You’ll Never Guess What Became My Team’s Single Most Effective Project Management Tool

Y’all I’m geeking tfo…about a slide! And before you spend money on project management software in 2019, you need to know about it.

For the last two years my team has struggled to find the right tool to manage our projects. We’re a relatively small team with a large number of projects, we get new requests every day, and even some of our goals can change at a moment’s notice because we’re part of a growing startup. We tried everything from Asana to a Google spreadsheet to Basecamp and back to Asana — nothing worked. Meaning it added too much overhead so no one actually used it or it didn’t actually help us get things done.

Finally, we found the golden ticket: a Google slide with a four-quadrant matrix (importance/impact vs. urgency). I’m not even kidding.

And we decked that slide out! We color coded each of the quadrants to match the order in which they need to be done — green for urgent & important, down to red for non-urgent & non-important. Each individual adds (writes on the slide) all their tasks for the week each Monday morning. A task is basically the physical thing we need to do to move a bigger goal they’re trying to move forward in the scope of a week — for example, placing an email newsletter ad is a task, or scoping out the potential of a future project in a slide is a task, or creating a sales deck is a task. One task can cross multiple people (a writer, a designer, a project owner, etc) so we put next to each task the initials of whomever is going to contribute to it. You end up with a bulleted task list in each quadrant.

Then we meet for 30 minutes to talk through each project to ensure it’s been prioritized correctly, that everyone knows the context around it, and what their role is in it. Throughout the week we add new requests we receive in italicized text, we move tasks around to different boxes accordingly, and we strikethrough every tasks once it’s complete. And, if a task is on there for more than three weeks without getting done we remove it — because time showed us it just wasn’t that important. We try to pay extra attention to getting things out of the orange box because a lot of high impact things can go there to do die. Anyhow, the next week we make a copy of the slide, remove everything crossed out, and add to it again.

If what I’m saying seems really basic it’s because it is. And I’m convinced that for a small team this is the single most effective project management system in the world.

Here’s why it works so well:

  1. All goals are not created equal and it shows that.

Say your company has a goal of delivering something to close a $100k deal and another goal to make sure a product feature is used 100 times. If you do the second goal but not the first, no one is going to be celebrating. Most project management systems don’t have a good way to show the importance of any given project or task versus another, and especially not in one view. This slide does. It’s immediately clear where to focus, and what to get done first.

2. Changes can be accommodated for in less than a second.

Something other project management systems don’t account for is that the world is always changing. You learn new competitive information, you realize you made a bad decision — whatever it is, there are times where things need to swing drastically, and times when things need to be pushed just a little. This slide makes both of those types of changes so easy to deal with. You just add, remove, and move tasks within boxes — everyone is immediately caught up to date because it adjusts in real-time for everyone.

3. You can see progress and pacing.

OMFG how rewarding is it to cross something off? Imagine doing it multiple times per week. And how great is it to see a visual of the progress you’ve made (just picture tons of things crossed off!)? You can know in a glance how you’re doing for the week, and whether any given project has been wrapped up, in case you’re waiting on it for something. You can also learn how quickly your team can move on certain things.

4. You know if you’re focusing on the right work.

The goal is always to get the impactful work done, and to do more impactful work. This slide is an instant barometer at how successful we are at working on the right things overall. You can look at how much is in the green box (urgent & important) as slated work to do, and how much is in the red box (not urgent & not important). In fact, as we’ve used this system we’ve moved from a place where much of our work was spread out fairly equally across the four quadrants to having very few tasks ever show up in our not urgent & not important box. That’s a huge win — we’ve found a way to do more important work.

5. You find out your weekly capacity fast.

After a few weeks of doing this, you end up understanding your team’s capacity more than ever before — because you can see it. You start to know many tasks you can add to set everyone up for success. And if the font size is getting too small too read you know you’re overbooked. As a result, you can better advocate for the resources you need, or fewer projects.

6. You know how much additional work to allocate for.

By keeping track of incoming requests by italicizing them as we add them, I know about 30% more work gets added onto our plates every week right now. This helps us agree to and decline the right work each week, setting us up better for success. As an added bonus, it also helps ease those frustrating conversations where someone is trying to get someone else within our team to do something with no forewarning because it’s obvious it was a last-minute ask they got. They weren’t being inconsiderate by not planning ahead, they couldn’t.

7. Communicate up and out, with one image.

Anyone you want to see it, can see it in a click if you invite them (you have control!). They can even comment on it to provide feedback. It’s a handy tool for surfacing what we’re working on to other departments. We can let our boss know what we’re up to and other colleagues with an email with a single image in it. Now when they ask for something we know we can’t get them, we have something concrete and already prepared that we can point to to give them context.

8. You don’t have to think about what to do, only how to do it.

Whenever you finish a task, there’s no debating what’s next — you hop to the next task on the list in the green box, and then onto yellow, etc. So you’re saving task-switching time. You can have the slide up in a tab at all times — no navigating through multiple projects or an unranked task list necessary.

9. There’s almost no learning curve to using it.

When a new employees begins there’s no separate login to set up, no confusing maze of clicks to navigate through, and no video tutorial they need to watch.

10. It’s free!

Are you convinced yet?

*Full disclosure I’m NOT a Google Slides paid influencer. Yet.