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Can you use Slack for project management?

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The short answer is no. At least, not by itself. When used effectively, Slack is a powerful add-on to your project management toolkit.

Slack is a collaboration tool for teams. With more and more teams operating in a virtual environment, and stakeholders wanting instant answers, it’s a great way to stay in contact with your colleagues.

However, Slack goes beyond messaging. It integrates with many project management apps, and Slack is useful for providing a central hub for all the chatter that goes with projects.

A 2017 survey showed that teams using Slack had:

  • 32% less email
  • 23% fewer meetings
  • 24% of features (in technical teams) delivered on time
  • 27% less time required for software testing
  • 10% improvement in employee satisfaction.

In short, teams using Slack benefit from better communication, collaboration and get results: work is finished faster and to a better standard, with happier people. What’s not to love?

OK, so the IDC report, The Business Value of Slack, was sponsored by Slack, but frankly I’d take results half that good. You should be considering your project collaboration tools as part of your comms plan.

So how do you use Slack to support your project management processes?

Slack Channels for Project Management

Collaboration and chat is managed in channels inside Slack. If you had everyone “talking” at the same time, to everyone, it would get too confusing. You can invite people to a channel. You might already have Slack within the organisation, with channels for different departments.

Here are some example slack channels for project management that you could set up.

  • # Project name: set up a channel for your project team
  • # Project sub-group: got a lot of one type of subject matter resource? Or is one group just very collaborative and the others don’t need to hear it all? Create a channel for that group, workstream or sub-team
  • # Testing: create a channel for your project testing group, including core project team members and user acceptance or user group participants
  • # Project Managers: create a community for your project delivery professionals and the PMO within Slack.

Your channels can be public (or at least “public” within your company), so anyone can browse the discussion, or private.

The huge benefit is transparency. I thought the biggest disadvantage would be managing information overload, but if you Slack workspace is well organised, that really doesn’t happen. I check Slack at regular points and you can see if there are new messages to read.

Elizabeth Harrin using Slack on her phone

Slack Integrations for Project Management

Slack doesn’t replace your project management tool – unless you are doing something small and relatively easy. For most projects, you are going to need something else as well to create your Gantt chart or Scrum board, for example.

Good news! Slack integrates with so many things! This is helpful for project managers because you can use your preferred project management tool (and if you need help choosing, here are all my software reviews), and your colleagues can pick up notifications in Slack. They don’t have to learn to use another product because they can manage their tasks and work from within Slack.

There are a lot of project management apps for Slack including integrations with:

  • Trello
  • Asana
  • Jira
  • Wunderlist
  • Todoist
  • Evernote
  • Smartsheet
  • Projectplace
  • monday.com
  • Wrike
  • MeisterTask
  • Backlog
  • Teamwork Projects
  • TeamGantt
  • Workfront
  • Paymo
  • Google Drive and Hangouts

And more! It’s definitely worth checking to see if what you use can integrate directly with Slack.

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Slack Project Management: An Example

I asked expert user, author and digital project manager, Brett Harned to talk about how Slack helps him and his project teams get work done.

Brett Harned
Brett Harned

Brett Harned is a Digital Project Management consultant who works with several teams to better their project management practices. He often finds himself working remotely with large teams and is always looking for a tool to help him manage from a distance. Brett has been using Slack as a central communication platform since the tool hit the market in August, 2013.

“Slack has been quite useful when it comes to keeping in touch—and building a rapport—with remote project teams. It helps to build a team environment on projects where that could have been a struggle due to geography,” he says.

Read more about communication in virtual teams.

Brett and his teams use Slack to communicate real-time about project details and decisions. There have been times when using Slack has allowed the team to come to consensus on design deliverables and cut down on wasted project time.

For instance, on a website redesign project, a designer wanted to share basic sketches for the team to review. She posted the designs in Slack, and the team was able to comment on the files and have a brief discussion about the direction the design was taking.

Previously when this was done, it required a meeting of some sort. But with Slack, quick replies with notification of who was typing, as well as emoji responses to comments cut down on the typical clutter and helped the team get to the point.

As a project manager who is always in meetings or traveling, Brett enjoys the mobile version of the app. Not only does it mirror the experience on desktop, it’s easy to post responses and stay engaged with the team on the fly.

Brett has also found numerous other ways to use Slack. He’s been communicating with other project managers in a private account where they share ideas and resources. He also uses Slack at the Digital PM Summit, the conference he organizes. All event attendees, speakers, staff, and volunteers can join the account and organise themselves around topics, activities, and sessions.

It was a great compliment to the in-person experience and was proof that many project managers enjoy using Slack.

How to Stay Productive Using Slack

The only drawback that Brett finds about the app is that almost too much conversation happens in Slack. There are times where important project decisions can be made within the tool, and not communicated to the rest of the team.

“Just as with every other tool we use, we’ve had to set up some rules around how the team use Slack—and are sure to share important project information with everyone—in and out of Slack,” said Brett.

Quick tips for avoiding Slack overwhelm

  1. Set guidelines for yourself and your team.
  2. Don’t try to follow everything “just because”. Let people talk to each other without being the gatekeeper.
  3. Make sure people know what to use Slack for and when to use email, your project management software or something else.
  4. Learn the keyboard shortcuts and the commands. You can format your comments with a few keystrokes to make them stand out. You can even create your own commands if you need something bespoke.
  5. Create a notification to trigger for keywords – or your name – so you can be alerted to the things you are most interested in.

What is Slack Useful For?

Slack is useful for lots of things on project teams including:

  • Improving collaboration and communication
  • Setting up automated reminders via the Slackbot (for one-off events, you can’t manage recurring tasks)
  • Manage your To Do list items by starring or pinning comments, or using the To Do bot
  • Collaborating on documents with the ‘posts’ feature
  • Storing files
  • Making voice calls so you don’t have to open up Zoom or Skype
  • Acting as a full project archive for decisions and discussion.

Slack has a powerful search engine, so I’ve never had a problem finding anything again.

Example of Slack on Windows
Example of Slack on Windows

Get Started with Slack on Your Project

1. Create an account

First, get yourself a Slack account. It’s free.

2. Create a team

Then, create a team. If your company already uses Slack, use the company “team” that already exists. It becomes difficult if you have too many places to look for information.

3. Set up your channels

Channels are the fundamental categories you’ll use for your discussion.

Think about the topics you need to discuss as a group, and whether you want those channels to be public or private.

Slack iPhone channels
Slack iPhone channels

4. Set up your integrations

Integrate the project management apps you use for the processes Slack can’t do, like scheduling.

5. Chat… but use threads

Start the chat! Talk to each other online. Share documents.

For a while, when I first started using Slack I did the equivalent of “reply to all” every time I made a comment. If someone asks a direct question, you can post a response to that specific comment, instead of posting the answer five comments down.

Make sure everyone knows how to use Slack threads to streamline the conversation and keep discussions tidy.

Collaboration Tools for Project Managers
Collaboration Tools for Project Managers

My book, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers, gives a lot more information about how to set up and get started with tools like Slack in a project environment. So if you need more information about how to get your team using Slack (or any online collaboration tool), you can check out the book.

Once you’ve got the basics nailed, you can do more and more with Slack to make it useful for your project team.

Have Fun!

Slack only works as a collaborative tool if everyone uses it – that’s the same for any collaboration tool. It has a low learning curve if you can cope with the constant drip-drip-drip of messages (turn off alerts!).

Making a tool easy and fun to use is a definite tick in the box for user adoption. And Slack HQ has put time into building an intuitive, fun to use, interface.

If gifs are your thing, you can drop those into Slack easily!

Work should be fun, and Slack makes it easy to build relationships and create a fun team culture. That’s one of the reasons Slack is important to project managers: we need to make it easy to get work done, and making it fun to do the work (or at least, not awful), is part of creating a great team environment.

Key Takeaways

Slack is a good solution to add to your project management toolkit if:
  • You work on a fast-paced project with the need for people to collaborate frequently
  • You have or can create guidelines to avoid the overwhelm
  • You can set up and use the integrations to your project management software of choice to avoid people having to use two systems (or more).

Pin for later reading:

Better Communication for Project Teams with Slack

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Glenna says

    15 March, 2016 at 3:23 am

    I’m with Holly on the rules comment. Well thought out guidelines is something worthy to be shared. Pretty please?

  2. Holly says

    18 November, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Hi Brett, would love to see the “slack” rules you referred to above! Maybe a post for another time…

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