The Key to Keeping a Team on Track

One of the things that is always an issue in managing a team is keeping track of all of the things that need to be done. There are a lot of opinions about productivity floating around out there, but here are a couple of truths that are proven. One is that things that get put on paper are more likely to be done. This is why the ol’ fashion to-do list is so effective. So, that is related to personal productivity, and I could go on and on about personal productivity, but this post is about team productivity.

Team productivity comes back to management, and I’m not the authority on management so I tend to lean on my engineering background and turn some of the management over to systems and processes. This is where I combine the law that what’s put on paper gets done with the law that what is measured gets managed. The net result is if you want your team to be productive then you need a system for keeping up with the work by putting it all down on paper or a team to-do list. Now, I’ve heard them called action lists, follow-up lists, or whatever.

In the old days a trait of a good manager was that they rounded up their team and went over what needed to be done and checked in with them about the tasks that they were working on. This strategy still works, but most teams have gotten more complex than they used to be, especially when it comes to small businesses. In a small business, most of us are doing such a variety of tasks that it’s impossible to remember what they all are at any one point in time. You need a system to do it or lots of things will fall through the cracks.

There’s two different types of systems that you need, one is the tool and the other is the system of how you use it. When I started to research tools I found that there aren’t really that many tools out there for task management geared toward small teams. There’s really two kinds of small business tools out there. One is personal task management, and for this there are so many that it would be difficult to summarize the field. The second are full-blown project management systems with Gantt charts, milestones and project scheduling. Small businesses need something much more simple than that. What is really needed for the everyday stuff is just a little more than the personal task managers.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite small business task management applications. I’ve tried all of these except WeDoist, but it seems dead simple so I included it on the list.

Remember the Milk – RTM is a well-known personal productivity app. They have an iPhone version to keep you synced on the go. Their team functionality is limited. It really boils down to assigned tasks and shared lists. This isn’t all that useful to me. Being able to see other lists is just scratching the surface. It does have a good free version.

Toodledo – I really like that this app follows the GTD methodology pretty well, but just like RTM, its small team functionality boils down to assigning tasks and shared lists. It’s just too limited for me, but has a very good free version.

5PM – 5PM is really a setup like a project management tool, but it does have commenting and document sharing and storage without so many bells and whistles that it gets in the way like the larger PM apps out there. It used to have a free version, but now there’s only the for fee version is available.

WeDoist – Wedoist is a spinoff of todoist, and I haven’t tried it, but it looks dead simple with a lot of task sharing and easy to make lists.

HiTask – Another small-scale PM app, but it’s pretty clean and easy to use. On par with 5PM. It doesn’t have a free version. – This is the task management application that I currently use with my team. Task lists are so easy to create. It’s heavily integrated with Google Apps and commenting and sharing Google Docs is the real plus.

Nozbe – Nozbe sells itself as a small team PM application, so it’s somewhat scalable without a lot of clutter. I really like that it’s based on the GTD philosophy. It has a hidden free version, but you can’t do much with it for teams.

If you find anything else out there for small business task management, then please drop me a line in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Matt Carman

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