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How do you organize, maintain edits, revisions and the relationship between:

  1. Proposals
  2. Contracts
  3. Change Orders
  4. Deliverables
  5. Projects

How do you organize your projects for re-usability?

For example, is there a way to add tags to projects, to make them more accessible?

What's a good data structure to dump all my files on an internet server for easy access?

Presently, my work folder is setup as follows:

(1)/work/
 (2)/projects
  (3)/project_a
   (4)/final (which includes all final documents)
    (5)/contracts
    (5)/rfp_rfq
    (5)/change_orders
    (5)/communications (logs all emails, faxes, and meeting notes and minutes)
    (5)/financial
     (6)/paid
     (6)/unpaid
    (5)/reports
   (4)/old (include all documents that didn't make it into the project_a/final/ 
  (3)/project_b
   (4) ... same as above ...
 (2)/references
  (3)/technical_references
  (3)/gov_regulations
  (3)/data_sources
  (3)/books
  (3)/topic_based (each area of my expertise has a folder with references in them)
 (2)/business_contacts
  (3)/contacts.xls (file contains all my contacts)
 (2)/banking
  (3)/banking.xls (contains a list of all paid and unpaid invoices as well as some cool stats)
  (3)/quicken (to do my taxes and yada yada)
   (4)/year
 (2)/education (courses I've taken
  (3)/webinars
  (3)/seminars
  (3)/online_courses
 (2)/publications (includes the publications I've made
  (3)/publication_id

We're mostly 5 people working together part-time on this thing. Since this is a very structured approach, I find it really difficult to remember what I've done on previous projects and go back and forth easily.

What are your suggestions on improving my processes? I'm open to closed and open source software (as long as the price isn't too high).
I also want to implement a system where I can save most of the projects online to increase collaboration and efficiency and reduce bandwidth especially on document editing.

Imagine emailing a document back and forth 5-10 times a day.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

First off, I would not try to keep track of everything using files and folders. You can start off with the best of intents, but it will quickly become a beast to maintain and sync. For the things which obviously must be stored in individual files, you could use a version control system like CVS, Subversion, or any of the dozens of competing systems, but that will only take you so far. Most businesses are moving to cloud-based applications and storage.

That brings me to a second point: don't reinvent the wheel. You can try to build your own homebrew system that will do exactly what you need it to do today, but in the long run you're better off investing in existing systems that have been battle-proven. There are so many extra corner cases you can't even begin to consider, and by the time you start patching up your in-house system, you'll be spending way too much time trying to hack your system into handling all the oddball corner cases (or just trying to add new functionality), and soon you won't have enough time to devote toward taking care of your customers as well as you would like to. Eventually the cost of maintaining your own system will eclipse the amount you would have paid for some existing, open-source or commercially-available system.

If you're okay with having the documents hosted on Google servers, I'd highly recommend Google Apps (or Google Docs if you want to go the free route) for your documents. It will give you real-time collaborative editing and provides a natural way of sharing documents. It also saves every revision of a document.

I'd suggest using a real accounting package like QuickBooks to keep track of your invoices and bills.

For additional collaboration, WebEx is the de facto standard, but there are also various other free and low-cost web conferencing/screen sharing systems that may also be suitable for your needs since your company is still very small.

To manage all your customer accounts, you should go with something like Salesforce.com or some other CRM system. (But be forewarned, any CRM system will require some amount of forethought and customization in order to be rendered usable for your particular business.) You can try using a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet will end up being very difficult to maintain.

To document your business processes, you should consider setting up a wiki. Going a step further, you can also set up a ticketing system like Fogbugz (if your CRM system doesn't already have one) which allows you to create entries for each of the action items from your meetings, and track the status until each task has been completed.

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