TECHNOLOGY TRENDS: A Special Focus on Productivity and Survey Tools

Improve Productivity

Technology Has Completely Changed the Way We Work and Communicate

By: Michelle LeFeve, Consultant at Courtland Consulting

My work at Courtland Consulting allows me to share with many courts, agencies, organizations, and businesses our knowledge of new tools and technology trends that can help people do their job and market their programs and services.  This Technology Trends article is the first in a series that I will be writing to share how people and companies are taking advantage of new tools to collaborate and work on projects, which ultimately helps save time and money.

In the information age, and with the movement toward mobile-devices, we are connecting data, people, and applications together more than ever before.  There are now over 207 million U.S. consumers who are using smartphones according to a recent Static report.  How many times per day do you check your mobile phone? A study found that the average smart phone user checks the phone 85 times per day (Source: Nottingham Trent University study).  Our mobile devices have become an inseparable part of our lives.

These facts probably are not shocking for some of you but it does prove that technology (such as mobile devices and social media networks) has entirely changed the way we communicate with one another.  With this change comes the ability to customize and personalize tools to conduct business, which has made collaborating between teams and groups even simpler and easier than ever before.

For this first article of the series, I will be focusing on productivity and survey tools.  The tools listed below offer a license free or “freemium” version, free trial and/or low-cost monthly fee.

Productivity Tools

There are now affordable and easy-to-use products available that can function as your own customized, project management office to help organize your projects and tasks at the click of a button.  These tools are called productivity tools and they are revolutionizing how people and businesses manage projects and teams.  Two productivity tools to explore are: Asana and Trello. Both tools allow you to create an account on their website at no charge and you can immediately start adding projects or tasks.

Asana’s tasks, projects, conversations, and dashboards provide a very user-friendly and easy way for teams to track projects from start to finish. The site navigation is displayed cleanly on the left to add projects and team members.  The center of the screen shows your project task list and helps you easily see responsibilities and next steps for a project. In Asana, you can set each task to have a due date, team member assignment, upload files, and add conversation comments – all information is centralized in one location.  You can see progress at a glance for any project and email reminders can be automatically sent to team members for past due tasks, which can cut down time on follow up and status meetings. 

For charting progress, Asana integrates with a freemium tool called Instagantt that provides visual Gantt reporting.  The free version of Instagantt allows up to three projects at a time and you log into Instagantt using your Asana login.  You can easily reset dates, duration, and task completion.

The Michigan Family Support Council’s Program Brochure and Website Committee (Committee) has used Asana to help achieve its tasks. “For the last two years, we used Asana to manage the creation and design of the annual fall conference program brochure.  There are over 75 project tasks and about 15 Board members and volunteers that require collaboration and tracking to collect information and conduct final reviews for the conference program brochure.  Asana functions as the Committee’s project assistant with tracking volunteer tasks and it has saved a tremendous amount of time.”

Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize projects in a more visual and flexible way.  Cards let you keep track of everything your team needs to do or remember in one place. Team members can open cards to add details like checklists, due dates, files, and comments.

Trello Screenshot

Trello has a Power-Ups function that adds different features and integration add-ons to help with project and task management.  These range from screenshot image attachments, file sharing, calendar to social media, web conferencing, e-mail marketing, and more.  With the freemium version of Trello, you are allowed to use one PowerUp at a time.  One of my favorite Power-Ups is the Gantt chart feature that works with Elegantt.  You can view your project and tasks via the cards and Gantt chart at the same time and you can make quick adjustments to tasks, resources and due dates.

Some in the field are already using these resources, such as Maureen Peterson, Friend of the Court Analyst and Operations Coordinator from Kalamazoo County said, “I was introduced to Trello at the Michigan Family Support Council fall conference in 2016. I started to use it with Anita Smale-Bilek (MiCSES Analyst and Senior Consultant at Courtland Consulting) for the Friend of the Court User Group. We are able to move around potential agenda items, future agenda items, and message each other back and forth as we talk about topics. I have also introduced Trello to the Strategic Planning Committee that I chair in Kalamazoo County.  This Committee has used it to brainstorm and share ideas without the back and forth of e-mail. Co-workers of all different technical skills were able to quickly learn how to use the tool.”

Over 60 percent of customers say using Asana has reduced the amount of e-mail and status meetings with their team.  This is incredible!  What would you do if you were able to get back 14-28 percent of your workday by lessening the amount of administrative tasks?  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to cut down on e-mail in their inbox or meeting time.

There are many productivity tools to choose from and you can assess which one is best for the features you need based on your budget. If you are looking for more robust project management and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, which are a higher cost but offer bigger benefits for larger teams, look into these tools as an alternative:  Basecamp, Harvest, Wrike, Mavinlink, ProWorkFlow, WorkFront, and Workbook.

Survey Tools

Online survey tools help you create and send surveys with ease and offer robust analytics reporting to make smarter decisions with data. You can conduct surveys tailored for customer satisfaction, employee engagement, event planning, market research, and more.  I will be presenting information on the product, SurveyMonkey, because there are already many Michigan agencies and courts who are using this tool or are interested in using it.  In addition, a brief list of alternative survey tool products is provided at the end of this section.

SurveyMonkey has a user-friendly interface and the flexibility to create simple to sophisticated surveys.  SurveyMonkey is fast and easy to use with survey templates.  All of SurveyMonkey’s survey templates are mobile compatible and you can create a survey from scratch as well.  

SurveyMonkey has an intuitive design that includes a summary page to show high-level information such as real-time results of submissions and quick links to edit the design, set methods for collecting responses, and view or generate data reports.

The type of question and specific wording of the question impacts how you get information and the success of the survey. SurveyMonkey does a great job at providing tips to help you plan your survey and it contains a variety of question types that you can choose from, such as multiple choice, dropdown, star rating, rating scale, ranking, demographic questions, and more.

You can collect responses online via mobile, web and social media, and perform manual data entry for responses you may receive offline.  With the paid version of SurveyMonkey, you can buy responses from specific target audiences if needed, and it also allows you to customize the survey URL link.  So instead of a combination of jumbled numbers and letters, it can be named as something more relevant, like “XYZ2017survey”. 

To analyze results, you can view the data onscreen and/or generate and export a report. SurveyMonkey’s paid version has a text analysis feature for open-ended questions that searches and categorizes responses by frequently used words and phrases, which is a great time-saver for researchers and analysts.

Renae Topolewski, Friend of the Court (FOC) Director in St. Clair County, has been using SurveyMonkey to meet her office’s needs.  “Implementing a new program can be tricky. SurveyMonkey can guide you on the effectiveness of a program, satisfaction of the customer, and if improvement is needed. We have used it for our new program called, ‘Especially for Parents – Understanding the Friend of the Court’.  We were able to easily create a quick survey to collect the data we need.”

There are many survey tools to choose from and you can evaluate and compare features to find the best one to match your needs.  Other survey tools to consider:  Poll Everywhere (limited to 25 responses per question), SurveyPlanet, Google Forms, SurveyGizmo, and TypeForm.

Taking Advantage of the Opportunity

The rapid pace of evolving technology continues to change the way we work and offers new and exciting opportunities.  Companies who develop these new software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools are fiercely competitive with each other and they are designing these products extremely easy to use, affordable, and include all the right features that we need.  The tools shared in this article have improved processes, streamlined administration time, and increased team collaboration. With a little time investment on your part, you can learn on your own if you can benefit from any of these resources.

I hope you find this article beneficial with learning and exploring new avenues to help support and manage the important work you do for your court, counties, and communities.  Feel free to send me your thoughts or how you have used of any of these tools.  Look for the next Technology Trends article series in the next issue of The Pundit.

Meet the Author:

Michelle LeFeve is a creative type who works as a project manager, writer, communications specialist, speaker and trainer. She is passionate about helping people learn new skills using technology to improve efficiency in the workplace. She loves being a mom, good conversation, and a strong cup a coffee.  Connect with her at: lefevem@courtlandconsulting.com or Twitter @MichelleLeFeve.


Website links for tools mentioned in this article:
www.Asana.com, www.Instagantt.com, www.Trello.com, www.Elegantt.com, www.Basecamp.com, www.Harvest.com, www.getHarvest.com, www.Wrike.com, www.Mavinlink.com, www.ProWorkFlow.com, www.Workfront.com, www.Workbook.net, www.SurveyMonkey.com, www.SurveyPlanet.com, www.Google.com/forms/about, www.SurveyGizmo.com, www.TypeForm.com

Article Disclaimer:  With some of these tools, the freemium version only offers limited features vs. the paid version with more bells and whistles.  You can review the package differences on each product’s website.  Product packages and pricing are subject to change based on its provider.  If you have issues connecting to these tools from your county or state office network, then you will need to work with your IT Department for approval/access or as an alternative, these tools have free mobile apps that you can install or use via a web browser on your tablet or smartphone.  Do not publish confidential information when using any free software tools.


The Pundit’s May 2017 Newletter original PDF or Blog format can be found using these links:

Original PDF Article: http://courts.mi.gov/Administration/SCAO/OfficesPrograms/FOC/Documents/Pundits/Pundit_May2017.pdf

Original Blog Article: http://michildsupportpundit.blogspot.com/2017/05/technology-trends-special-focus-on.html

The Pundit is a quarterly newsletter published by the Michigan State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) Friend of the Court Bureau.

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