I am currently working for a University on their online course team. The person that is managing the course development is struggling a bit to manage (from a high level) the workflow, which is currently a very complex Excel worksheet.

Basically: We have 50+ modules, each containing up to 10 units. She has to liaise with the authors, proofreaders, content designers (me + 3), Finance, and various other parties.

So, let's say units 1-2 are live, unit 3 is ready for putting online, units 4-5 are in proof-reading, unit 6 is back from proof reading and has gone back to the author for amendments, and 7-10 are awaiting writing.

Multiply this by 50 and you'll see it gets VERY complex.

So, how should a situation like this be managed best? Maybe Excel is the best option as it's visual and "all there" in one interface - however it's completely manual, and no way to (for example) link email correspondence or add notes easily to each module or unit...

Personally I think it needs a custom solution (web based) - unless something exists.

  • Look for a non-custom solution first. It's somewhat rare to encounter a completely new workplace problem that no one else has faced and that no tools have been developed for. The initial discomfort during a few weeks of adapting to an off-the-shelf application is worth it if it saves you from having to spend time and resources on in-house development and maintenance. (Emphasis on maintenance.)
    – Pedro
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 0:39

2 Answers 2


That sounds like the perfect case for a board. I'm explicitly not saying scrum or kanban board, but a board. To visualize all the different modules as cards with their current status and additional information, maybe due dates etc.

Personally, I like Trello a lot, it's online, the basic version is completely free of charge and you can create your board and cards as you see fit.

There are countless other systems, though, you need to pick the one you like best.

  • 1
    ++ but I might look for something other than Trello. It doesn't handle interdependent cards well.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 17:29
  • Double + for Trello. It's pretty flexible, easy to share with people and simple to understand. I was the product developer for a book with 20+ authors, several artists and the normal overhead for a book to be produced. We tracked it all in Trello to great effect. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 0:31
  • 1
    physical board first, then trello, then jira I would say
    – Ewan
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 12:08
  • @Ewan A physical board costs money and real world space. In my experience, before skeptical people shell out money, they want to see something. And Trello (or the alternatives) cost nothing, they don't need approval, they fit in any budget.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 12:40
  • well, trello is free is you already have a computer and the internet, a physical board is free if you already have a wall and post-it notes
    – Ewan
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 12:42

You have several task types (in various workflows) and several of this.

Software solutions always boil down to the people who need to enter or maintain data, timely and correctly.

I've managed document preparation process using excel, for 200-300 different documents. Good thing is, it's all there, you can easily get pivots, watch some priorities etc. bad thing is, excel sometimes crashes and sometimes people mistakenly overwrite/lose some records (fill down, copy paste, mis-delete etc).

With that in mind, excel can still be organized to effectively tackle the everyday problems. Instead of one huge excel, a few different excels for different flows can be used. A dashboard style excel can be a viewer of the data in those files. Especially for tracking some processes this can even help out people. Adding emails is possible in excel (either linked or embedded), I didn't use it myself but it's possible.

Keeping status and Data (document pieces) are different things. So, basically you keep data at where it needs to be (in documents etc) and only include keywords (if necessary) in the status book keeping excel files.

I'm a fan of JIRA, especially if it is already used by the group. Otherwise it's probably not worth the effort to set it up and try and see.

Boards, as defined in the other answer, are also useful but 50 modules can be too much to keep on online or wood boards.

If the docs are managed at some product data management system, that system may already have/allow status reports.

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