Project Management for Architects
I like organization. Some of you would rather be attacked by fire ants. Here's a compromise that won't hurt much at all.
I discovered Trello 18 months ago. I really got into it. I shared the post "You Probably Need Trello, Lucky It Is Free".
I was using Trello for everything. And then ... Basecamp pulled me back into the fold. I really like Basecamp, both the app and the company that makes it. Basecamp is a great project management tool, and I used it a lot for architectural project management. So what changed? Recently I was kicking around the idea: How can architects manage everything with one app?
I was thinking about this because of my other project, Corbu. I noticed that more firms than I would have guessed were using ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice does just about everything but BIM/CAD. The odd thing is that most of the users that I was aware of did not love ArchiOffice. This is my guess why they don't like it: it is a very left-brained approach to management. They have decided for you how you should be organized. Your job is to learn the system. Doesn't sound like most architects, does it?
So I started looking for a better solution by thinking about how several products would work that I was familiar with. I looked at Basecamp, AgileCRM, Trello, FileMaker, Evernote, and Podio. Podio and FileMaker are so plain vanilla that getting them to do what you want will take a year or more = and end up being ArchiOffice. Evernote requires a search to find anything, and it can't show you the big picture. AgileCRM is great at the business development stuff and might be able to capture lots of project stuff too through easy customization. That is going to take a lot of planning. (More fire ants!)
So I am down to Trello and Basecamp. I looked them both over and came to two conclusions.
Any software that can handle invoicing can't handle flexible project management. In fact I have come to the conclusion that architects need four systems: one for design, one for project management, one for business development and one for bookkeeping.*
Trello is the strongest candidate for architectural project management because:
So here is how I recommend implementing Trello.
Start with whatever you are doing now. Convert your methods into a series of 'Lists' containing 'Cards' describing the main steps. Without Trello you would be using Post-It notes on a white board. Trello will feel very similar. Move stuff around, add, delete. Get your overall process outlined. From there you take advantage of Trello's special sauce - the details that each Card can hold. So start with the broad strokes and add detail over time.
Let me show you how I would use Trello. By the way this is a public 'board' so you can view it in more detail by going to Trello Project Template.
Above is what your Trello dashboard looks like. Each item would represent a project, either a design project or an in-house non-design project. You can distinguish between 'private' and 'organization' projects. The top menu bar is visible consistently. Note the search box and the pull down list of Boards in the upper left. Simple and easy navigation.
For a project board (above) I would set up a list for each of the phases plus the project’s parameters. When you get your first project planned, copy it and customize it. The original is your template. The more you update the template, the easier the next project plan becomes. You might consider various templates for the different kinds of projects that you do.
When you click on a Card (above), you have access to several kinds of detail.
Checklists (above) are easy to set up. Click to create one, name it, type in the tasks. OR — take a list you already have and add it with a click. Here I took our master Table Of Contents for Specs and added it with one click. Now that it is part of the project template, all that is left is to update which sections apply to this project. One of my favorite ways to look for omissions in the drawings is to review the spec TOC. You can make a copy here just for that purpose. You can convert tasks in your checklists to Cards so you can add notes and make an assignment for follow up on missing or incorrect content.
That is pretty much all you need to know to get started. It seems pretty easy and pretty intuitive. Best of all, the software visually shows the organization that you have set up for the project. When a List or Card is complete, archive it so that what you see represents what is left to do.
I think Trello helps you in two ways:
Trello helps you make your process repeatable by others through use of templates.
Trello helps you improve your firm by improving you processes, which in turn improves the value of your firm.
Give it a try. Trello by Fogcreek Software
Since this post was first published, I have completed Trello-PM, an e-book describing in detail how to use Trello™ for project management. See a Sample.
* I would choose VectorWorks Architect, Trello, AgileCRM, and Corbu respectively. [update: MailChimp and Harvest/FreeAgent replace AgileCRM and Corbu]