6 October 2013

Revolutionizing my information management (thanks to OneNote)

Where I started
About a year ago, when I switched my professional role and focus from "Linux Administrator" to "Technical Project Manager" I was facing the challenge of managing the broad amount of information that was necessary for my daily work.
To give you an idea: Back then I had to manage and offer technical consultancy for 3 videogame projects that were all in different phases (Live, CB, (Pre-)Alpha) with all different architectures, documentations, configurations and so on.
Also it was always bugging me having to search for files and info when I was requested for it, like "Which server does IP belong to?", "How was this defined in the TDD?", "What did we agree on in the last meeting?".

First ideas
First of all, I wanted to have a paper-version as it's always present in front of me and can be carried around all the time. Another big requirement was the fact that it had to be very customizable in terms of categorizing content. Latter brought me to the idea of hacking a moleskin notebook as a lot of people do.
Although this seemed perfect in terms of flexibility, I quickly realized that the amount of info and documents was too much to get it sorted with a paper notebook. So I decided to stick with my Moleskine as a to do list and collection of data that rarely changes. Additionally, I got a free promo notepad for scribbles and brief notes.

Looking for a software-solution
So, realizing that paper won't do the trick, I had to lookout for software to do the trick.
I know Evernote is quite famous so I tried this amongst some other cloud-based tools (Primarily Google Keep, Springpad). Apart from the fact that these won't be allowed for business-use within my company due to the secrecy of the products, they also disqualified very early due to the lack of proper categorization that I wanted (At least 2 hierarchies: project & subcategory per project).
   To make a long story short, I tried a lot but finally a talk with one of our Producers fn a AAA-title pointed me to the right direction. He explained that he uses OneNote as a document and info-dump. We didn't talk much about the possibilities of it but it was enough to do some research and eventually test it myself after I saw it quite often (meaning: I saw it is part of the office suite and some people use it to write meeting minutes and send them around as a full notebook file)

Why OneNote is ranging from quite to very underrated
Shortly after opening it and creating my notebooks, I realized, that it actually is exactly what I wanted and I feel is perfect for my situation (and anyone who has to handle multiple projects and different info therein):
  • Instead of my required minimum of 2 hierarchy levels for categorization, it offers more than 3 (not even including subpages)!
  • The implementation in Windows and other Office tools is incredibly good
    • You can drag & drop documents into it letting you choose between a print-out, a link or storing the doc as is
    • ...and also drag info from it into another application like Outlook (Attach Files from a note onto an e-mail)
    • OneNote installs a new "printer" that lets you print any content into your Notebook
  • It's as easy as Word but without the usual %&§$%&§$ in formatting and arranging content but with powerful improvements
  • You are hardly limited in any way, being it number of categories, size of pages, size of notebooks and more
  • You can create templates for pages and even define templates as default for a specific category (i.e. meeting minutes)
  • You can save single pages as PDF right out of it ...and even sent it directly via mail using Outlook
  • You can search through all your open notebooks
  • You can record audio and video in it (great for calls/meetings) and clip from your screen (like the MS "Snipping Tool")
  • Very important: You can easily share it using built-in (sharepoint, network) or 3rd party (cloud) storages like Dropbox (or SkyDrive)
Usually it's quite hard for me to be really impressed by software, even more when it's part of the Office suite that usually doesn't offer much innovation, however this tool really lets my heart jump as a PM and "information hoarder".

How I organized it for myself
As I already knew how I wanted (or had) to categorize the information I had and it was obvious from the first moment that OneNote was perfect for me, I started with the following setup:
  • Creating a notebook for every project I manage plus an additional two for "Personal" and "Department Related"
  • Creating a scheme of required sections in every project notebook
    • Decisions / Approaches - To keep track of decisions and approaches for projects that are still in early production
    • Documents - TDDs, Architecture documents, diagrams, ...
    • Documentation - Requirement lists, lose documentations and infos, …
    • Meeting minutes - obvious one (having a meeting minute template configured as default)
    • Reports - All reports for this project
    • Misc - For stuff I pick up that doesn't fit in neither of the other categories
  • After this, it's basically about creating pages and - if necessary - convert them to subpages until the desired level of depth

What I got out of it
After this was done and all the info and documents I already had on my PC and in my Outlook was filed appropriately, I was always prepared for situations where I was requested certain info or needed it for myself to look something up or bring something back into my mind.

What's next
My main goal was to share with you how I - for me - revolutionized my way of collecting and gathering information having it at hand whenever I need it without much effort. Also how it helped me manage the overwhelming amount of information spread through single files, sharepoint, confluence and most horribly emails (Especially using a slow Outlook with an even slower "Vault") was tackled perfectly and I seriously can't think of how it would be without it.

Thanks for bearing with me through the wall of text and if you have any questions or tips, let me know!

Have a great week.