and collaborative notes as the project pushes forward.  Action is a dynamic function of project management and as such the management of actions needs to be dynamic.  Applying Tags in Springpad allow you to track item owners, project phases, even when you’re waiting on someone else.  Through the use of filters and sorts you can create the subsets of data that give you a strong control over managing to the expectations of the project.

Report

Sharing of the information about the project expectations and how they are being met is critical to the success of any project.  Whether the sharing is with yourself or with a large group of stakeholders access to what’s going on when you need it is a must.  I’ve never been, nor ever will be, an advocate to reporting structures that focus more on the project manager performing in-depth CYA rather than getting things done.  Using the collaborative capabilities of Springpad, individual Springs and whole notebooks can be shared so everyone on the team is working together and meeting the expectations of the stakeholders as well as the team at large.

Now that we’ve established a basic approach to managing our projects, we’re ready for part two…setting things up in Springpad.