Visual Versioning: How a Demo of Gridiron's Flow Blew My Mind

gridiron-software-gridiron-software-flow-a-revolutionary-approach-to-content-management-1I forget things. I lose things. I’ve resigned myself to accept these facts at this stage of my life and am in constant search for tools and processes to help pick up the slack where my aging, overloaded brain leaves off. When I find a tool or application that helps to overcome my shortcomings, I have to admit I’m infused with new-found hope as well as childlike awe.

Those are the feelings I got when I first saw Gridiron Software‘s new product, Flow. The Mac version of the software was made available to download for free, as a public beta, yesterday.

The company calls Flow a “Visual Workflow Manager.” I call it a miracle. If you know me, I’m usually the Queen of Understatement so let me elaborate on this lofty claim.

In as concise a nutshell as I can muster, Flow follows a project’s workflow by tracking and mapping out the revisions a file has gone through during your work process. It manages your project files, how they’re related to each other, and where they’re located.

gridiron-software-gridiron-software-flow-a-revolutionary-approach-to-content-managementHow It Works

Say that you have a final document for a client. It’s a PDF file that includes particular fonts and several images. Drop that PDF file onto Flow, and the application maps out the assets and the iterations of those assets for you. Double-click on a previous revision of an asset, such as one of the images, and Flow finds it on your computer instantly. Flow will let you know if you are missing any of the fonts in a project file.

Flow doesn’t care what the names of the files are; it identifies them through an ID number so even if you can’t remember what you named a file, Flow will find it for you and map it.

If you make alterations to any asset within the workflow mapped out by Flow, it can add that iteration into your Workflow Map. The company calls this “Real-time Asset Tracking” and it happens behind the scenes even when Flow is not running.

Flow not only gives you a history of a file and its iterations but allows you to revert to any version as needed. They call this “Visual Versioning.” You can also perform a “Visual Search” to locate any file and to see a visual diagram of how it fits into the project you’re working on.

One challenge for any web worker sharing files on a project is to get all the right files, and particularly the correct versions of each file, to a team member or client. Flow offers what they refer to as “Foolproof Packaging” which means that Flow will automatically gather the correct versions of all the required files related to a project and package them together to send via email or to upload onto a shared workspace.

Flow is application-agnostic so can work with Illustrator files, Microsoft Office files, fonts, PDFs and more. Also, your virtual team members don’t need to have Flow on their computers. Flow will still be able to identify the workflow when you get the files back. If they do have Flow, they see the exact same map that you saw before you sent them the files.

And If That Isn’t Enough, They Throw In…

Another challenge I’m finding in my web work is tracking the time spent on particular projects. Not everyone on the team – myself included – is diligent about marking time into our handy little Progress Notes in the 5pm project management space. Flow automatically records the time spent on each file involved in the workflow of a project so you can get a calculation of time taken creating assets for the project. I can then compare this calculated time to the manual entries by team members to check for discrepancies.

Another nice feature in Flow is the ability to analyze the impacts that client changes have on workflow and work processes. There’s a “ripple effect” as one change can affect multiple files. Flow helps you understand and better communicate the ramifications of changes to the workflow so you can manage client expectations and more accurately price out change requests.

One final feature that may just save some headaches: how many times do you have a number of versions of a file, think you know which one is the most current so start to trash some older versions? Flow will notify you when not to delete something, illustrate where that file is currently in use and show you what will be affected if you empty the trash.

Since Flow doesn’t rely on file names or even drive names, you could be using images from a number of different external drives, network drives or even SD cards. Flow can identify the drive or card that contains a “missing” file or image without you having to search manually or even guess at what you called that file or image in question.

When you first download Flow, you can have it map out all the assets on your computer by scanning your files to draw out their relationships. Old projects “pre-Flow” can still be more easily managed with the basic data Flow gathers.

Flow is currently free and the first version is for Mac but a Windows version is coming soon. You can purchase flow before May 1st for the promotional price of $249. After that, the price will be $299.

I don’t know about you, but even if Flow had half of its capabilities and just found lost files for me on my computer, I’d be grateful. The fact that it manages asset revisions throughout the life of a project, tracks time, and then illustrates it all on an easy-to-follow map just feels like a miracle to me.

How are you currently tracking the life of a project file and all multitude of assets and iterations?

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