Less Project Paper Can Make Your Life a Lot Simpler

One of the surprising discoveries made by early advocates of the “paperless office” was that very often emails, Word documents and the like resulted in more paper, not less. Nowadays, as more people get used to the idea of reading of a screen of one sort or another, my guess is that’s becoming less of an issue. Still, in some areas the need for paper is stubbornly hanging on. One of them is project management.

Lots of PaperThrough experience I’ve learned that whether you want to reduce the amount of paper because you’re environmentally sensitive or just want to be more efficient, it can be done.

At my last gig, I wanted to go green, or at least greener, (baby steps!). I was completely fine with not carrying around tons of paper and presentations. The trade off was carrying around more gadgets and gear. It was an investment to get what I needed, but it was worth it.

When I decided to go paperless, I had just gotten an iPad 2. Besides eliminating my need for my my old Franklin planner and sloppy notepad, it provided apps for either typing or writing with a stylus that seemed pretty efficient.

So I’m happy with my paperless approach. But to decide whether it’s right for you, there are some things to consider.

The Investment

Can you afford the gear you’ll need? Do you have a tablet or laptop that’s easy to use and which you can tote around easily? If not, there are tons of options using Android, Apple’s iOS and other platforms. I’m partial to my iPad, but that’s only because my computer at home is an Apple, which makes it easy to sync up. You might prefer to connect an Android device to your desktop, whether it’s PC or Mac. Of course, do some research around your particular needs and preferences before you go out an spend any money.

Create a Workflow

Once you’ve got your gear together, create your workflow for major tasks on your list and your work day. (Actually, you should give this some thought before you go out and buy anything, but you won’t be able to nail it all down until you get a hand-on feel for your devices’ capabilities) Think about how you want to leverage your gear, what paper-based items you can replace quickly, and what things you need to ease into.

For example, notes and simple memos can easily be written on a tablet or laptop, or even some smartphones. For me, this was the easiest thing to translate from paper to gear. It proved part of the theory, too: Using my iPad saves me time. It’s allowed me to eliminate the need to type up in my hand-written notes. I can just write it up on my tablet and move on. It makes my teams happy as well: They liked the improved timeliness.

The iPad’s also streamlined my approach to meeting documentation. Depending on the gear you use, you may be able to stop printing off tons of documents for project team discussions. Get a good projector that connects to your device so you can project information for all to see. They’re not super expensive, and it’also nice to have everyone looking up at the same thing instead of looking down while you’re presenting.

You may not have to purchase one if your clients have projectors of their own, and most probably do. Just get in the habit of reserving one before your meetings. This can be one of those simple things that keeps slipping your mind, so just set up alerts on your (electronic) calendar a few days before the meeting take place.

This is an area where the iPad became a key element in my workflow. Today, I use a stylus and take notes and send them to my laptop for any projector needs. I’ve also got apps to that allow me to create diagrams and sketches. It’s a lot easier to do this on a tablet than a laptop or desktop.

The iPad’s camera is good for taking a quick photo of discussion notes on a whiteboard and sending it out to my team for immediate feedback. That way, I can deliver those notes quickly, without having to work from memory or handwritten notes that may have missed something.

Tell People

Make it known that you’re going paperless, and be flexible. Inform management. They may already have a policy in place, have similar goals, and may even spring for some of your equipment. You also need to get your team’s buy in, and ask whether they have any concern about your approach.

When transitioning, the biggest issue I encountered wasn’t even about my equipment: It was about the iPad’s image. Remember, not all of your clients will know what you know about mobile devices and what they can do in the business world. Some people thought I was just playing around. At the time, I was working at a company with a very formal culture, so I knew that might be an issue. I assured them that I wasn’t just entertaining myself, but if they continued to think I wasn’t being effective, I would change my gear.

I’m still using my iPad.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Comments

  1. BY PM Hut says:

    Hi Cathlynn,

    I think that using a PM tool (one that is online) will be a sufficient replacement for all the project papers. You can add sketches, documents, images, etc… to any task.

    I think that going 100% paper free is a panacea, because you still need some signatures on some of these documents (unless your company allows/accomodates digital signatures).

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