Taming The Chaos With Integrated PM Tools [Case Study]

Choosing the right collaboration tool for your team is very difficult. I’m co-presenting at PMI EMEA on the subject and my fellow panellists have been sharing some very interesting research as we put our presentation together. Maria Cristina Barbero, from Nexen Consultants, is on the panel with me and her team have extensively researched collaboration tools for project managers.

I’m paraphrasing, but basically they conclude that there is so much choice but still project managers can’t find something that meets their needs perfectly. This is at odds with the organisational requirement to do more challenging projects, deliver more with less and provide better data and management information.

It’s a sticky problem.

The overwhelming choice can mean that you end up with lots of different systems that all do a good job, but just don’t talk to each other. When you know that’s your problem, you’ve made the first step to being able to do something about it.

That’s exactly what Rebecca Angelos did. I love hearing stories of how project teams took ownership for making themselves more efficient and I was pleased to hear from Accelo about how Rebecca’s company turned it round. Let me tell you what happened…

New Company; Same Problems

Acquisitions can be a tricky time for companies and the staff that come together as a result. Rebecca Angelos saw that first hand when Harris D. McKinney acquired the digital agency where she was working, Zoomedia.

After the acquisition, Rebecca got an insight into the challenges facing the HDM team in Chicago. “There were a lot of systems,” she says. “They were using Basecamp, and they were using Clients & Profits to enter time but nothing was talking to each other.”

Luckily for the newly-formed HDMZ, Rebecca had solved that problem previously. “It was the same thing that I walked into at Zoomedia in 2011,” she says. “When I walked in, it was organized chaos. There were a lot of systems; people were using different things. The systems that were in place, no one liked.”

Interoperability Fail

The first problem that Rebecca and her team were facing was a breakdown in collaboration. “Nothing was talking to each other,” says Rebecca. The system the project management team used wasn’t helping with people actually doing client work, and then you had the sales team stuck in Salesforce and they weren’t communicating downstream. So you never knew what was coming down the pipeline. Finance and billing was separate again in Quickbooks each role felt kind of organized, but when you stepped back and looked at the business, it was chaos.”

The mix of systems caused some management headaches but worse was the impact on staff trying to serve their customers. There were persistent failures in internal communications. “Even though one project manager was using Basecamp to manage their work, people would have to use another system to enter time,” says Rebecca. “While obviously inefficient, it really hurt the most when trying to get things done. For high value clients on tight deadlines no matter how much you try to hide it, so much friction, so much waste and so much frustration isn’t something you can keep out of client sight.”

Increasing the Learning Curve

On top of the disruption to projects, the Zoomedia team also struggled to get new team members on board. Rebecca speaks from experience: “When I came aboard, I had to get trained in these different systems, and it was like I couldn’t keep them straight,” she explains. “Do I go to Basecamp? Do I go AtTask? Do I go to the wiki page? Time was entered here; management was entered here, and sales were entered over there and it was very overwhelming.”

As VP of Operations, Rebecca was in a position to do something about it. The answer was an integrated system.

Fixing the Disconnects

When Rebecca and her team started using Accelo, the email capture functionality in the system revolutionised the way they worked. “The number one thing for us is the communication tool,” Rebecca says. “The fact that emails are captured is the big piece of it.”

Now, project teams can keep up with client work at all times, even when someone goes on holiday. “So many times people have gone on vacation and you are trying to figure out what the heck a client said,” Rebecca says. “I can go in and find the client, and I can find the conversation and know exactly what happened.”

It’s also easier to bring new project team members up to speed: they only have to learn the one system and use one login for everything.

Fast-Forward to the Acquisition

So Zoomedia was finally working in an integrated, joined up way, with project teams staying on top of the various strands of work required to get any digital project off the ground. Then the acquisition happened.

“The one reason for the acquisition was each company complimented each other without redundancies,” Rebecca explains. In her new role as SVP of Operations, she was well aware that the problems her new HDM colleagues were facing could be fixed with the help of some switched-on technology.

She showed them what Accelo had done for Zoomedia, with the hope that the newly formed HDMZ would adopt it everywhere. “I showcased Accelo to their project management team, and they loved it,” she says. The company was sold on a more efficient way of managing projects, time and other client information through a tool that pulled it all together for them.

Increasing Efficiency

“There were three different sheets that our Director of Project Management was maintaining on a daily basis in order to keep track of everything,” Rebecca explains. “Then if you had a project to give to somebody, it was literally a piece of paper or it was a folder or it was like, ‘You have to have to do this.’ So everything was all paper-based or conversation-based.”

After the acquisition, the team needed new ways to be more efficient, and they knew that the answer wasn’t paper. “Now, you open jobs and see the numbers right there,” Rebecca says. “It’s easier to track, and anyone can go in and see their projects. They know exactly what they are working on by the filters that they can set up. They don’t have to understand the entire system. It’s basically go in, look at your assignments and enter your time. It’s the centrepiece to what we are trying to do.”

This article was sponsored by Accelo.


  1. Curious why Rebecca didn’t use Quickbase since already integrated with Quickbooks and from the same company if looking to consolidate technology and choose something that is customizable and could grow with the team and use cases as they grow?


  2. Communication is the masterpiece of all organizations never mind their brand and size, never their discipline and sector. Project management unfortunately doesn’t escape this logic. Beyond all kind of theory, experience is for project like the blood to the organic human system.

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