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New to TechSoup Battles? Find out what it's all about and check out our previous challenges.This review is part of our fourth challenge, on team project management tools.

Is your organization working for a better way to coordinate your work in an online, flexible way? In this TechSoup Battles review on project management tools, I’ll be looking at Huddle.

What is Huddle?

Huddle describes itself as the “#1 SharePoint alternative for enterprise collaboration and content management in the cloud”. Here’s another way to think about it: Huddle is an online space where you and others inside or outside your organization can coordinate your team or project work.

What does Huddle do?

Huddle lets you create multiple workspaces, which are areas for your team to collaborate. Within each workspace you can have files, tasks, whiteboards, discussions and meetings. You can control who has access to the workspace, and even who has access to specific files. When you sign in you see your personal dashboard across all workspaces, and you can search across all workspaces as well.

Personal dashboard in Huddle

Files

One of Huddle’s biggest selling points for server-based organizations is that you can securely upload and share files inside and outside your organization (Huddle has put a big emphasis on security since some of their customers are large enterprises and governments). You can arrange your files in a directory structure, control access at a file level, comment on documents, and create approval workflows for documents (i.e. assign a specific person to review and approve a document).

Request for document approval in Huddle

(Yes, it looks weird because I asked myself to approve the document!)

If you want to edit a document you can “lock” the file, download it, edit, and upload your changes. All the versions of the file will be tracked so you can go back if you need to.

The weakness of Huddle Files in my opinion is with cloud integration. The only option is to upload files; there is no way to integrate with cloud file systems like Box.net or Dropbox; nor can you link to Google Documents.

Tasks

Creating and assigning tasks is clean and simple. You describe the task, set the status, give it a start & end date, and assign it:

Adding a task in Huddle

To me, this is good and bad. I originally started off of thinking of Huddle as a project management tool in the sense of task management, so I was quite disappointed to see how simple tasks are. There is no way to create any kind of grouping or dependency between tasks, and no way to set project milestones. So I think the task functionality could be good for simple uses; however if you are looking for more robust task management you will want to use Huddle alongside another tool.

Whiteboards & Discussions

Both of these functions are aimed at keeping information more central and visible to the whole team.

Whiteboards are like simple wiki pages that you can edit. I could see these being useful for keeping general information, meeting minutes or brainstorming notes. Only one person can edit at a time - which some people will really appreciate, but will probably frustrate Google Docs users.

Discussions are like email threads, but they are posted in the workspace, creating more transparency about what has been discussed. I really like that it’s well integrated with email - when you create a discussion you can choose who is notified, and others can reply directly to the notification email without having to log into Huddle.

Meetings

Like with any calendar tool, you can create meetings for people in your workspace. Outlook users will get a proper calendar invite in their inbox, allowing them to accept and add it to their calendar (I also tested with Google Apps; you do get a notification but not something you can add to your calendar).

Users also have the option to sync the workspace with their calendar via iCal (I tested with Outlook and Google Calendar) so you can see meetings and tasks right in your calendar.

Adding a meeting in Huddle

Overall

Huddle makes it easy to learn about their product. I’ve been pretty impressed with Huddle’s knowedgebase and the “Huddle University” which have lots of great videos and answers to your questions. They also have an interactive demo where you can click around and get a feel for Huddle without having to sign up for a test account.

I think what Huddle does well as a project management tool is that it:

  • Creates an online space that is independent of whatever other systems you or your collaborators are using
  • Everything is in one place, not scattered through email or various file systems
  • Does a few things and it does them well, with a clean and simple interface
  • Sends smart email notifications to keep the relevant people looped in, even if they don’t sign in to Huddle

Is Huddle right for me?

Based on what I’ve seen of Huddle so far, it will be a great fit for nonprofits who are:

  • Any size, large or small
  • Have multiple locations or branches, or staff who telecommute
  • Working with external partners/consultants
  • Wanting to improve collaboration & information sharing with their board
  • Use server-based technology (especially Microsoft-based environments) - though this is not mandatory, but I think Huddle would complement it well

I don’t see Huddle being as good a fit for a nonprofit that has already made a significant commitment to the cloud (e.g. Google Apps). In this case you would already have equivalent or better versions of some of the functionality - file sharing, document collaboration, etc, so you would be better to choose a project management tool that integrates with your cloud tools. The main exception to this I could see is if you wanted a separate environment to work with a certain team who doesn’t want to use your cloud system - for example your board.

To finish, I’ll share this comment from the Girl’s Action foundation (originally posted on Platformation.ca):

“Girls Action Foundation recently started using Huddle as a collaborative evaluation platform. Huddle allows us to easily connect with network members from across the country. As an online working group, Huddle is a space for us to share anecdotes and reflect about how we know if girls have changed after participating in a program. The file sharing and discussion features in Huddle allow us to share evaluation questions, tools and plans that we have used in our organizations. Huddle is super user-friendly and a great tool! We now use it for numerous working groups and as our extranet. Huddle is transforming how we share and interact externally with our network and internally as a team

– Laura Stanford”

Interested in learning more about how other nonprofits are using Huddle? Check out our case study on how Huddle Improves Team Collaboration for CERIC

Have you used Huddle? What did you think?