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Summary:

Just as I was lamenting not being able to find a tool that helps me visualize the development and work process, a new tool launches, almost as if somebody read my mind. SmartQ is a web-based “visual project board” from the makers of 5pm.

smartQ - workflow visualization, task management, team collaboration

Just as I was lamenting not being able to find a tool that helps me visualize the development and work process for my new company, a new tool launches, almost as if somebody read my mind. SmartQ is a web-based “visual project board” from the makers of 5pm, the web-based project management tool.

SmartQ is based on Kanban, a lean production process I have never encountered before. According to Wikipedia, kanban is “a scheduling system that tells you what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce.” The system was developed by Toyota. Through the use of kanban cards (signs on a board), you can signal what parts of production are at what stages, and what resources or supplies are needed or are in use. Efficient production can be attained knowing how many cards — or tickets — are needed in a process to produce something, and by keeping an eye on the transfer of or accumulation of these cards during production.

Using SmartQ

When you start using SmartQ, you begin a new project and start new “tickets” (i.e. kanban cards) that you can assign to team members complete with a deadline and the status or stage each ticket is at, such as “submitted”, “assigned,’ “work started,’ “completed” or “approved.”

Using the “Board View,” you can see your tickets begin to lay out across the screen in sequence. You can also easily drag and drop each ticket box to rearrange.

I was immediately pleased to see what I normally have created as a written checklist in a much more visual layout.

What a difference seeing tasks (or “tickets”) laid out according to status can make! Of course, if you still want to see a list, there is also a “List View:”

Under “Settings,” you can manage team members and their admin controls and roles per project. You can also design and modify your workflow process by editing or adding to the default workflow stages (submitted, assigned, work started, completed or approved). You can even design your ticket form to include more features or have input fields in different positions.

When you create a new ticket, you can enter a ticket name, description, the stage it is at, when it is required by, who it’s assigned to, and you can opt to send by email to everyone involved with the ticket. There is a space to add comments, and you can attach files to each ticket as needed.

Rethinking Workflow Management

When I started using the app, I was puzzled by the way I could see which tickets I had created, but I couldn’t see who I’d assigned the ticket to or the deadline.. So I asked the company why this might be, and a representative responded:

You don’t care to see who created the ticket, since you create them right now. In systems we use, they are viewed from workers side. So they need to see the requester. And the required date was rarely used in the scenarios we observed so far, since the board is fluid — tickets move when they can, and managers are alerted when too many get accumulated in one stage or another.

Going back to the kanban concept, tickets on the SmartQ are placed in certain buckets (“submitted,” “assigned,” “work started,” “completed” or “approved,” by default). At a glance, managers can see where there might be a bottleneck in workflow and address those areas to keep the process running smoothly. I have always been so tied to deadlines, and yet SmartQ and the kanban concept is reconfiguring my own ideas about workflow. SmartQ provides a new way to visualize and frame work projects and tasks. I’m looking forward to testing the system out with my team members to see how it works with more people, projects and tickets added to the mix.

How are you visualizing — and managing — your workflow?

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  1. There are a few tools in this category. The blog limitedwipsociety.org has done a nice job cataloging them.

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  2. Wow, now that’s a really impressive tool, but it still lacks a lot of features and the pricing is really crazy.

    I’ll stick with tools like fogbugz, bontq or targetprocess instead.

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  3. Aliza,

    AgileZen (http://agilezen.com) was one of the first general purpose kanban-style project management tools. It was released about a year and a half ago and it has some of the features this tool is currently “missing” (at least based upon your description) like understanding who created tickets, who it’s assigned to, creating deadlines, and even metrics to track performance. If you’re interested in this type of workflow, you may want to check out AgileZen too.

    Also, it’s much more affordable with pricing around $3 a person instead of $8 (an issue brought up by Bill).

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    1. I found out about AgileZen after submitting this piece but it is great to know about it. I think my own description was just scratching the surface but I may do a future comparison post. I feel like I’m always searching for the Holy Grail of productivity and process apps.

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  4. “Kanban” – never heard that term before. Though what we use on our whiteboard sounds and looks exactly like that. smartQ seams to be a great way to take it online.

    Bill, TargetProccess is $25/user, so the price reference is off… And TP looks like an app for software developers… smartQ seams more like a general-purpose one. And I like the fact that it can be adjusted in so many ways – the ticket editor thingy (custom fields) is a great feature.

    After clicking around, I didn’t see any lack of features on first glance. I see who created a ticket, who it’s assigned too… there is even a log of who changed what (like who and when dragged it to the next column)… Great communications area – like the threaded posts, and the style – Google Wave form I would day. May be reports are missing, though I’m not sure what would be good to capture there…

    Generally a solid tool and it looks like it’s evolving… Great find!.. Gotta read more on Kanban… it may change the way we manage our workflow…

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  5. Interesting tool, althought using a “new method” never sounds as something you can rely on for a long period.

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