Friday, 19 November 2010

Introducing Pipelines and Activity Sets

We're introducing two new features today that really help you get things done faster and more efficiently in Insightly. They're called Pipelines and Activity Sets.


A pipeline is a linear series of steps (stages) that can be defined for both projects and opportunities. If you repeat the same series of steps over and over for different projects, you can define a pipeline for those steps so you can visually track progress and see exactly where you are, what you have already done, and what you still have left to do.

You can also assign tasks to a stage in a pipeline (via Activity Sets detailed below), and when you progress to that stage, the tasks associated with that stage are automatically added to your project or opportunity. When you have completed all the tasks for a stage, you can progress on to the next stage. It's a good way of mapping out a workflow and making sure you don't miss any important steps along the way.

Pipelines might be best illustrated with an example. A pipeline for creating a new software feature for Insightly might look something like this:

Step 1: Strategize and think about feature aims, whats required, how it might work
Step 2: Map out rough sketches for what screens might look and iterate
Step 3: Develop HTML screens for feature
Step 4: Write code for new feature
Step 5: Test
Step 6: Launch to Production
Step 7: Update documentation, website, and add blog entry

Now we have each step mapped out, we can input them into Insightly. The pipelines configuration is found under the Settings menu in the top right (gear icon) accessible to Administrators. Our new pipeline is for projects, because we will create a separate project for each new feature we add to Insightly.

Next we can add the steps (stages) to the pipeline that we just defined above. Click on the 'Edit Stages' hyperlink next to the pipeline to add the stages in. After adding in our seven stages, the pipeline looks like the screen below, and you can see Insightly visually draws the pipeline  for you above the stage list.

Now, when we create a new project we will have two extra dropdowns in the creation form which enable us to choose a pipeline and a starting stage to use for the project. We're going to create a new project for the awesome new 'Activity Sets' feature we're building, so we choose our new pipeline for this project.
Finally, when we view the Project details, Insightly visually depicts the pipeline and highlights the current stage in blue, so we can easily see exactly where we are up to in the workflow, what stage is coming next, and how far we have to go. Advancing to the next stage in the pipeline is as easy as clicking on the 'Change Stage' hyperlink to the right of the pipeline.

Activity Sets

Activity Sets are like a template for a series of tasks (activities). If you find that you repeat the same set of tasks over and over for different actions - like 'qualifying a lead', or 'developing an opportunity', you can create an activity set to save you the time of having to create each task individually every time you start the process. Activity Sets can be applied to contacts, organisations, opportunities and projects, and they can also be associated with stages in a pipeline.

Administrators can setup Activity Sets under the Settings menu (gear icon in top right). The first step is to specify a name for the activity set, and to choose what it applies to (contacts, organisations, opportunities or projects). 

We will use the process of hiring a new staff member to illustrate how activity sets work. First we create the activity set and give it a name, in this case we're calling it 'Staff hire', and it's for projects as we will create a new project for recruiting a staff member.

Next we add the activities involved in hiring a new staff member. Insightly allows you to specify the number of days after the activity set is applied for each task to fall due. Insightly also allows you to skip days like Saturday or Sunday so tasks don't fall due on weekends or when part time staff are not working. 

So our task list might look like the following:

Task 1: Review resumes (due after 2 days)
Task 2: Create short list of favored applicants (due after 3 days)
Task 3: Phone interviews of short list (due after 4 days)
Task 4: In-person interviews with potentials (due after 6 days)
Task5: Send out offer letter to successful applicant (due after 7 days)
Task 6: Confirm acceptance and schedule orientation (due after 14 days)

To add the individual tasks to the set, click on the 'Edit Activities' hyperlink to the right of the Activity Set details. After adding the tasks, the set looks like the illustration below:

When we create our project to recruit a new staff member, we can apply our new activity set to automatically add in the tasks. You can apply an activity set to a contact, organisation, opportunity, or project by accessing the Actions menu. We click 'Add Activity Set to Project' for this one.

The last step is to choose our new Activity Set from the list, and click the 'Add Activity Set to Project' button to add the tasks. We can see the breakdown of tasks to be created, when they are due, and who's responsible, after choosing our activity set from the drop down list.

Activity Sets associated with Pipeline Stages

Activity Sets can also be associated with pipeline stages. When a stage commences, the activity set is applied to the project or opportunity and all the tasks for that stage in the activity set are created. You can associate an Activity Set with a pipeline stage by choosing it from the dropdown when editing or adding pipeline stages, as shown below.

When tasks associated with a pipeline stage are added to a project or opportunity, they show a blue 'S' and the number of the stage in the pipeline in the task list as illustrated below.

Pipelines and activity sets are a great way to capture and save repetitive workflows, and to visually see at a glance where in a workflow you sit and what actions need to be performed next. They can be a great time saver and a powerful way to automate repeat actions in your business.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Introducing the Insightly Gmail Gadget


We just put the approval stamp on the shiny new Gmail gadget so it's now all official and out of beta, and we're proud as punch of how it turned out. When we initially designed and conceived Insightly, one of the things we modeled our process workflows around was email. An awful lot of important business communication these days is done via email, and recording and actioning email messages in an efficient and productive way is a big part of Insightly.

With the introduction of our Gmail gadget we can finally bring the productivity advantages of Insightly much closer to the source, right within Gmail itself. We are big fans of Merlin Mann's 'Inbox Zero' email management system and we kept the principals behind that in mind when developing the gadget - we wanted to make Gmail emails more actionable.

We had two overriding design criteria in the development of the gadget: make it simple to use, and make it fast. I think we achieved both.

Right from within an email message in Gmail you can create a new task, create an opportunity, or create an associated project. Insightly will also cleverly link up the email sender to the task, opportunity or project if they are already in Insightly.

The gadget can also retrieve and present all the information Insightly has on the sender of the email. You can see at a glance the recent history for the contact or organisation, and the date and time of the last actions you had with that person. It also displays the contact details, photo, and background information, all very conveniently shown right beneath the email itself. It also conveniently links to the contact or organisation's information page within Insightly so you can quickly pull up Insightly at exactly the right page.

Setting Google Apps Domain Permissions

In order to allow users within your Google Apps domain to use the gadget, the domain administrator has to set permissions for Insightly within the Google Apps domain administration. Click on Insightly in the list of applications for your domain, then click on 'Grant data access' to enable the new gadget features for users in your domain.

Once you set the permissions, the gadget make take up to 20 minutes to appear at the bottom of each users email, as it takes time for Google's Gmail servers to propagate the settings. Also we've found users may need to log out of Gmail and then log back in for the gadget to appear.

Adding Tasks, Opportunities and Projects

You can add tasks, opportunities or projects associated with the email by clicking on the appropriate button. Insightly will automatically fill out some of the details in the form from information contained within the email to make things a bit quicker.

Viewing Sender Info

To see what information Insightly has on the sender, just click the Sender Info hyperlink next to the buttons, and the gadget will retrieve all the latest information for the contact or organisation associated with the sender's email address.

We spent a lot of time designing and building our Gmail gadget with the hope of making our users a lot more productive in their day to day work, so we hope you like it as much as we do !