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Notion: A New Paradigm in Project Management

Notion Making The Rounds

If you’ve heard of Notion in the last year, you are most likely aware of its rising popularity. Some bloggers compare it to robust, project management software like JIRA. While others tout it as a replacement for note-taking apps like Evernote. Indeed, Notion’s company page even has a link in the topnav that reads “Switch from Evernote”. With all the waves they’re making, it’s pretty obvious Notion didn’t come to play around. So why is it this San Francisco based group is so confident in their product? Well, judging from their About page, Notion seems to represent a kind of paradigm shift – a callback to how the pioneers of the computer age saw the future. And here at Fueled on Bacon, we’re totally down with that.

Our Team Before Notion

Our team is lean, flexible and scrappy. We’re only 6 strong, but we live in 5 different cities across the country, spanning 3 time zones. One of us lives in a van! (don’t worry, it has air conditioning). In order to get things done well and on time, we must have processes to match our team’s personality. We have to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively. Where other teams have the benefit of face-to-face work environments, we suffer time loss simply from half our team waking up 3 hours later than the rest.

Our toolkit had to contain the right programs and systems to mitigate these issues. We used Slack to communicate between ourselves and Uber Conference for more in depth video calls. Google Drive was where all our documents and assets lived – except for really large things, those lived on Dropbox. Team projects were handled through JIRA. Smaller, executive tasks involving contractors were done through Trello. Team members used Sublime to keep notes. And we used spreadsheets to create calendars and timelines. We operated for years using this toolkit – cobbled together with very loose policies on how each one should be used.

It worked. Sort of. It worked the way we needed it to at the time. However, up until recently, our projects have been all-consuming, single-focused behemoths. We were really only concerned with one calendar, one JIRA board at a time. A sudden necessity to change our business model made us realize our old methods were clunky and unwieldy. Its easier to say the trains are running on time when there’s only one you have to worry about. To switch to a new business model we would have to become significantly more organized and nimble.

Enter Notion

It was introduced to us internally. Our team is constantly looking at new applications and technology to keep ourselves sharp and up with current trends. Notion was one such suggestion. It was brought up as a note taking tool – because Sublime is for writing code, not notes. After weeks of experimentation, our project manager found that Notion had a lot more power under its hood than a simple note-taking app. Indeed, one writer for The Verge had this to say after similar testing: “it could feel like I was using a Lamborghini to do a task better suited for an electric scooter.”

It is hard to capture in words just how versatile Notion is. Its creators labeled it as a tool that embodies the original ideas of computer technology. “A tool unlike anything we have seen before.” It conjoins word processing with databases. And of course there are a few others tackling this model as well. Airtable and Coda specifically. But bloggers have opined that Airtable focuses on the database part of this equation. And Coda, while it may well give Notion a challenge in the market, is still in its early stages of development. Notion is beating it in supported browsers, devices, and mobile usability. For now Notion has captured our attention. It can be as simple as a check-box To-Do list, or as deep as a Work Log on par with JIRA. Its a completely customizable experience, the limits of which are based on the user’s imagination. And with an active development team open to taking suggestions – those limits are pretty wide.

So how are we using it?

It started as a way to keep track of development notes. Now, we had always had access to Confluence – JIRA’s version of a knowledge base – but we never used it. We quickly found Notion was so easy to dive into, so easy to link pages and ideas together in a place everyone could access, it filled the gap. From there it became obvious Notion could solve a lot of other problems as well. We set up knowledge bases for each department. Then, added to these were daily task boards, places to store templates, assets, and spreadsheets. Soon all our work on Trello was transferred over. Then JIRA. Even Google Drive saw less use. We began to consolidate our tools and streamline our processes.

Our project manager began developing a template that contained a master checklist of every meeting and step along the way to completing a project. It had folders for each department, and every document they would need. This template could be duplicated with ease, gearing us up for the next client in a matter of minutes. Exchanging information between departments was made more efficient. Work Tickets existed as whole pages with properties that could be customized to suit the needs of a project. All work was tracked here, commented on, and completely transparent. A spreadsheet that started as an audit of a website could be instantly converted into a batch of tickets. At that point we knew we were hooked. Where before our toolkit was bloated and hard to manage, now we had a tight collection of gadgets that anyone could use.

You can bet we’ll be talking about Notion a lot this year. So if you have any interest in this app, you should check back periodically for updates.

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