The limitations of the various task management solutions for businesses are not always easy to spot until you’re in chest-deep and it’s a struggle to get out. Here’s a quick overview of our experience and why we chose Get Flow from Metalab.
As a fast-growing company we need a robust project management solution. It is, for example, a long road from conceiving of a product to getting it online. We launch a new product more often than weekly and need a system to deal with the many steps – development, design, costing, production, compliance, stocking, listing, photography, picking & packing, user instructions etc – before the product can be dispatched to a customer. There are a lot of ducks to get lined up and the process involves everyone who works here at the Old Trouser Factory.
In 2011 we were early adopters of legendary to-do software Wunderlist, initially as a shared shopping list for workers so they could add items to the weekly food shop (all staff have free food at work) while we were dealing with other projects by the unsatisfactory and time consuming process of emails. Appreciating that we had to move on and embrace ‘productivity’, we threw our hat in with dangerously ahead-of-its-time Wunderkit, the short life and death of which is a captured in this brilliant commentary from 6Wunderkinder founder and lead developer Christian Reber.
If nothing else, Wunderkit gave us a taste for something with greater functionality. But after brief dalliances with Basecamp, Asana (then just launched) and Yammer (soon to be acquired by Microsoft), we repented our infidelities and returned to the comfort and simplicity of Wunderlist.
It worked well at first, but we quickly outgrew the platform. Wunderlist also suffered with performance issues – notably syncing between the cloud and the few dozen Macs and iPads we run. Sometimes data would disappear, much to everyone’s frustration. To their credit, Wunderlist sorted out the performance issues with version 3, but it still lacked key features. We needed to be able to ‘chat’ about projects, flag things for people to deal with and allocate subtasks. Even before Wunderlist 3, we were well on our way researching and testing other project management options. We trialled Podio, Wrike, and Asana to name but a few. Our requirements were simple – the ability to create tasks, assign them, keep tabs on them, and discuss them. We needed the solution to work on both Macs and iOS devices, and be simple to use.
I used Flow for a couple of weeks and soon realised it ticked all the boxes. It’s strength is its simplicity. The layout is elegant, clean, and information is well presented. The basic arrangement consists of ‘Workspaces’, ‘Lists’, and ‘Tasks’. Our workspaces are set up to reflect our teams, and the lists within those workspaces reflect team projects. Tasks are easily created from within lists themselves, or by clicking the ever present ‘New+’ button in the top right of the window. You can assign tasks to yourself or any member of that workspace, and you also get the option to subscribe specific workspace members to the task, if you want them to stay in the loop. And it’s very robust…
The commenting functionality has changed the way we communicate. We no longer have long discussions over email, avoiding confusing message threads, missed ‘reply all’ clicks, lost attachments, and naff search-ability. All discussion now goes through Flow. If you want someone’s attention, @mention them in a comment and they will be notified, and attachments can be easily uploaded into the conversation. And we can give access to our external contractors – web developers etc – to workspaces and communicate with them and allocate tasks.
Behind the scenes, Metalab are on top of customer service. Whereas Wunderlist and many other productivity apps use a Freemium model with many users paying nothing, Flow offers paid for services only. It makes the user base smaller and we feel that in the support experience – the team are quick to respond to questions, knowledgeable, and Flow is frequently updated/tweaked to improve the user experience. There are a few things that we would like to see improved ASAP, such as:
- changing the pricing structure tiers to a per user price (30 and 49 users cost the same!)
- improved search (including #keywords and deeper search into the thread of tasks and comments)
- a dedicated view/stream of all your @mentions, as these can be easily lost in the notifications list
Flow is less rigid and more organic than some packages, so we need to work on clearing and consolidating tasks. But all in all, we’re very happy with it. Metalab clearly have their heads screwed on (Flow version 1 was developed to manage their own work) and the musings they publish are some of the best we’ve read, ‘I Ain’t Scared of You Motherfuckers‘ is a must-read for those working with clients on creative projects. And the experience confirms that spending time and energy on working out what you need and which platform can deliver it is a much better investment that spending time and energy trying to make the wrong platform work.