Here at Bad Feather we’re huge fans of the various Google apps. A recent topic of interest is the fact that we manage our studio operations using Google Sites. We’ve set up a web-based project management and collaboration system using a Google Site in combination with Google Docs and Google Calendar. The added bonus to all of these services being interconnected is that they are free (sorry BaseCamp, but you can’t top that). So here it is, an overview of a few of the hot features of Google Sites and some creative ways we’ve come to use them:
The Google Sites service allows you to build your own internal site without any need for a domain name. However, you can map it to a custom domain such as projectmanager.yourstudiourl.com. It is password protected by your Google account, and easily accessible by anyone the administrator invites to join. Everyone involved with the Google Site can sign up to get email alerts when updates have been made to pages; that way everyone is always on the same page (ha)! There are different page options, including a basic web page, an announcement page, a file cabinet page, a list page and the catch-all dashboard. Every page in your site is designated individually so you can tailor it to the content that will be included. Here is a complete definition of each page.
The Dashboard is the first thing we see when we login, and one of our favorite features. You can customize the dashboard to pull from any of the pages you’ve set up within the site, as well as from your Docs and Calendars. We’ve organized this page to display a brief overview of our most frequently updated and important pages, including recent project announcements, top items on the task list, recently edited Docs and latest file attachments. It’s a great way to see at a glance what has been updated and what’s on deck.
We use an announcement page (think quick posts) to notify each other about project updates or just to share ideas and notes. You can add attachments to announcements and other site users can comment on them, which is great for ongoing project chatter. All of our users are watching this page for updates and can add to it as projects progress.
List pages are like customizable spread sheets on crack. You can add multiple columns to each item on your task list, then specify what type of information field each column should be, including text, checkbox (task complete!), date (due date of course), dropdown (yes, really, preset options for what a field should be), or URL. When new items get added to your task list, you can ensure all the necessary information by having users complete each of the specified column fields. We use list pages primarily for tracking project notes and due dates. Our ‘Current Projects’ status list page serves as a the perfect guide to a weekly progress and production meeting.
The file cabinet is just what it sounds like, a great place to collect and share files and documents (either from the web, Google Docs, or your computer). You can also include notes along with each file attached to the file cabinet. We have some general purpose attachment pages that are great for templated files or general process docs we access repeatedly. We also set each of our client pages up as a file cabinet so we can share client assets such as proofs and files that would be otherwise transferred via email.
The true beauty of the Google Site is that it is completely customizable in how you aggregate your information. You can organize the page hierarchy and assign specific pages to your sidebars. We’ve done this to create a navigation system that allows us to get to the most important pages on the site quickly. We have two sidebar sections: the first we use for admin related pages, including ‘Project Talk’ (announcements), ‘Project Task List’ (list page), ‘Templates and Attachments’ (file cabinet), etc. The second we use for specific client and project pages (file cabinets).
In addition to attaching files, file cabinet pages have all the same features as webpages. We note any important information and we also use the handy dandy widgets to embed project specific Google Calendars or Google Docs (such as a vendor pricing spreadsheet), directly into project pages. You can also create sub-pages within an existing page. For example, you can create individual project pages as sub-pages of a client page, note general contact and process info about the client there, and each of the project links will appear at the bottom of that page. Voila, everything together in one place.
The possibilities are endless when you start to and play around with Google Sites as a project management tool. The best thing about our Google site is that we are constantly changing it to meet our specific needs.
Now all we need is our Google Wave invitation…