To get things done as a team, we use a lot of tools. Each tool serves a different purpose; Trello to collaborate, Slack to communicate, Sketch to design, Github to store our code, Dropbox to share our files, and the list goes on and on.
The toolbox keeps expanding and after a while the lines between what tool serves what purpose becomes very vague;
"Why is that important document stored in our group chat and not moved to the correct Dropbox folder? Or did we use google drive for those kinds of documents because that works better with our legal tool? Wait.. which legal tool did we use to process these kinds of documents?"
With time your shared toolbox starts to contain tools that overlap each other in certain features. For instance, you bought a hammer because it came with a nail remover (we need that!), but after using it for some months, your employees start getting irritated because hitting a nail over and over hurts their hands. To keep everybody happy you decide it's best to buy another hammer, one with a more comfortable grip. One inconvenience, that comfortable hammer doesn't have a nail remover.
You end up using two hammers. Part of your employees like using the old hammer better, because it was already getting the job done. The other part of the team didn't use the first hammer that much and didn't develop much callus on their hands because of it. They end up using the more comfortable hammer and grab the other hammer only if they need to remove a nail.
It's not very efficient to have two hammers. What could you do about it?
- Stick with the first hammer and require your employees to develop some callus on their hands at the cost of temporary pain?
- Look for a hammer with nail remover that also has a comfortable grip? It is a bit more expensive though.
- Or do you ditch the old hammer? After gathering some feedback from your employees you hear that nails are very rarely get pulled out. And that it's also possible to use a plier that is already in the toolbox, but requires a little more effort to pull the nail.
As you can read, you have many options when it comes to this problem. And I am certainly not telling you to stop using your tools if certain features overlap. However, I do have some suggestions on how to manage your toolbox better.
1. What tools are you already using?
Let's begin by listing all the tools you already use. I suggest that you use a spreadsheet. This way you can filter the list once you have written down all your tools, which is handy for the following steps. Make the following columns;
In what category does the tool belong? Some categories are; communication, collaboration, finance, development, marketing, and HR. You are probably thinking of other categories already, go for it!
How many people use this tool? Do two or three people only use this tool or is the entire company using the tool? If you don't have an answer to this, you may want to send out a survey to everyone in the company to gather this data. Tip; don't send an individual survey for each tool, bulk it.
You could go more in depth by writing out every user's name. If you think two tools overlap you can easily ask people using both tools about their findings and if they prefer one tool over the other for the same work.
What does it cost you? Is the payment monthly or annually? This column will help you spot high-cost tools and to determine if the price of the tool outweighs the output.
You'll be surprised at how much money you can save. Sometimes you find out that a lower tier package already includes every feature you need. You'll probably also find some tools of which you didn't you were paying for them (expired trial). The only way to discover these surprise expenses are by analyzing your bank/credit card statements.
How often is the tool used? Use pre-defined options for this (again for filtering purposes). One way to categorize frequency is to label the options as;
"We use this tool..."
- once every few months
- once every few weeks
- once every few days
- every day
Pros & Cons
Create one column for each. What makes you come back to the tool? And what would you like to change? These two columns will help you greatly if you ever come across a similar tool or already have an overlapping tool.
Who is in charge of the tool? More on this later on!
2. Which tools serve the same purpose?
Now that you have a list of all the tools look per category what tools serve the same purpose. Here are some things to look for;
Are you still using a tool that you've replaced by something else?
You wanted to move from Dropbox to Google drive but still didn't make the time to migrate all the files. As a consequence, everyone is using both tools and is getting confused.
Which tools have overlapping features?
You use Basecamp for your projects, but also use Slack as the company chat. Why did you choose not to use Basecamp for your group chats? And do you still think it's a valid reason to use two tools?
Which tools did you try, but didn't get rid off?
Sometimes you try out a tool out of excitement. You initially thought it would be way better than the tool you were using at the time. When the initial shot of dopamine was gone, you decide the old tool was more robust. The tool still contains some files that you haven't backed up yet, and you are still paying the monthly subscription.
How much do you gain from using this tool?
One of the most overlooked expenses is tooling. Often we tell ourselves that we can justify a tools price based on what it will give us in return.
Filter your spreadsheet on price. How many tools are used seldom, but costs an arm and leg? Those are the ones that are the easiest to spot. However, there is one thing that is often overlooked; how much does it cost to train everyone to use this tool? Even if the tool is free, it can become quite expensive to learn it. If the tool is powerful but overly complicated, it sometimes can be a good idea to look for a replacement. Also, don't forget that the more tools you use the more time a new employee needs to settle in.
3. Give somebody ownership over the tool
Just like you have product owners, you should have tool owners. This person is responsible for configuring the tool, maintaining the tool and to make sure that people are properly educated on the tool.
Configuring the tool
Most of the time a tool needs to be configured. Filling out small forms, uploading the company logo and make sure that everyone receives and knows of the invite. If someone didn't receive an invite, he directly knows who to address.
Onboarding and education
The tool owner should be responsible for onboarding every user. He does this via presentations, writing documentation and checking in with the users of the tool. His sole mission is to make sure that everyone can get the most out of the tool.
Maintaining the tool
A good example of maintaining a tool is the use of Dropbox. Most of the time you agree on a particular file structure; legal documents go into the legal folder and the design files are ordered by date and client. The tool owner responsibility is to make some time in their schedule to check if these rules don't get broken.
Evaluate the tool
Most importantly the owner is responsible for evaluating the tool. Plan in time to evaluate the tool once or twice per year. Is it still useful? Did it live up to our expectations? A good idea would be to create a short survey for every team member that uses the tool to help you determine if you'll stick with the tool or look for an alternative.
4. I need another tool!
Now and then you encounter a tool that sparks your interest. After scrolling through the features page and watching the video it hits you; "if we use that tool, we are going to make MILLIONS!". Before you throw your credit card at it, make use of the trial.
Use the trial
Sometimes you encounter a tool that sparks your interest, you talk about it with your team, and within 20 minutes of discovering it you are already signing everybody up. Don't do this. Sleep on it. If the excitement is still there, ask two team members to try the trial with you.
Most tools have a 14-day trial. Use all of this time to test the tool thoroughly and make a list of things you would like to know before you enter your credit card details. Some questions could be;
- Do I already use a similar tool? What pro's and cons does it add?
- What do we gain from using this tool (over the current one we use)?
- Does that gain outweigh the (added) cost?
- What features are you going to use? Do those actually work? Or does it just have a pretty design? For instance, if the tool is great on 99 of the 100 points, but the 1 point that isn't so great is used 99% of the time it may not be such a great tool after all.
- How much time do I need to onboard and educate the team?
5. What about the tool that I am replacing?
If you choose to replace a tool, set a deadline for when you are going to cancel the subscription. Shut it down sooner than later to prevent any confusion later on. Ask yourself the following questions;
- Do you need to migrate data from one tool to the other?
- Who needs to migrate that data? In many cases, this is the responsibility of the tool owner.
- How long is that migration going to take? Also, take into account the time it will take to onboard and educate everyone on the new tool.
- Who is going to be the new tool owner? Or does that stay the same?
Finding the right tools for your toolbox can be of great value for your business and remote team. But the line is very thin between adding value or clutter. Just be mindful about your excitement when something news comes along.
I am confident that if you schedule in an hour next week to make a spreadsheet of all the tools you use, that you will get great insights on how to improve your toolbox and maybe even save some money down the road.
P.S. Why not apply some parts of this post for your private toolbox and subscriptions? After making such a spreadsheet myself, I canceled some of my subscriptions. Either because I forgot I paid for them or decided that the benefits didn't justify the cost.