Experiment – Can I work in the ‘cloud’ for a week?

The talk about Chomebooks (and even the Chromebox) has got me thinking. It’s a nice theory, but is it really possible to work entirely in the cloud? What apps would I really miss?

Day Zero

I’ve installed Ubuntu 10.12 on an old Toshiba Satellite. I know Ubuntu isn’t ChromeOS but it’s the closest thing I can get easily, and not being a Linux guru by any stretch I don’t have a list of apps to install on it. I know it ships with LibreOffice, but I’m going to try and restrict myself to the browser only.

Okay, I did cheat a bit and download 1 app: Google Chrome.

My working week entails project management, sales, client meetings, and general running-a-business tasks. I know first up that MYOB (our accounting software) is going to be a problem, but there’s a high likelihood we’ll be using Xero from July 1 so for the sake of the exercise we’ll assume that firing up Windows somewhere to open MYOB doesn’t count.

That’s the main thing I can think of at the moment. We use Google Apps for email etc and I usually use the browser for that; no problem.

Asana for tasks. Check. Toggl for time tracking. Check. I think I’ll be okay. We shall see…

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Don’t Let Email Sit in Your Inbox Unpunished

If you’re anything like me, you receive a lot of email. Some days I feel like the only thing I’ve done all day is deal with email! Given the amount of other things that must be done in business, it’s easy to just put it in the “too hard basket” – but that can also be very dangerous.

I read this article on email and customer service about 6 months ago but while I was looking at some goals for 2008 I thought it was worth revisiting. So how do you stack up in those figures? If I’m not careful I tend to find myself amongst the 70% who fail to respond within 24 hours. Definately something I’ll be fixing for 2008. A good tactic is mentioned in Mike’s first point:

Automatically respond to all emails received: People will be more willing to wait for a reply if their initial communication has been acknowledged. Include a commitment to act on the issue and when you will respond fully.

I think people will generally understand if you can’t address the issue immediately – but it’s important to acknowledge the email and set an expectation of when you will be able to do so. It also ties in to something I wrote back in 2004 about controlling your email (instead of the other way around!) – it’s as relevant now as then. So, my top tips:

  1. Choose when to check your email – don’t let your computer decide for you
  2. As you’re going through your messages, fire up your diary (or whatever time management tool you use) and mark a time to actually attend to the task or issue
  3. Respond to each email as soon as you read it (even if it’s only a brief response) – and at that point you can let the other person know when you’ll attend to is as well

Of course, if it’s an emergency you may need to deal with it straight away and all the above advice is null and void, but we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?

Originally posted at almostanything.com.au

Working on Multiple Projects

We’ve been struggling a bit of late with the sheer number of projects we have on at the moment – seems like I’m spending more time reviewing each project than doing anything else.

The other problem is that projects seem to be taking forever to get finished, as we’re trying to do a bit here, a bit there – spreading ourselves way too thin.

A new house, anyone?

My brother and sister-in-law are having a new house built at the moment, and it was something my brother-in-law said to me last week that got me thinking. He was commenting on how quickly the house is being built – the slab was only laid about 5 weeks ago and it’s not far from finished. What he didn’t mention was the 6 months they waited for the builder to actually start!

If you’ve ever built a house, you’ll know that there’s a lot of stuff you have to worry about before the builder can start. Tap fittings, door handles, carpet colour… there’s quite a list. And only after all these things have been arranged does the builder actually start. And once they do, they get stuck in and the house actually goes up very quickly.

So here’s my lesson:

I’m only going to work on a couple of websites at a time. That way we can devote more attention to each project, and actually get the job done much faster.

When new clients come on board, we can give the client a start date and a to-do list, and make sure they understand that everything must be checked off that list before we can start.

So the client might have to join a queue before their website gets started, but once we do actually start it should come together quite quickly, as we’ll have everything we need in front of us.

Anyone care to share their thoughts/experience?

Bye Bye phpCollab, Hello NetOffice

I have been a phpCollab user for several years, and last week made the switch over to NetOffice.

Why?

One of the main reasons is that phpCollab is still stuck on version 2.4, and has been for along time. Sure, they have a 2.5 in beta, but that’s been in beta for a long time, too. NetOffice have a stable 2.5, a 2.6 beta, and a starting to get some direction for a 3.0 release. Bug fixes seem to be attended to in a reasonable amount of time for an open source project, so we’ve migrated over to the 2.6 release. It features:

  • An improved interface
  • Time tracking
  • Built-in customised reports
  • Meetings

I feel that time tracking is the most important addition. With some minor customisations, we will be able to run a billing report so we can send an itemised invoice for each project. We can see how many billable hours have been done each week (and hence measure productivity). We can check each person’s workload based upon estimated hours allocated with each task. Useful stuff.

We’ll get some of these mods together and post them here soon…

Website Project Management Part 2 : Principles

(If you haven’t already – see Part One – An Introduction to Project Management)

When dealing with project management for website development, there are really on two things to juggle.

  1. Tasks
  2. Resources

Sounds simple, right?

Tasks

Tasks are fairly obvious. They are the things you have to do. I have found it useful to group your tasks into phases – it helps to get a better overview of where you are (instead of looking at a great long list of unrelated tasks) and it’s also easier to set up a template of standard tasks that you then simply customise for each job. We generally use the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Content gathering and editing
  3. Design
  4. Programming
  5. Construction/Assembly
  6. Testing
  7. Post Launch

Tasks near the beginning and end of a website project tend to be repeated, so make a template out of these at least. And look for the things that you generally do in the middle phases, and write these down as well. You can easily customise your list if the individual project warrants it.

Once we have our list of tasks together, we now need to make them happen!

Resources

In project management, resources can be anything from people to equipment to buildings or meeting rooms – anything you need to get the tasks done. Relating back to web design, we’re really only talking about people, or manhours more specifically. Time. If you have 80 hours of tasks to be done, and George has 20 available hours this week and Mildred has 15, it ain’t going to get finished this week!

Another point to consider – people aren’t productive 100% of the time. We’re not robots. So if you employ someone for 38 hours per week, you’re wasting your time allocating them 38 hours worth of tasks. Never going to happen. I work on allocating 4 hours out of every 5. If they happen to get finished earlier than expects, then good! Get a head start on tomorrow’s work. But you need to allow time to get coffee, visit the loo, chat about the movie you saw on the weekend or whatever.

Okay, that’s enough theory. Next installment we’ll start getting our hands dirty!