Dropbox Paper and the art of the project plan template

I’ve been a fan of Dropbox Paper and minimalist word processors for a while now. In fact, I use Dropbox Paper for many of my personal writing projects. Recently, the Paper team added a Project Plan as a document option.

Dropbox Paper excels at taking a minimalist word processor that’s ideal for non-writers. For example, I’d love to use Dropbox Paper for collaboration among a project team. It’s easy enough for a solution architect or other technical staff to handle, in progress documents could be open to the entire team for comments and revisions. Then a technical writer like me can export the documents into a more palatable format to use in final documents.

Now when it comes to project plans, I was a wee bit skeptical that Dropbox Paper could get my attention. Tools such as Microsoft Planner, Trello, and Asana are at the top of my mind when it comes to project management tools. Well, I don’t see Dropbox Paper’s Project Plan competing with those tools, but I do see it as another ally in the war against spreadsheet project management. The Paper team takes their same minimalist approach to a clean, neat Project Plan template as they do with the rest of the application. Using the Dropbox Paper Project Plan template can also remove the temptations of overly complicated Word or Excel templates or just using email to manage projects.

You share a Project Plan just like you would any other document. It’s simple and easy to move and edit tasks around on the interactive project plan. You can just click inside the project plan to add a new task item and assign it to yourself or a team member. There’s also the option to add a description. So simple, a project lead could put the project plan on a conference room wall screen or share it during a web conference and make changes on the fly without stumbling over menus and commands.

Below the interactive Project Plan, the template includes an area where you can put more project details by inserting Dropbox files, media, tables, another timeline, and lists. There’s also a to-dos list where you can @ team members to let them know what tasks you assigned to them.

Final thoughts

Brushing aside my sheer joy over the minimalism of this project template, I have to say that it would work best with team buy-in. After coming of age using Microsoft Project because nobody on the team wanted to learn the application and Gantt charts in general, I began to see that project management is often best handled at the team level. Training on using the Project Plan would be minimal — a demo at a team meeting — but it means the whole team has to be up and running on Dropbox Paper.

I’m still waiting to hear more stories about Dropbox Paper in the enterprise. In a job like mine, Paper — not just the Project Plan — could serve as a valuable tool for getting information from busy content contributors who don’t want to trouble themselves with Microsoft Word.

Hey there! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content development manager living and working in the Washington, DC area. After spending years focusing on technical and SDLC documentation, much of my work now focuses on thought leadership content and marketing collateral. My articles have been published by DevOps Agenda, Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

Dropbox Paper, Quip, and the rise of the minimalist word processor

Like a lot of people, I just spent some time checking out the new Dropbox Paper via the browser interface and using the mobile app on my iPad Pro and iPhone. As mobile devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note7, iPad Pro, and Surface Book Pro gain in popularity, the door for a minimalist word processor opens even wider. Here’s how the main screen of the Dropbox Paper beta looks on Google Chrome running on OS X:

My initial reactions to Dropbox Paper remind me of the same reactions I had when Quip launched back in 2012. We had been long overdue for a minimalist word processor at that time. I think the market is still wide open to the possibility today. Here’s a look at the Mac version of the Quip app:

Working as a technical writer has meant I’ve often had to make Microsoft Office and Microsoft Word in particular work for myself. While I applaud some of the advancements that Microsoft has brought to Microsoft Office over the years especially when it comes to SharePoint and OneDrive integration, I still have to say that Microsoft Word has grown too cumbersome for the average users.

By default, as a technical writer, I’ve had to answer my fair share of Microsoft Word questions over the years from my co-workers around me. I even spent time on a team supporting the rollout of a new version of Microsoft Office to a major federal agency. Before that, I was a technical reviewer for some commercially published Microsoft Office books. Sprinkled during that time were some articles I wrote about Microsoft Office based on my frontline experiences.

Some lessons I learned about Microsoft Office:

  • Microsoft Word has grown inordinately complicated for the average user
  • Word templates are a lost cause with some users
  • Font fondling is a productivity drain

I’ve been working from home for a majority of the past four years, so I do a lot of collaboration. While in the past, I used to push using track changes with Microsoft Word for collaborating on document reviews. I see Quip and now Dropbox Paper better suited to the task because both word processors take away the confusion/intimidation of red track changes while keeping track of changes and enabling you to roll back changes when and if necessary. Here’s another taste of the Dropbox Paper UI minimalism:

The advent of Quip and now Dropbox Paper make me wonder about the future of document templates. There’s indeed a case to make if documents stay in an application like Quip or Paper that presentation could become secondary or not even needed at all. To make this happen, Salesforce needs to stick behind Quip, not do what they did with Do.com which shutdown in January 2014 (Do.com came out of the Salesforce acquisition of Manymoon). Quip needs to be of two worlds:

  • Salesforce ecosystem all the way
  • Open to non-Salesforce customers

I write a lot of technical content and think that perhaps the popularity of today’s content management systems are taking a larger part of the presentation layer role than ever before. It’s been more than fifteen years since I’ve had to deal with getting documentation printed and bound and I’m just fine with that.

Mobile apps, minimalism, and word processing

It wasn’t until the iPad Pro did I feel like writing on a tablet was for me personally and professionally. I switch back and forth between Microsoft Word, Ulysses, and the Quip app when I’m writing and editing my own work. To be fair, the Quip app has the benefit of a few more years of iterations versus the Dropbox Paper app which is still in beta, rough edges and all. Here’s a look at the beta of the Dropbox Paper app running on my iPad Pro:

Future of the minimalist word processor

I’ve worked with enough users already who’ve shown me that the future of the word processor is minimalist. It’s just the fact that the rest of the world is just waking up to that fact. Startups, innovative business units, and the gig economy are the folks you can expect to be driving the minimalist word processor.

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.