Reader Question: What's the Best Tool to Organize a Growing Business?

By Features PCmag

"Which tool will help me better manage my growing business?" A reader named Rafael wrote me last month to ask this question. He had been reading about some of the best project management tools, work management software, communication programs, and all those other productivity apps meant to make a business boom. But he couldn't quite figure out which one would actually work best for managing his work.

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"I just started working for a small real estate investment firm," he wrote, "and they really, really need help automating their processes. They manage stuff mainly by email (argh!) and with plans to expand, it's not a scalable structure at this point. I was thinking of using either Asana or Teamwork Projects to streamline operations and wanted your input. To give you some perspective, the team is five internal employees who work with investors to buy and sell properties."

Rafael further explained that he thinks of each property as a "project," and wanted to be able to create a list of tasks for each one that would be assigned to employees as needed. The organizations manages anywhere from 150 to 200 "projects" at a time. And from time to time, external players need insight into the process.

He also said flexibility and team collaboration were of the utmost importance, as they are in many companies. But he seemed pretty set on using either Asana or Teamwork Projects. Here's my reply:

Deck of Cards vs. Board Game
Think of Asana as a deck of cards, and think of Teamwork Projects as a board game. With a deck of cards, you can play a game that someone else created, or you can make up your own game. With a board game, the game comes with rules, and you could bend them if you wanted, but generally speaking, the board game is designed to be played with you sticking to the rules.

In my experience, Asana takes time to implement right, but ultimately, you can use it however you want. The first few days will be really confusing for everyone who is learning to use the system. The reason is your team will need to set the rules for how to use it. There is no right or wrong way to use Asana.

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After a few weeks, hopefully the five employees will be on board, and they will probably start adjusting their rules at this point. Asana takes trial and error. It also takes solid team communication to ensure that everyone is using the tool in the same way.

It'll take your team some time to grow accustomed to Teamwork Projects, because people will be exploring all the features and entering tasks for the first time. Your team will likely create a bunch of templates that they can reuse again for the next sale or purchase. But with Teamwork Projects, the key is that you'll handle each real estate purchase or sale as a project.

Projects always have end dates, and in your case, it's the closing date. They usually have milestones, perhaps going into contract or getting money into escrow. And with projects, the dates for these deadlines and milestones matter. I have no clue if deadlines matter to your team or not. Does your team say things like, "Let's buy this property by October 1" or just "Let's buy this property" without knowing how long it will take? If you have fixed deadlines, Teamwork Projects is probably better.

Project management tools, such as Teamwork Projects, let you create dependencies between tasks so that one task cannot happen until all the dependent tasks occur. For example, if you cannot go to contract until the inspection is done, that's possible to set up in Teamwork Projects. With Asana, your team can choose to play by that rule, but it won't be a part of the system itself. You can use both tools for free to get a sense of how they work, and then upgrade to a paid account that will have more features.

Choosing a Tool
I checked in with Rafael a few weeks later to see if he had made a decision and how the tool was working for his team. He had opted to try Teamwork Projects. The selling point, he said, was the ability to create dependencies between tasks. The setup was taking some time, as expected, but Rafael had some great news to share, too:

"One revelation worth mentioning is there is a Teamwork Projects Startup offer, where they give startups a year's worth of the software for free! It was very beneficial in making the move," Rafael wrote.

Additional Resources
For related advice, see 7 Ways to Simplify Project Management in Teamwork Projects and Using Asana in Business.

And for more business app recommendations, see the Best Online Business Collaboration Software.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.