If your project needs to have the cooperation of two or more people, here is your free solution. For personal project/task management, I recommend you have a look at GTD and the many applications that support implementing the GTD methodology.
Google Apps Standard Edition is free and includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites – everything you need to collaborate with Google. With the free account you also get up to 50 user accounts and 7 GB of storage.
This post is primarily focused around using Google Sites as a central dashboard to manage and execute your projects.
You will need to own a domain name to use Google Apps to its full extent. If you do not have a domain name or do not wish to purchase one, you can still use Google Sites with a free Google Account. If you choose to proceed with your Google Account instead of signing up for Google Apps, you can skip to the Create Your First Project with Google Sites section below.
Sign Up for Google Apps Standard Edition
To collaborate with Google, first you will need to sign up for a Google Apps account. Enter a domain into the text field and choose the radio button with the label Administrator: I own or control this domain. There is also the option to buy a domain name from Google for $10/year, in case you do not already own a domain name.
Next, you will fill out contact and administrative information on the next two screens. Once you finish completing those forms you will need to verify the account by either uploading an HTML file to your server which hosts the domain name or by changing the CNAME record for the domain. Once verification is complete, access will be granted to your new account.
Start by clicking the Activate Email link. Now you will need to change the MX records with your domain hosting company. Fortunately, Google has detailed instructions for most hosting companies.
Once you have completed that step, you will be forwarded to the Email Settings page, where you can configure your account and add email addresses for other people who you hope to collaborate with using Google. For now, we will skip adding email addresses and add our team members to the account.
Click the Users and groups tab to get to the user administration dashboard. From this page you can add new users by click the Create a new user link. You can now add up to 50 users. After you add each user, you can opt to have Google email access instructions; go ahead and choose that option.
Create Your First Project with Google Sites
Once you have added all of your users, click the Dashboard tab and then the Sites link. From this settings page you can map the site to a particular domain and setup permissions. After you finish updating the settings, go to the URL of your Google Site. There, we will create our first project. Get started by clicking the Create Site button.
Click the Browse the gallery for more link and choose the Business collaboration category. On the right, scroll down a bit, and choose the Project Tracking Template.
Use the Name your site text box to input the name of a project you want to work on. Optionally, you can choose a theme for the project. Click the More Options link and choose Only people I specify can view this site under the Collaborate with heading. This will allow you to control who specifically can access the project web page. You can also optionally add a category to help with organization and a site description where you can summarize the purpose of the project. Click Create Site and your first project site is ready to go.
This template has all the features and examples you need to manage your team. I suggest that you explore each link and use the Edit page button at the upper right to modify the template to meet your specific needs. Here is a run-down of the some of the key features:
When creating a new page, Google Sites provides a few basic templates to get you started (Web Page, Announcements, File Cabinet, List and Start Page). In addition, you can also create and save templates (click More actions -> Save page as template ). In the example screenshot above, you can see that there are several pre-populated templates useful for managing projects.
Risks & Issues and Tasks & Actions
Both of these pages are customizable lists (see the List template or the customized Risks, Issues or Tasks templates). You can easily further customize these lists to suite your specific needs by clicking the customize this list link.
In this example, I am selecting the Assigned to field because instead of using a text box (and needing to remember all the team member names) I want a drop down list of all the current team members. So in that case I change the Type to Drop down and then enter each team member name as an option.
Unfortunately, you can not set up the system such that each time a Risk/Issue/Ticket is created the assignee gets an email. The best you can do is have each member of the team click the button at the upper right that says More actions and choose Subscribe to page changes. That will cause any edits to this page to be reported via email to all those who have subscribed.
Here you will find an embedded Google Calendar, which you can use to keep track of large goals and/or milestones (See the Calendar template). If you want to learn more about Google Calendar check this post.
Here is where you can share documents among your team. The system will track changes for you, allowing you to access previous versions by clicking on the v. X link next to the file size. You can also create folders to help organize the files; however, it is not immediately obvious how to do so. You need to click Move to, then New folder.
Once you have finshed all of your customizations and edits, you can find a listing of all the Google Sites you have created and create new Google Sites by clicking My sites at the upper right corner. That page will be your Project Dashboard.
There are many good free solutions for project management, so what makes this solution useful?
- If you are familiar with Google’s tools, you will feel right at home
- You do not need to worry about hosting and the related issues such as server maintenance and security updates
- There is a large community of users from which to find support and help
- Many useful templates have been created, saving you the time of creating a solution from scratch
However, there are some shortfalls to be aware of also:
- You will not be able to talk over the phone with the support staff
- There is no way to set permissions on a particular page, so it’s all or nothing access (a work around is to create a separate Google Site for sections where you want to limit access)
- Make sure to take the time to backup your site periodically (this is a manual process)
- You do not have any access to the source code
Do you have a better solution to collaborate with Google apps? Something to add? Would you like me to go further in depth on this subject in a future article? I would love to hear your solutions and experiences. Please take a moment to share in the comments section below.