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Dan Rose | 08.28.18

Project Hubs: The Anti-PM Tool

If you’ve ever spent time in a project management tool, you know how frustrating it can be to get a high-level view of a project.

Often lost in the mounds of messages are critical links and agreements you might spend hours trying to find later. Clarity is understandably difficult to achieve in robust tools that need to accommodate many audiences—but clarity is primarily what our clients need in a PM tool.

Heck, so do we.

While we wait for the One PM Tool to Rule Them All™, we currently use Breeze to coordinate project tasks internally, we (somewhat reluctantly) use Basecamp (2!) for client communication. While they offer the functions we need on most projects, they lack any useful overview of important project links, milestones, or dates.

Perhaps ironically, the overview we seek is achieved through yet another tool:

The Benefits of Using Project Hubs

Back in 2013, Brad Frost introduced the world to Project Hubs on 24 Ways:

A project hub consolidates all the key design and development materials onto a single webpage presented in reverse chronological order. The timeline lives online (either publicly available or password protected), so that everyone involved in the team has easy access to it.

Brad Frost, ‘Project Hubs’ on 24 Ways

Save for the fact that we run our timelines in chronological order, we haven’t departed much from Brad’s example in his repo. We’ve updated some styles but the foundational elements have remained the same.

For us, Project Hubs have cut through the clutter of project management and provided our project teams with an incredibly practical resource. Having employed Project Hubs for a few years now, here’s a look at some of the most significant benefits we’ve seen:

Continuity

One of the most difficult, perhaps awkward, situations to navigate is the illustration Brad paints in his article: A meeting starts, only to have various team members fumble around looking for the most pertinent documents you’ll be discussing.

We start almost every meeting with the Project Hub pulled up on our screen. Even if a Google Doc agenda exists, the Project Hub gives everyone a quick frame of reference as to what topic and documents we discussed previously and which ones we’ll be discussing that day. We also find it helpful to update the Project Hub with links to meeting notes.

Decision-Making Roadmap

Let’s face it: project teams are prone to having people outside of the team weigh in on, and sometimes overrule, important aspects. As is often the case, these “outsiders” aren’t involved in the discussions and iterations that led to a particular result.

We’ve used Project Hubs to more-or-less safeguard these situations from having devastating impacts on projects. Instead of scrambling to find evidence to support the team’s direction, handy, chronological links can provide an easy-to-follow map of how a decision was made, making it more difficult for someone to overrule it.

Learning Curve

Though the hope is to keep it minimal, any software is going to require a learning curve. In the worst cases, we’ve found that members of the project team will circumvent using the tool because it’s too difficult for them, which usually means important information is relegated to inboxes. Not ideal.

Project Hubs, however, have a fairly shallow learning curve. It’s a list of dates, titles, and links. That’s it. The whole no-frills thing is intentional here—there’s typically no logins to keep track of or workflow to find your most ideal view.

Access

A quick note about the no-logins aspect for a moment: by default, we’ll put the Project Hub behind password protection to keep aspects of the project confidential, but it’s not always required by our clients. For organizations who prefer to freely share the link internally, removing the password is a good option.

Additionally, there are times when we’re designing “in the open”, so the ability to share a link that requires nothing to the viewer to see is a huge benefit.

Timeline

Though not impossible, it can also be difficult to get every team member on board with using a PM tool’s native calendar. Conversely, the linear presentation of Project Hubs make it easy for us to convey and adjust when certain checkpoints or milestones will occur. It’s difficult to articulate, but a Project Hub’s list format makes it feel easier to grasp significant moments on a timeline than a traditional calendar view.

Noise Level

Our Project Hubs don’t allow for commenting or really any other content than labels and links. As a result, they’re often the least noisy aspect of our projects, which is an important trait for a resource that is essentially the project’s source of truth.

A Trusty Sidekick

None of the above is to say that Project Hubs are meant to make PM tools obsolete. In fact, we link to Basecamp from our Project Hubs quite regularly. There will always be a need for a tool that allows team members to have discussions and assign tasks. That’s why we focus the use of Project Hubs—they’re the companion resource that allows team members to gain access and clarity to the most important, high-level project items.

It’s possible that Project Hubs could/should be the first layer of a PM tool, and we’ll be on the lookout for anyone who gives this approach a shot. In the meantime, we’ll happily use a standalone Project Hub to support the more granular information found in our current duo of PM tools.

While it’s currently HTML we FTP to a server, we’ll no doubt WordPress-ify this handy resource in the future. If you’re working with Project Hubs, we’d love to hear about it.