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How we work: open book project management

By Charlotte Littley on 11 November 2014

Open book project management

At Articulate we strive to be approachable, responsive and ‘no drama’, which often equates to being honest to the point of transparency with our clients. This is why our project management process is totally open.

We work collaboratively and write in pairs, but we are also a virtual company so it’s important we keep everyone in the loop about what we’re doing and when. Transparency makes sense to us.

By transparency we mean using open book project management so everything within a project is available and viewable for everyone, colleagues and clients alike. Here’s how we do it.

What we use

Basecamp.

We manage all our projects using Basecamp. It suits our remote work style and we can invite clients onto our projects too, so they can see our progress for themselves.

How we use it

We don’t hide.

When we start a project we encourage our clients to use Basecamp (if they don’t already) and we invite them onto our project for the work they’ve commissioned. This gives them pretty much the same access to what goes into that project as we have.

Basecamp gives the option to hide discussions or files from clients. This isn’t an option we use much. On the occasions we do, it’s not for the reasons you might think.

We use it mainly for streamlining. Some projects require a bit of internal communication which would be irrelevant (and probably uninteresting) to someone not directly involved in the writing process. To avoid spamming clients’ inboxes with stuff they don’t want or need to see, we sometimes keep our internal conversations private.

Another notable example is interview notes. Interviews are private, even when the interviewee is a customer of our client. We really benefit from having more than one set of interview notes, though, so typically all writers who were present for an interview upload their notes to Basecamp, which we keep private in the interest of the interviewee’s privacy.

Aside from these two examples we put everything out there for the client to see. If we do 60 drafts before we’re happy to submit an official first draft to them, they can see them all.

Why we do it

Not only does being open book give our clients a sense of security and comfort, knowing they can monitor our progress and make direct contact easily; it also aids us with the delivery and feedback process.

Basecamp provides a direct line for communication. We can deliver the work in Basecamp itself, with all the context around it and it provides our clients with one platform to give us feedback, edits or redraft info.

Everyone that’s working on the project will get all the messages (unless the sender chooses otherwise), so it’s simple and easy to move a project forward or tie it up.

What we get out of it

  • It sets the tone. When we’re open and honest with clients they extend us the same courtesy. This can mean the difference between briefs and expectations that are thorough and fair and those that perhaps aren’t so much.
  • More eyes on a problem, more brains applied to it. People can view a project's progress, ourselves included, through all stages of the project. Problems can be picked out early and briefs re-established – everyone can add to it so time needn’t be wasted due to misunderstandings or miscommunications.
  • Constructive communication. We document everything (important) on Basecamp, so everyone has all the information they need in one place.
  • Trust. People trust people who are honest with them. Enough said.

What our clients get out of it

  • Empowerment. Being open with our clients empowers them to get involved with our process. They have a direct line of contact with us during the writing process and emails are sent whenever a project is updated, so it's easy for clients to see what's going on and get involved if they want to.
  • An education. With such an insight into how we work, our clients get a better idea of our time frames, how we communicate with each other and what information we use and discuss. All of this provides them with a clearer idea of how to approach work with us in future.

Making headway

Our process, as far as open book project management goes, is still a work-in-progress. We’re still learning how best to get our clients on board with Basecamp and how best to encourage them to engage with it.

We’re also working out what to explain, how and to whom. What elements of Basecamp need explaining? Is it worth providing guidelines for working with us through Basecamp? If we did would we give them to all clients or perhaps just those who are likely to be long-term?

These are all questions we’ll be working through as we hone our process in pursuit of a perfectly productive, transparent project management process.

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