Airtable Implementation

Context

When I moved into my role as Associate Director of eLearning Development at SCAD, I inherited a legacy system for managing the course development schedule. A Google Sheet formed the core of the system, which included a Gantt chart and a list of courses organized by quarter, with deadlines listed in columns. The Gantt chart was useful for planning development cycles and balancing workloads, but not for tracking progress. The sheet with courses and dates provided just a static picture of the planned timeline.

We used Basecamp to collaborate with SMEs and other stakeholders, and it served that purpose well.

In the existing system, team members did not have a way to view just their courses, and the spreadsheet did not highlight whether a course was on track or delayed.

I wanted to revise the reporting system to make development deadlines more visible for all team members. I also wanted the team to have the ability to communicate course status upstream so I could be proactive in removing bottlenecks and adjusting timelines.

Audience: SCAD eLearning Staff
Timeframe: 4 Weeks
Deliverable: Reconfigured Project Management Information System
Tools: Alternatives Analysis, Airtable
My Role: Project Manager / Analyst

Goals

  • enhance the transparency of course status and deadlines. 
  • create more relevant global and granular views of development data
  • give team members individual dashboard views of assignments.

Approach

Any new tool or reporting system had to integrate seamlessly into existing processes and tools without adding additional work to the staff. First, I evaluated all of our current tools.

I tested potential solutions with filters and conditional formatting in Google Sheets. I discussed my goals with Basecamp engineers and researched third-party integrations to make sure I wasn’t overlooking an obvious solution. I collected suggestions for project management software from the team to test, and I tested about a dozen tools with actual course schedule data.

Through my research, I was able to clarify the purpose of our tools and develop a list of functionality criteria to define what the reporting system needed to do.

Insights

  • Basecamp was the perfect tool for organizing in-process project documents and streamlining project-level communication.
  • The Google Sheet was useful for creating simple Gantt charts for creating development schedules. However, team members did not benefit from the Gantt chart and preferred seeing a list of deadlines and milestones.
  • The solution needed to provide a tabular view of course data that could be customized for each team member.

Result

I moved the list of courses in development to Airtable, which is essentially a spreadsheet application that provides more sophisticated grouping and filtering than a Google Sheet.

In Airtable, I created specific views based on course status and team function. Each team member was able to create a personalized view of course assignments.

In Progress View of Courses Grouped by Status

In this view, the courses are grouped by “delayed” and “on-track” so it’s easy to see which courses need immediate attention. A similar view grouped courses according to which stage of development they were currently in. That view made it possible to spot potential bottlenecks where only a few team members handled a particular task (e.g., QA).

Group View

Each group (instructional designer/writers, instructional designers, and media designers) view had a unique view. This view brought transparency to team performance and made it possible to see where to reallocate resources.

Individual View

Each team member could also create their own private view to organize their courses as they wished. Instead of seeing dozens of in-progress courses, they could focus on just their courses.

Onboarding the Team

The learning curve for Airtable was minimal because the team was already familiar with spreadsheets. I could also send links of specific views to external copy editors to limit the access they had to development data. After building the main views in Airtable, I created a guide for the team and introduced them to the new system.

Reflection

I enjoyed working on this project because it was about wrangling and organizing data in order to make it accessible and useful for short-term and long-term purposes. Analyzing our tools helped me gain a better understanding of our department’s tools and information needs.

From this project I learned that the best tools are the often the ones that are suited to a specific purpose. In this case, all we needed was a spreadsheet that did a bit more than an average spreadsheet. By taking a systematic approach and not just jumping for the solution that merely seemed okay, I was able to discover a solution that worked better than expected and that was quickly adopted by the team. 

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