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Archive for the ‘Task Management’ Category

At Joint Contact we’ve heard from a lot of people interested our use and adoption of Twitter.  While many speculate if Twitter can actually be used for something useful, we are having no problems seeing how it can be used in our service.  This includes the ability to communicate project status, as well as the ability to organize Tweets.

 
With our latest release, Joint Contact now includes the ability to send automated Tweets when users add documents, images or tasks.  A function usually reserved for email, now team members can receive these messages through Twitter and its many tools.

Why do this?  As written in a recent article from ReadWriteWeb, communication with team members can now extend beyond the desktop because Twitter supports native text messaging (SMS).  This means that a manager can receive project updates using just their cell phone, even without internet access. Also Twitter is just plain fun – many professionals already use the platform for quick messages and basic communications (2 million users and counting at the time of this posting).

One question you may have is “Isn’t that insecure?  Using Twitter for business doesn’t make any sense unless I can secure it like email.”  We’ve also thought of this and would like to show how you can start using Twitter for business using Joint Contact and protected updates.

Twitter Notification Using Protected Updates
In this example we are updating an existing  Joint Contact task.  At the bottom of the interface we’ve set the option for “Send to Twitter”.  Once saved, our changes are updated in Joint Contact and a summary of the event is sent to Twitter.

The Twitter account used is a special account type known as a protected profile.  Protected Twitter profiles have the following properties:

1. Protected updates are not searchable or viewable by the general public.  This means that people cannot access these Twitter updates by simply typing in a URL.  Each user who views your updates must be authenticated by Twitter.  Here’s an example of someone trying to access our protected account without the proper authentication. As we can see access to the account is blocked.

2. Protected profile owners must approve “follow requests” to allow new people to view their updates.  This means you are in direct control over who views your messages.  It also means spammers cannot read your updates or send you unsolicited messages.  Here’s an example of what the approval window looks like.

If you are looking to establish Twitter for business communication we suggest configuring each team member’s account to support protected updates.  This way your group can gain all of the service advantages without sacrificing security. 

Let us know what questions, thoughts or ideas you may have. To learn more about Joint Contact and Twitter visit What’s Your Status as well as Why Twitter Matters to Joint Contact.

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Creating Project Sub-Tasks through Conversations

As many of our readers know, Joint Contact has the ability to manage group discussions through the use of “Conversations”. When starting a Conversation, people have option of organizing their discussions by project, can invite their group members to post responses as well link documents to ongoing threads (see the blog posting “How to Coordinate a Document” for details).

 

With our redesign of our Tasks Module we often get asked if Joint Contact also supports “Sub-Tasks”. As a result we’ve added the ability for users to create sub-tasks by linking their tasks to “Conversations”. Here’s an example of this new feature in action.

 

Joint Contact - Subtasks 1

 

If you’ve created a task in Joint Contact you will see a link on the right hand side that says “Start a Conversation”. (This option will only be available for existing tasks and won’t be available if creating a new record). It’s completely optional if you decide to link a Conversation to a Task.

 

Joint Contact - SubTasks 2

 

Clicking on this takes you window to create a new Conversation. From here you can fill in the information for your new discussion. Once complete you will be taken back to the Task Detail window and will see a new option for “Join Conversation – 0 responses”. Click “Save Record” to return to the main Task window.

 

What Happened?

What you’ve done is linked a new Conversation with a Task. Now your group can track any additional ideas, documents or URL’s that relate to the Task through the Conversation. In addition, you can find you find the related Task by clicking the “View Related Task” button.

 

Joint Contact - Subtasks 3

 

People viewing Tasks can find linked Conversations by clicking on the “Join Conversation” option from the Task Detail window.

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The most frequent request we receive is the ability for one to see a visual representation of their tasks on a calendar or Gantt chart. Viewing tasks in a basic list format has its usefulness, but, like most managers, being able to quickly see a list of items “at a glance” provides an efficient way to:

 

  • Instantly compare your active tasks with key calendar dates
  • See if any of your milestones fall on the weekends or holidays
  • Get a sense as to how evenly your tasks are allocated
  • Determine if any of your resources are working too much or too little
  • Overlay your home and work schedules using a single calendar

 

Joint Contact now provides the ability for you to view your tasks using popular calendaring applications such as:

 

How does it work?

What these calendar applications have in common is their ability to support the Internet Calendar (iCalendar) standard. As a result Joint Contact now supports this new protocol.

Internet Calendars are special calendars that are shared through the Internet. Data that drives these calendars are based on a “open” Internet standard that allows this data to be viewed using the calendar tool of your choice.

 

Use the tools of your choice

As seen from the list of tools above, some tools are licensed products while others are free. Neat tools like Sunbird and Thunderbird are free tools from Mozilla (the maker of Firefox). Like Firefox, both Sunbird and Thunderbird are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Calendar tools that support the iCalendar format (also known as “ics”) can “subscribe” to a Joint Contact task list – just like having a secure RSS feed to keep track of your favorite blog or website. As people in your group add and change tasks using Joint Contact, your local calendar is automatically updated.

 

Joint Contact and Outlook 2007
Here’s an example of Joint Contact using Outlook 2007. Notice how Outlook creates a second calendar (seen in green) that displays your active tasks. In addition to a side-by-side view, Outlook can also overlay one calendar on top of another – an impressive feature.

 

Joint Contact and Outlook #1

 

Just like using email, your calendar list is updated each time you send the “Send / Receive” button. There is also a tab where you can add new or edit iCalendar feeds.

 

Joint Contact and Outlook #2

 

Like any other calendar event, clicking on that item will display thee details in its own window. In this example we can see the task title, the people assigned to the task, as well as the task description. The start/end date is the task due date.

 

Joint Contact - Outlook Event Detail Window

 

Out of the many tools we tested, Outlook 2007 had the most robust features. As a result our team was pleasantly surprise with the level of integration Outlook has for this relatively new standard.

 

Joint Contact & Google Calendar

Here’s an example of Joint Contact using Google Calendar. Since Google’s calendar runs from the Internet this would be a great option for those who already use Google tools (e.g GMail) and need another additional tool to help them to manage their tasks.

 

Joint Contact and Google Calendar

 

Joint Contact & Apple’s iCal

And for people using Mac OS, here’s an example of Joint Contact using iCal:

Joint Contact and iCal

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Tasks 2.0

We’ve made some significant changes in our tasks module, thus the title “Tasks 2.0”. For this version we’ve attempted to focus on ease-of-use, usability and overall user experience. Here’s a printscreen of the new user interface.

 

jc_tasks1.gif

 

Highlights of this implementation include the following:

  • Task dashboard. Obtain an instant overview of all your task items across all workspaces in single glance. Predefined “tags” allow you to obtain an instant tally of all tasks, sorted by their particular status or due date. Clicking on any predefined tag will display the results in the target window.
  • Filter your dashboard by Workspace. When you first load the tasks window you see all of the open tasks for all your workspaces. To get a refined statistical overview of a specific project just the specific Workspace (project) name.
  • Current View. Always know which type of data you are viewing by this dynamic text.
  • Visual Priority Indicators. High and low priority items are distinguished with blue and green arrows (respectively).
  • Full Task Descriptions. The task descriptions are listed, along with the task change history. This make things more efficient so that you don’t need to click on the “details” window to view more task information.

 

Creating and Editing tasks
A few things have changed when creating and editing tasks. We’ve redesigned the window so that users can enter task information without having to scroll up or down. We’ve also added a nifty AJAX calendar picker that will allow users to enter due dates based on a monthly or yearly display. No more trying to determine the correct date format when managing your tasks.

 

jc_tasks2.gif

 

As with our previous version, tasks can be assigned to one more people in your group. Once assigned, they can be notified via email of their new task by selecting the “Notify Tasks Assignees” option. Tasks can also be created from Articles Responses (reply’s to discussion groups). For those quick to-do items, tasks can also be created without an assignee.

So that’s our version of Tasks 2.0. With this new redesign we are hoping that this module becomes a very usable feature of the Joint Contact product. We hope you like the new implementation and encourage your feedback!

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If you’ve ever managed a project of any size you’ve certainly come to a point where you’ve had to assign the same task to more than one person. For example, you are part of a committee planning a business networking event there could be a series of items that could be executed by one or more people. Examples include calling association members, planning event catering, creating nametags etc…

 

In Joint Contact we’ve added the capability for you to create tasks, and to assign those tasks to one or more people in your group. Here’s an example of task assigned to three people:

 

Joint Contact Tasks Browser

 

The name of the task “Get Started with Joint Contact” is highlighted in dark blue, along with the names of the people assigned to the task. The wording below the task name (“Sage CRM Project”) is the name of the project associated to the task.

 

Now when Chris, Dana or Jennifer log into the system they will see that they have a group task assigned to them. They can work together on the same task, updating the task notes, percentage complete and other important items. The person who assigned the task can also monitor the status of the task to completion.

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The Articles functionality has been one of the most popular modules in the Joint Contact system, allowing users to post and manage discussions with large groups quickly and easily. Workspace participants can be notified in email when a new article is posted or when a group member responds to a published article.

 

These features work well, but our team is working to find new and intuitive ways to integrate and link information between the Joint Contact modules. As a result we’ve added the ability to add associate documents with Articles, and then have users take action on items discussed by associating them (Articles) with Tasks, QuickMail or Activities. The goal being that users logically flow through the process of posting documents to be commented on by a group, and then have the group create tasks and other items based on those conversations.

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Tasks have been expanded to support a number of new fields including estimated/actual hours, a separate field for notes, automatic email notification as well as the ability to assign tasks to a group. Tasks now appear in the search results output and also the what’s new section (an instant search results query that shows all workspace activity for the last three days). By popular demand, we’ve also added the ability to create calendar items (Activities) based on task information. This was a neat request by one of our users, and it was such a good suggestion we implemented it right away.

 

People sometimes are disappointed that Joint Contact does not support advanced task management features such as Gantt Charts and ERP capabilities. These are also great features, but there are host of other tools that provide this. Our goal is to facilitate project communication between groups, not to manage the traditional (and often confusing) discipline of project management. Collaboration between groups should be quick, simple and easy. For a list of recommended tools that support Gantt charts just send us an email.

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