The iPad has been a revolutionary device, bringing tablet computers from relative obscurity into the mainstream. What makes the iPad so compelling “its easily portable size and weight, fast booting, and diverse selection of applications” also makes it a great tool for project managers. Most of us are rarely chained to a desk, and fast, portable access to information is a huge asset. Here are some of my favorite tools and applications for the iPad that could be an asset to any PM:
Calendar and email
The built-in calendar and email applications are boring enough to go unnoticed by most users, but represent powerful tools that are available “out of the box.” Both of these applications will synchronize with popular hosted email and calendar applications, from corporate Exchange servers to Gmail and Yahoo. If you’re a PM for hire, the calendar and email applications can synchronize with multiple servers, allowing you to view a single calendar or inbox that might contain appointments from two different clients’ Exchange servers, your personal Gmail calendar, and a subcontractor’s Yahoo email. Don’t underestimate these two applications.
While the screen technology of the iPad is not optimal for electronic pen use, the ability to easily share and archive notes is a worthwhile tradeoff for me. There are a variety of capacitive stylus pens available for the iPad that improve on one’s finger for note taking.
For software, I use a variety of applications. Noteshelf is my primary tool for entering notes, and despite an interface that does have a small learning curve it is the closest thing I’ve found to writing in a real paper notebook. Two key features of Noteshelf are an ability to export to PDF and email notes and an ability to export to the Evernote application. I use Evernote as a universal repository for handwritten and typed notes, which might include anything from project-related notes to ideas for my next ProjectPlace column. With the iPad and these two applications, my notes are never far away and synchronize across my phone, iPad, laptop, and desktop.
Brainstorming and planning
If you have not tried mind mapping for brainstorming and sessions, you’re doing yourself a disservice. For the uninitiated, a mind map is essentially a graphical outline. Rather than a rigid hierarchical structure, new elements are added to the outline as branches from a prior element, making the process intuitive and allowing ideas to be added to any element of the map.
My favorite mind mapping application for the iPad is iThoughts, which provides a fairly flexible interface and also allows export to a variety of formats, including several desktop mind mapping applications. Once again, one can edit a map on the go on the iPad, then refine it on a desktop or laptop, and turn an ad hoc planning session into a detailed project plan.
iThoughts is a great companion to Apple’s HDMI adapter, which allows you to project your iPad’s screen onto a TV or projector, allowing your team to see the brainstorm as it develops.
The missing file system
For a long-time computer user, the lack of an apparent file system on the iPad was initially frustrating. However, I’ve duplicated the functionality with the Dropbox application. Dropbox support is embedded in the applications I’ve mentioned above, and has become a standard of sorts on Apple and Android devices. Dropbox provides a series of folders that sync to all your devices that have the Dropbox application installed. In my case, I have access to the same collection of files whether I’m on my PC, iPhone, Linux computer, or iPad, all of which synchronize seamlessly.
A key tool I have yet to find is a true project planning application that lets one review and modify Microsoft Project project plans. While it might be tedious to modify a complex plan with my chubby fingers, it would be nice to perform “live” updates to the plan during meetings or discussions with team members.
While the iPad has yet to be the perfect mobile tool, with the right combination of applications it makes a compelling option for PMs and any other highly mobile knowledge worker. What are your favorite iPad applications?