On The Same Page: Shared Status Boards with Google Apps

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Google Apps is useful for all kinds of standard office activities… reports, tracking, analysis, etc.

Now, using the cloud computing model, co-authoring, and sharing are fundamentally new experiences within the typical office environment, enabling completely new methods of dynamic workflow.  Available to any user using Google Apps.

One simple team coordination technique we have found useful is to keep a virtual “Status Board” of a team project (previously, we used a lot of whiteboards).  A simple color-coded spreadsheet helps our staff (onsite and offsite) track work to be done, work already done, tested, reviewed with our clients and otherwise coordinated on an adhoc, just-in-time basis.

An example… we might have a workflow for this project that involves 6 web pages which have to be rewritten.  This will be done by a team of three, and has five distinct steps for each page.

To track this in the real world requires a sharp pencil, graph paper, a dedicated project manager, lots of phone calls, emails, status updates, etc.

To make sure this is done correctly, we’ll need to ensure that each of the 30 individual milestones are tracked (and done in the correct order).

Here’s a simple way to track this small project using a Google Apps Spreadsheet:

First, we’ll outline the steps that need to be taken for each object.  Next, we’ll add owners…  Who is responsible for making sure each step is completed?

Here’s what our workflow looks like:

  • Step 1:  Page is Fact checked.  (client)
  • Step 2: Page is rewritten. (writer)
  • Step 3: Rewritten page is approved.  (client)
  • Step 4: Rewritten page is updated on the website.  (content manager)
  • Step 5: Rewritten page has final proofread and is approved.  (client)

So, to implement in a Google Apps spreadsheet, we’ll create a column for each step, and a row for each page that will go through this process.

Of course, since we are on the cloud, let’s make it even easier and add a link to each page that we are working on for easy access during the project.

Figure 1:

To ensure that each page goes through the whole workflow, we’ll want to fill in with status cells indicating each page having completed each step.  So next, we’ll add a quick indicator of complete-ness.

We like to use TODO and DONE.

Even better… we’ll color code each cell with red for TODO and green for DONE.

To get here, we’ll select “Format”, then “Change colors with rules…”

Figure 2:

Next, we’re ready to publish this status board to the project team.

Let’s make the board read/write for the staff working on it and read-only for our client.

Figure 3:

Once we have our new status board, I will next share this spreadsheet to the project staff as a read/write document, and read-only  to “anyone with this link” (another sharing setting a little less secure than the screenshot above).

Finally, we’ll add a little project summary at the bottom to get an idea of how far along we are on the project:

We’ll use the COUNTIF function to see how many fields match our two states within the given range.  Here is the formula for the “Total” row:

=COUNTIF(B3:F8,”Done”) + COUNTIF(B3:F8,”TODO”)

We now have a very simple status board for our project which only took some basic spreadsheet skills to put together and (more importantly update and share).

Naturally, the link goes out to the client in a status email and they can click through at any time to review and enjoy the progress being made on their project.

Remember that we are all editing the same document, so no information is lost in email attachments.  This board is always up to date and everyone is on the same page.  Later on, we’ll even be able to review the revision history and review what happened when, and by whom.

Feel free to click here, load it up and see the actual, live status board as we progress through the work required to complete this project.

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On February 7, 2011
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