Why having a reliable project management system can save your job

If a project is assigned outside a project management system, did it really happen? According to Metis Communications’ founding partner Cathy Atkins, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” In fact, “If it didn’t happen on Basecamp, it didn’t happen,” Cathy proclaimed during a Skype chat I had on my first day on the job here as a senior account executive.

It made me giggle because it reminded me of a similar (albeit slightly less pleasant) conversation I had with a former publisher while I was working as a managing editor of an online daily newspaper. I was working around the clock. Every. Single. Day. And I had a weeklong view and a daily view of all the newspapers’ content on my trusty legal pad.

My publisher gave me an ultimatum: Utilize a project management system or utilize a job search board.

Of course, I gave in (though I as I type this, ideas are scribbled on my legal pad right beside me) and here’s why you should do, as well.  

I should offer this warning: If you haven’t been using a project management system and you make it a daily requirement, be prepared for some push-back. The No. 1 complaint I heard when I first implemented one (we used Trello at a former job) was that it was “an extra step.” At first, I didn’t disagree. Eventually, it became part of doing business. Trello worked for our purposes; it’s a great tool for editorial processes. I later introduced it to colleagues at a healthcare system, where they were launching a huge content marketing initiative. After the same initial push-back, it was embraced there, too.

At Metis, we use Basecamp. Strike that.  At Metis, we live and breathe on Basecamp. (Full disclosure: They’re also a client.) But it’s a remarkable tool, the value of which I have quickly learned. Like any client-service industry, PR is wickedly fast-paced and incredibly demanding. I cannot imagine how we’d get by without it.

Here are the top three reasons why we love it:

  1. It keeps you honest and accountable.
    I don’t mean that in an if-not-for-Basecamp-nobody-would-work kind of way. I mean that in the sense that it keeps you honest about your workday and your workflow. We're a fully remote team, so having a reliable project management system really isn’t optional. It is integral to the daily success of our team. There’s an accountability factor there because everything takes place on the project management tool. If you’re assigned something, it’s documented. It’s there (and it’s searchable). Specific projects have specific to-dos assigned to specific team members. There’s no “Oh, I didn’t realize you wanted me to take that task” here.  

  2. It keeps you organized.
    When you have multiple clients, internal projects and meetings, meetings and more meetings, a project-management system is critical to your success and, more importantly, your sanity. A Basecamp favorite of mine are the to-do lists, which you can assign or others can assign to you. C’mon, is there anything more satisfying than checking off a to-do list item? Plus, there’s a tab that’s clearly marked “my assignments” if you find yourself starting your work day and wondering where you should begin. And, if you’re thinking about asking a teammate for help when you’re underwater, you can peek at his or her assignments first before calling in backup.
  1. It allows you to be present (even when you’re in another state or country).  
    Again, since we’re all remote at Metis, this is one of the best parts about a project management system. We can chat via “ping” or have a discussion around “a campfire.” Multiple team members can access documents, make edits and upload photos. It allows us to work together in real time, just as if we were in the same office.
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