When it comes to project management, most web apps offer the same basic features: a group of to-do lists, some kind of messaging board, a few gigs of file storage, shared document-editing, a calendar of some sort, and if you’re lucky, a set of reports.
But what most don’t offer is the ability to develop a project-management workflow that conforms to the way your team already works, and without this customization, you lose precious time trying to get everybody up to speed on the new way of doing things. In my experience, that ramp-up time usually results in project members abandoning the app and reverting to project management by email.
SmartQ is a project-management app based on the Kanban production system developed in the 1940s by Toyota. Kanban means “signboard” or “billboard,” and Toyota used it to match their manufacturing process to the level of customer demand.
It’s a fluid system however, so in practice, Kanban just means dividing the steps of your process into a series of columns, with the first step in the leftmost column and the completion step in the rightmost column. Each task then moves right across the columns, giving you a visual representation of where each task is in your process. It’s a great way to get a quick and easy view into the status of your project.
Getting Started with SmartQ
After setting up your own SmartQ URL ([your-option].smartq.com), giving them your email and password, and choosing the number of users on your team ($8/month per user), you’re taken to your URL to give your project a name and description (and remember, for that same $8/month, you can manage an unlimited number of projects).
This is where the fun comes in.
What makes SmartQ different from other project-management apps is the “Workflow Designer” attached to each project.
In my capacity as a project manager for a business-to-business company, I’m responsible for managing up to a dozen different projects at any given time. Some of these projects can share a workflow, but many require a unique set of processes. With SmartQ, I can design the workflow to fit the project or copy the workflow from one my existing projects.
Designing Your Own Workflow
Designing your own workflow in SmartQ is as simple as double-clicking on the name of one of the stages in the default workflow and changing it to fit your needs. If you need to add more stages, click the “+” button and a blank stage pops into view. Need to delete a stage? Just hover over the title and click on the “x” button that pops up. Want to move a stage to somewhere else in the process? Click and drag, my friend. Click and drag.
Adding a Ticket to Your Project
Once you’ve got your workflow set up, it’s time to start adding the individual items to your project.
SmartQ calls these items “tickets,” and by default, they include a ticket name, a description of what the ticket is, a set of tags that will help you find the ticket later, the stage where the ticket currently resides in your workflow, a Required By date, a field to assign the ticket to one or more of your team members, and a checkbox to mark whether SmartQ should “Notify everybody involved by email.”
But because every team has their own particular needs, SmartQ also gives you the option to design your own ticket, where you can drag and drop various fields into your customized ticket.
For better or worse, SmartQ assumes that every message you want to send to your team members will relate to some ticket within your project, so instead of having a separate bulletin board where you can chat, SmartQ builds its messaging feature right into the sidebar of each ticket.
Each message can be sent as a public message that is visible to anyone, as a private note just for yourself, or send it as an email right from SmartQ. The messages are threaded as well, so when you reply to a specific message, your reply gets filed beneath it, allowing you to keep track of the conversation.
When there’s a message attached to a ticket, a little voice-bubble icon is displayed in the corner of the ticket on the board view (more on the board view below). When you hover over the icon, the latest message pops up, saving you from having to load the ticket page in the web app.
Adding Team Members
I had the hardest time trying to figure out how to add team members to my project. You’d imagine that it’d be tucked into the “Project Team” section in your project’s settings tab, but no. All you can do there is add existing members to a given project, assign them each a role, or create a new role for them (I’ll come back to roles in a moment).
It turns out that they’ve hidden the feature in plain sight.
Working with your project
Okay. So that’s all the set-up stuff, and frankly, unless you’re the project manager, you won’t even get to enjoy all that fun, drag-and-drop, workflow and ticket designing bits.
But don’t despair! Even if you’re just a lowly worker on the project, you too get to enjoy the thrill of the drag and drop!
Once the tickets exist in your workflow, it’s all just a matter of moving them from left to right in your process, with each stage in your process bringing the ticket closer and closer to completion.
If you need to attach files to a ticket (i.e., drafts of an image you’re working on), you can do all that in the messaging section of each ticket (for the same $8/month, each user gets 1GB of storage).
Once the ticket has made it all the way to the right-most column in your workflow, you can archive the ticket manually, or set up SmartQ so it archives tickets on a set schedule.
Who Moved My Ticket?
SmartQ allows the project manager to set up roles for each team member, where you can set up various permissions and powers for the role. For example, you can set up your workflow so that no one can move a ticket into the final column except the project manager.
Of all the different project-management apps I’ve tried over the years, SmartQ seems the most exciting to me. The ability to customize the workflow is a godsend, and I love that I can get a grip on the entire project just by looking at the board. I didn’t even mention the “List view” and filters and reporting functions, all of which give you even more ways to view your project, but to be honest, SmartQ is all about the board view, so if that doesn’t impress you, neither will the others.
There are a lot of project-management apps out there (and we tend to review most of the ones we find), and if you have something that works for you, then great. But if, like me, you’ve stumbled from one app to another, then SmartQ may be just the app you’ve been looking for. Why? Because it conforms to you.