It’s no secret that I’m somewhat of a productivity junkie, and I’m often looking for the latest and greatest way to keep track of my to-do’s and deadlines. In the more recent months of working with these apps, a particularly explosive niche that I’ve noticed has been web apps and services dedicated to organizing a team. Collaborative to-do lists, group calendars, and even direct communication platforms are examples of core features that are finding their way into these apps.
Today I’m going to take a look at the web service Orchestra, one of the more lightweight solutions to collaborative productivity. Orchestra has both a web app interface as well as a companion iPhone app that was just reviewed earlier today on iPhone.AppStorm. Hit the jump to find out more about how this web app can coordinate efforts between you and your coworkers.
The interface for Orchestra is clean and simple, and even somewhat reminiscent of some design trends that Mac.AppStorm has discussed regarding the interface layout of apps like Twitter.
The leftmost column contains your lists, each with a number of to-do items displayed alongside the list title. The middle column is your task list, complete with tasks sorted by due date, a drop down menu for selecting a task list, and a “Create task” button. Finally, the space to the right is reserved for a pop-out pane that displays detailed information about a selected task.
The pop-out pane lets you manipulate tasks easily (more on that later) without suffering from feature bloat or confusing organization. You can change the list or coworker that a task is assigned to with drop downs, and set a relative due date with a few preset buttons, or select a specific date from the calendar. Also, any comments you or your coworkers append to a task, as well as all activity associated with the task, are displayed on this pane.
Creating lists and tasks are pretty self explanatory in Orchestra (hint: look for the + symbols), but where the service excels is the ease with which you can manipulate tasks after they’re created. We’ll start with collaboration, since that’s really what Orchestra is all about.
In the screenshot below you’ll see the drop down menu that lets you filter your tasks by colleague. This will help you keep tabs on all of your coworkers, and make sure that everyone is sharing an even load.
Comments can be added to each task item, and a communication/activity record can be viewed in the bottom of the tasks pop-out pane. This includes any comments or activity from your coworkers, which can be added to a task on the Share tab of that pane. Additionally, use the share tab to “nudge” a coworker associated with a particular task if they are, say, slacking a bit.
Any time you share a task with a user (either via email or mobile phone number) they are added to your Orchestra contacts, and can be shared with again, nudged, or assigned tasks.
When you assign due dates to your tasks, the main task list in the middle column will auto-arrange itself so you can keep focused on the most pressing issues. If you need further prioritizing functionality, selecting the star icon on any task will mark it as urgent, and clicking on the star icon at the top of the task list will display only urgent tasks.
Finally, Orchestra affords you a little bit of extra control over your experience with a Settings pane accessible from the bottom left corner of the app. Each user has a profile that can be manipulated from this window, including a profile image that can enhance usability. You can even add email addresses and mobile phone numbers to keep everyone in the loop.
Streamlined Or Powerhouse?
I generally feel pretty positive about Orchestra, but it’s important to note the features necessary to your organization before choosing a collaborative productivity tool for your team. Orchestra lacks some of the features that adorn more complex to-do list apps, including nested and recurring tasks. As long as you know what your group needs to get things done, these missing features aren’t necessarily a deficiency. It is certainly sometimes believed that fewer features in such an app will let you spend less time organizing and more time doing, and Orchestra is no different.
Orchestra certainly executes well what it intends to, but if you’re considering implementing an organizational tool for your team, be aware of your needs. Orchestra is a robust service, to be sure, but if your team is in need of a more complex, featured, and powerful system, it may be beneficial to look elsewhere. For those of you looking for a lightweight and streamlined solution to staying organized, Orchestra may just be what you’re looking for.
Have you given Orchestra a try? How does it stack up against other tools you’ve used?