Gautier Papon, Azendoo Rockstar, shares how he and his team use Azendoo. Argolight is a three-year-young company. We provide solutions for fluorescence quality control and management. Pharmaceuticals and biotech companies use our technology to make their data more reliable and to cut costs.
Argolight produces both hardware and image-processing software that are cutting-edge. This means that we carry out pretty intense R&D, using cool stuff like lasers and glass-making furnaces, but also quality-controlled production and new-product development on top of normal company activities such as communication… all of which we do with a five-person team.
I strongly believe in the core idea of GTD: that in order to work without stress, you must have a system that you trust in, to be able to store ideas and tasks, and to follow up on stuff. We only use Azendoo internally, for the organization of project tasks, personal tasks and the management of our everyday workload.
Here’s how we’ve organized ourselves:
1. One workspace per type of input technique.
We divided our activities into five workspaces:
- Management & Sales
When we first began using Azendoo, we just had one workspace. The number of subjects inside it quickly grew, and the workspace became a cluttered mess. We tried adding prefixes to the subject names (like “RD - Project Name” for a R&D project, for example), and that was a little bit better, but we finally decided to split the workspace up for clarity’s sake.
We also found that splitting the workspace up made it easier to control who had access to what; not because we wanted to hide certain information within the team, but in order to control the relevance of what showed up in the Activity feed.
2. Research is different to Development: Using Azendoo for logging.
The “Research” we do is exploratory, and relies heavily on the expertise of the researcher.
When you’re doing that kind of work, without any fixed deadlines, or any clear end to a project, and with an infinite number of hidden ways to perform tasks, you can’t properly apply project management strategies.
Our empirical way of tackling this issue is to attribute a certain percentage of our time to it, and to hold frequent meetings to see what works, and to re-orient or prioritize ideas as necessary.
Now, how to keep track of all the ideas we have and the decisions we take? How to facilitate access to those elements, without having to dwell on them in meeting minutes - “the land where ideas die”? How to perform easy tracking on what is being done ?
Application to Azendoo: The solution we found is that within our “Research” workspace, each subject is actually a research program, and contains a log of each meeting with the ideas and tasks raised during that meeting.
During each meeting, we start by stating important results achieved and milestones reached since the last meeting, and the tasks we have done, updating the item or adding a new one accordingly. We then review the results, and/or brainstorm and input all the new ideas we have. We end the meeting by stating what ideas we would like to tackle for the next period.
We use Separators for each meeting and unassigned Tasks, so as not clutter our To-Do lists. If the list becomes too long, it shows that we are biting off more than we can chew. So, we try to think of why those past tasks have not been done, deleting them or storing them on our server for later.
We also sum up decisions made and new directions taken in terms of the orientation of research, inputting this as a completed task. We use the “All Tasks” view to see all inputted items. That way, every once in a while when we are required to give a summary of our research for a paper or in order to obtain a grant, we have a log of all the things we have tried and the results we have achieved. (We don’t input the results data; we just mention that we have had results and the results are stored on our on-site servers.)
3. Project Management
Here I would like to add a little aside:
For a while I thought, “Why is there no solution for project management for small teams like us. There are plenty of solutions for big, complex projects; why not for simpler ones?”. My associate and I had two different answers to this question: I thought that it was just a question of needing to keep on searching for the perfect solution. He thought that, because we were doing small projects with a small team, we didn’t need project management at all. Then I came across Azendoo, and it turned out that we were both wrong!
I now think that small teams and small projects do need project management, but don’t need project management software. So-called “real” project management software, such as MS Project for Windows, or OmniPlans or Merlin for Mac, is just expensive overkill for a small company.
My take on that is: go buy a book or go to a training session, learn the basics of project management and do it the old way, and then you’ll see just where Azendoo comes in handy.
The issues to solve are the same for everyone: how to insure that projects are done in the right amount of time; that people have a clear view of what tasks they have to do and when to do them; how to detect when things start to go south, and their consequences on timing and budgets.
Application to Azendoo: All the preparation for a project is done outside of Azendoo: we meet, choose a project leader, talk about what the goal of the project is, what our priorities are (time, cost, or quality) etc.
Then the project leader will work out the PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique). Due to the size of the projects, this is often done more quickly with pen and paper. We don’t need to present our projects to outsiders, so we can just scan the thing and store it on our servers. All the calculations for critical path, cost and budget, are also done using simple Excel charts if needed. It is all pure methodology.
Azendoo comes in handy when the actual work is about to begin; at this point the project leader inputs the project as a subject on the relevant workspace. We use Separators to define big phases in projects, and tasks are non-attributed. Tasks all have defined deadlines and theoretical starting dates using the Schedule for Later function. The critical path, or chemin critique in French, is indicated by putting “CC” in front of the relevant tasks.
Then, we hold the project kick-off meeting where we delegate the tasks to all the actors. When the team members come back to their desks, their To-Do list has been updated with tasks they know about but which will now appear at the right time. This last part is in order to prevent the stress of seeing a « Today » To-Do list that has suddenly increased by 10 new items.
Project leaders will then check their project Subject every day or so, and can update the timing or take appropriate action for task completion.
4. Item state management - Pipe
Argolight produces objects, and many of our clients like to test our technology before buying it. So, we manage a stock of finished products that we lend to our users. The service is free: they just have to sign a contract and they have the product for a week (and we ship worldwide).
We wanted to have a nice way to track what products are available, where a given product is, when it is due to come back etc.
Application to Azendoo: We use unassigned Tasks for items, and Separators to indicate their state. Each product in this stock has a task attached to it, but the task is not assigned to anyone.
The idea is that we move tasks in and out of sections, to track the state of their availability. For products, we have created two states using the Separators function: “available” and “lent”.
When a product is available, the task name is just the serial number plus “available”. When one of our slides is sent to a lead, the task is moved to “lent” and we change “available” to the name of the lead and his or her country.
We also use this function to keep track of enquiries from leads that have not yet returned signed contracts. That way, we can estimate the likely delay before a lead will have received a test product.