Like snowflakes, no two agencies are the same. Fortunately for snowflakes, they don’t have to deal with organisational software. Finding one that “fits” is practically a full-time job. A near impossible full-time job. Because unless you build one in-house (a la 37 Signals with Basecamp), compromises will be made and the agency democratic process will be put to the test.

Here at Cinder we worked through several trials and iterations over approximately six months before arriving at our current system. While no means complete, thanks to team members’ patient testing and suggestions, we now have a functional process that works. Here’s how we got to this place.

Jira
Jira is great for bugs. Bug reporting, management, and assignment…you name it. Unfortunately Jira’s weakness lies in the more vague to-dos and general organisation. A programmer’s dream was an account manager’s nightmare, so after a minor mutiny, we agreed to look into other options.

However the Jira experiment was not completely in vain – we still use the Atlassian Confluence feature as a knowledge base/document library.

Asana
For all intents and purposes, Asana should have worked. At a glance, it functionally seems to tick all the boxes. We were using it to manage individual projects; perhaps as agency workflow management tool it would have lacked some of the flexibility we required.

Anyway, for whatever reason, Asana didn’t stick. No hard feelings Asana.

Smartsheet
Although originally brought in for project management, this has now been hacked to include our weekly priorities and high-level weekly work assignments. In theory, a spreadsheet could also work here, but why use a spreadsheet when you could use a *smart* sheet? Amiright?

But in all seriousness, the range of Smartsheet prebuilt templates are fantastic and we like the range of column styles (traffic lights, drop downs, dates etc) available.

Trello
Ah Trello, finally the porridge that was just right. Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch – there were some teething problems, but we’ve now got a system which works (thank you organisation gods!).

Being visually appealing and simple to use is what got it in the door; its flexibility is what saved it in the end. After trying a few different layouts of boards and lists, we have a single board consisting of a list for each staff member. There are “divider cards” that the list owner can use to prioritise their work (today, upcoming, to be assigned, etc.). We essentially took what we liked from Jira and used it in Trello.

While easy to ignore (Trello sends a lot of updates unless you update preferences), Trello’s alerts and notifications are also a useful feature.

The takeaway of all this is patience and agency buy-in. A “perfect platform” people hate using is not going to be very successful. Plus in all likelihood, no one platform is going to meet every requirement. When browsing, keep an open mind and try to look at options in terms of potential rather than straight out of the box features. Be willing to take some time to get a feel for each system before dismissing them – some creative hacks may be necessary (and are, in fact, recommended).

At Cinder, we talk about all this a lot less now than we did a year ago, which is lucky since we’re busier than ever. Less talk, more just getting on with the next item in our Trello list.