You’ve heard the saying, “It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.” You can gain a lot of business efficiency with a well-organized project management system and you can burn through a lot of time trying to use one that’s not configured well, or that your employees haven’t been trained to use.

Getting the most out of project management software starts outside of the software program.

To that end, we’re giving you tips to streamline your business so that you can select and configure software that will introduce even more efficiencies. If you already have project management software, but find it cumbersome to use, the first few tips will help you streamline the system you already have.

Step One: "Bottle Your Services"

The most helpful thing you can do for your business is to examine the types of jobs you do or services you provide and get the process or steps down on paper. The amount of detail you record for each step is up to you, but the more thorough you are, the easier it will be to get help managing projects. “Bottling services” helps create a de-facto training manual, as well.

Here’s how to do that.

Divide your service or project types into phases and list the steps for each phase. (The reason you want to divide the project into phases is so that you can track progress on a high-level basis and on an individual task basis. Most project management software will allow you to do both.)  

For example, a landscape design/build project could have the following phases with some of these underlying tasks. In this example, “Intake” is a phase, and “Meet with client” is a task.

  • Intake
    • Meet with client to determine interests/needs
    • Take measurements and gather data
    • Prepare estimates/proposal & refinements
    • Contract signing
    • Collect first payment
  • Concepting
    • Creating mood board
    • Developing plant lists
    • Presenting concepts to client and getting approval
  • Planning
    • Creating plant lists
    • Creating construction drawings
    • Client review and approval
  • Purchasing/Acquisition
    • Securing permits
    • Purchasing plants
    • Purchasing hardscape materials
  • Scheduling
    • Scheduling subcontractors
    • Scheduling inspections
  • Build
    • Hardscape installation (could be in phases)
    • Plant installation
  • Closeout
    • Inspections
    • Deliver final paperwork to client
    • Final client walk-through
    • Final invoice

To go further, you can indicate the person responsible for each of the tasks and some general time frames for phases or tasks. Perhaps contract signing generally happens one month after the first meeting.

Project management software is a system, which means it works best with consistency. The more you can dial in your work processes, the better you can fit them with a software to help you track.

Step Two: Create Client/Job Naming Conventions

Now that you have your services “bottled,” you can work on client management. It is much easier to track assets across a system, from project management to files, if every client has a name that’s appended to every file and with which every task in your system can be tagged.

You’ll need one central place (google docs are good for this because they’re “live,” so you always know you’re working with the current version, but if you have a CRM system, it might have a place where this info can live), where you can list the following information:

  • Client name(s): Mr. & Mrs. Whosiwhatsit
  • Client position (if corporate) n/a
  • Client phone: 999-999-9999
  • Client email:
  • Mailing address: 1234 House Way, City, State, 43579
  • Project address:
  • SameClient/Project “tag”: WHOIS
  • Text ok Y/N?: No

Take special note of the tag “WHOIS.” That is what will follow the client throughout all of your systems, processes, files, emails, etc. It’s like a homing beacon or tracker. If you use it in email subject lines, project line items, and more, you can easily search for assets and tasks.

Step Three: Set Up File Management

With the first two steps completed, this step will be straightforward. Simply create folders or file storage areas (virtual and/or paper) for each client with their tag appended to the front of the name. WHOIS-Project, and within it, folders such as WHOIS-Contracts, WHOIS-Planting Plans, WHOIS-Permits, and so forth.

If you want to truly be on the ball, set up a “template” folder with interior folders that your project types require. Then when you onboard a new client, you can copy the template folder, add the client tag, and you’re in business!

Step Four: Trial and Select Software

If you already have software, streamlining your system using the first three steps will help you get the most out of it. If you don’t have software, getting your services on paper will help you choose one that’s right for you.

Things to consider when reviewing project management software:

  • What are the biggest pain points that  you want software to help you manage?
  • Do you need one with a phone app? If you’re frequently in the field, this can be incredibly helpful.
  • Do you need a hybrid CRM/project management software that can help with invoicing and client contacting, or just project management for internal organization?  
  • Do you like to review information in lists or more visual blocks or calendar views?
  • Is automation important to you?

There are project management systems tailored toward the green industry and more general, heavily used systems such as Trello, Basecamp,, and Asana. All can be configured to help you manage your business, as long as you know what you’re managing.

Step Five: Configure Software to Conform to System

It’s much easier to configure software when you’ve completed steps 1-4. (Really, the secret to efficiency — finding, filing, and tracking progress — is in using the client tag or name consistently throughout your system.) Individual software has different configuration procedures and steps, but at a minimum, you’ll want to make sure that each step of the project is completed with the following information:

  • Client Tag
  • Due Date
  • Person Responsible

Within client records, you'll also want to include:

  • Contact information
  • Location of assets and files

Ensure that the person responsible will receive notifications about upcoming due dates.

Step Six: Train Employees to Correctly Use System

“It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.” Once you’ve developed the system, ensure that everyone knows how to use it  — what the processes are, how to use client tags, and so forth. It’s a good idea to have one person be responsible for keeping the system “clean,” as in, items tagged properly and due dates set. You can do this yourself or hire someone inexpensive from and train them to keep everything organized.

The more clients you have, the more likely you are to need help managing the system, but even small businesses can see huge strides in efficiency improvements by implementing these strategies.