Minimum Viable Team Management

There are hundreds of project management tools out there, almost enough to convince software developers that they shouldn’t build another one. As a consultant, I form small teams frequently: my assistant and me, or pulling contractors together into a Large Project Justice League. I also have the privilege of working with many different companies, experiencing a smorgasbord of tools, techniques, and philosophies.

While I’m a weirdo that actually enjoys project and product management, I know not to answer the siren’s call of advanced tools and techniques, getting lost in the gnatt charts instead of focusing on the goals that caused the gnatt charts to be created in the first place.

Management is a strange art with a zenlike quality: The best management is the one that feels like the least, Advocated by God himself to Bender.

I already wrote the big list of tools page for my business, so I wanted to make a small one. What’s the minimum viable suite of online tools I would want to manage a team? I cut the list of 25 down to 3.

If you are a first-time manager, you could find worse places to start.

The 3 Tools I need to Manage Small Teams

  • Slack for team communication. Be careful not to get carried away with its functionality. Keep bots to a minimum. Don’t create a ton of new channels. Don’t use private conversations unless it’s truly private. You may think you’re reducing noise, but in reality you’re fracturing communication, which is opposite of what good teams do.
  • Google Drive Simple enough for anyone to use, and plugs into many existing workflows. Google Drive makes it easy to document standard operating procedures, as well as store any artifacts of the work you are doing together. You also get granular document permissions for free if you need them.
  • Trello Trello is the source of truth for my projects. The card and list system makes it easy to track progress, and share related information. Once a task has a card, you can attach related SOPs and documents via links or uploads, and break tasks down into checklists. It’s also easy to sync with Slack bots, if you want to make a slack bot that privately reminds you when something needs your approval, for example.

The Trello Setup I Use

Here are the columns that I use in Trello. You can tweak it to your needs. If you look closely, you’ll see this is an agile approach with the agile buzzwords stripped away.

  • Resources & Templates I start each board with a static column that includes cards with links to recurring weekly & monthly tasks, tools, resources, and standard operating procedures. It also includes template cards for common tasks.
  • Someday (aka The Icebox) Tasks that we might tackle one day, but aren’t on the docket for now.
  • Planned (aka The Backlog) Tasks that will be tackled in the near future.
  • To Do (This Week/Sprint) Short term planning
  • Doing Tasks currently being worked on.
  • Needs Approval Tasks that are complete but need sign off from a manager or stake holder.
  • Needs Delivery Tasks that are complete & approved but haven’t been shipped yet.
  • Done (This Week / Sprint) Documentation of what’s been done this week, useful for creating progress reports.

Here’s a free Trello board template you can copy.

This provides a framework that allows a manager to do their most important jobs: communicate with the team, put processes in place, and remove roadblocks. For any new team I put together, this is my go-to strategy for getting a management structure in place.

If you’re part of a team, what’s the one tool you can’t live without?

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