Top Challenges When Using Slack For Managing Projects And Clients

How do you make the most out of using Slack?

If you have to be available for emergencies but want to skip all the noise and offtopic going on, what would you do?

The Downsides Of Using Slack In Practice

project management tool

Even with per-channel notification options and plenty of channels, it’s easy to miss an important convo. Examples:

1) Are client/partner channels on or off? “On” means loads of noise. “Off” means you don’t see emergencies if other folks aren’t on duty.

2) How often do you look into “general help” channels helping out colleagues? It’s a slippery slope.

3) What about weekend options? Slack has no “everything on” switch that keeps you alerts after hours.

Are you using DND most of the time? Setting “Away”? Muting all channels? 

I really hope Slack allows us to introduce new policy changes in-house and reduce the noise for support, emergency, client matters. These are just some of the business challenges we encounter whenever we are using Slack for managing projects and clients.

We relied on using Slack as an integral medium able to gather our team and our clients as needed. However, the nature of Slack quickly turned the conversation into a live chat system that’s easily abused, bypassing our PM system instead, and escalating a lot more to a larger audience than needed.

It’s understandable from a client’s perspective, too. Texting is easy. More folks in the channel means more attention and fewer delays compared to tickets. But the anxiety caused by delays as users aren’t necessarily seeing random channel messages may do you a disservice – or worse.

Using Slack As An Alternative Project Management Tool

Back when we were a small team of 5–6 people, everything was handled in two Skype group chats.

Skype is drastically inferior to Slack and far from capable of handling complex assignments. But introducing complex project management systems to a small team may be overkill.

That said, project management systems exist for a reason.

Simple PM tools like Asana or Trello or Jira can accommodate both freelancers and teams comprised of dozens to hundreds of employees.

Project management systems allow for an organized allocation of resources, providing the required context for executing, handling attachments and briefs, cross-referencing tasks, prioritizing assignments across a sprint.

And designing a sprint in the first place. In a scrum manner or using a Kanban board. Whatever works best for your team.

A growing business deals with various points of operational challenges:

  • Services for clients (or product work)
  • Marketing activities
  • Legal and accounting tasks
  • Recruitment tasks
  • PR/branding activities
  • Internal management sessions or considerations

Even if your core team (the billable one) isn’t used to a project management system in managing projects and managing clients, the company will likely benefit from using one.

Smaller teams would find themselves struggling with a more robust platform like Jira. Measuring velocity is integral for larger teams, and integrations with other Atlassian systems like Bitbucket or Confluence are incredible for large organizations, but not a clear necessity for small ones.

Pivoting an experiment for a month or two won’t kill your business. Start small and measure results. Once the initial onboarding process is over, you’ll likely stick to the PM system for the foreseeable future.

Slack is known for the amount of noise aggregated in chats. There’s no way to track due dates. Assignments get lost easily.

You can integrate almost every PM system into Slack (both ways), posting links to a channel or creating tasks from Slack directly, but Slack is not a substitute for a mature project management tool.

The Slack Mentality

using Slack

The Slack mentality is simply about “always on”. It creates the expectation of people who are always reachable.

Work collaboration? Try using Slack – constantly interrupting and killing productivity, or a project management system that is reviewed twice a day at best, let alone powerful filters and tons of third-party apps improving your life.

Previously used IMs like ICQ or Skype were mostly targeted as 1-on-1 systems (despite the group chats on Skype). Being N/A was expected. Touching base for specific reasons. Notifications “just worked” because you’re not swamped by everything in channels.

My biggest bottleneck really is the lack of properly marking channels as “low priority”. 

For instance, our project management team leads post regular reports on numbers in all project channels. I need to be there for pings and problems, but I don’t have to follow them otherwise. But when I open my mobile Slack, I end up with 50+ channels flashing white and barely can see what I need to track.

Additionally, I do appreciate the opportunity to set desktop/mobile rules but I’ve got a tablet and a second phone with Slack too. Device-specific settings are lacking.

Also no profiles available. Over the weekend, I’d like to receive everything since it’s generally quiet and a message is probably important (and rare). No way to mass trigger rules across the board.

Processes are important but I have an internal report that covers a number of reasons that make Slack sticky.

Muted channels? They still show up in the sidebar.

Regular channels? You always see something is going on. The UX is designed to require you to clean up all channels or else you’re missing actual DMs and mentions.

Why don’t you get all the mentions in one place? DMs at the bottom, favorite channels on top, takes constant checking.

Just a chunk of the problems.

I’ve seen a few alternatives in different directions, like Ryver by Pat Sullivan or Chanty or Twist which is a completely different sort of mindset. It’s an interesting space apart from the obvious competitors.

How Is Slack Lagging Behind Competitors

In terms of market valuation, Slack’s shares have been suffering through the course of 2019:

Slack value

Its current valuation comes at a 25x multiplier, significantly more than what an average SaaS would trade for (around 10x revenue).

This is mostly predicated by the ongoing growth and user adoption, often perceived as a strong predicate on market acquisition and strong leadership in the space combined with the promise of future earnings and increasing lifetime value per customer.

I do believe that Microsoft is willing to compete with Slack, and more importantly, Slack is just too sticky and prevents productive work in numerous organizations (thus the vast volume of burnout posts due to slack overload).

Microsoft is already ahead of Slack in terms of daily active users and they seem to be growing steadily. Earlier in 2019, Facebook also reported 2M paying users for Workplace, compared to 3M paid users on Slack.

The market is diversifying as we speak and competition is firmly breathing down Slack’s neck. What made Slack successful back in the day hasn’t changed much but competitors have successfully adopted some of the key features that Slack incorporated together:

  • Robust and reliable notifications
  • Consolidated rooms/channels in a sane way
  • Consistent web, desktop, and mobile support
  • 3rd party integrations and bots
  • Threaded messages
  • Fun and quirky emojis and gifs and auto-responses

When compared to Skype and HipChat in 2014, or let alone IRC, Slack was clearly ahead of its time (even with its steep pricing). But even small players like Ryver, Chanty, Rocket. Chat offers everything that a regular Slack user would need on a daily basis.

Unlike IM networks like Skype, ICQ, MSN, AOL, using Slack requires a separate registration for every workspace. This is far less sticky than changing your entire user experience when switching a collaboration tool. This is why Slack isn’t a viable alternative of WhatsApp, Viber, or Telegram outside of work.

Basic Slack Features That Are Failing You  

Slack features

And Slack clearly shows some painfully basic features that cause friction at both on-site and remote companies today. Some notable examples on top of my head:

All this endless noise vastly impacts productive communication, leading to endless chats and hundreds of “observers” at work getting lost in discussions. Alternative solutions like Twist have been invented to prioritize focus as a critical trait at work instead of contributing to burnout levels thanks to the endless noise.

  1. Predefined channel order — no way to move channels in some priority order aside from alphabetical
  2. Muted chats still show up in sidebar — what’s the point of muting them if your sidebar is as cluttered as it gets?
  3. Not a sign of “distraction-free mode” — regular channels still show up and blink in the sidebar, even if you’ve clearly enabled “mentions only” in your settings.
  4. Lack of user profiles — such as “At the office”, “In a meeting”, “Weekend”, “Out of hours”. You’re left with set-and-forget settings or DND, that’s all.
  5. Lack of device personalization — granted, there are the desktop and mobile pair of options, but power users often use a tablet or a second mobile phone with Slack installed when traveling. With smartwatches gaining popularity, granular notification management is outright impossible.

Oh, and Slack replacing email? We’re over this.

Slack is a lot noisier than email and it definitely doesn’t provide all the filtering flexibility of a professional email suite. Granted, the per-channel notification options are good, but I can’t, for instance, split my phone and tablet as both are considered as “mobile”. 

And it’s hard to set rules for “hard ping” from specific users.

Or ticketing tools that self-assign to whoever is on duty at the moment.

Definitely food for thought.

Slack Apps work somewhat OK and there is an events API, but it literally sends every message for review before being filtered by text (just one possible string) before sending to a microservice. It’s generally less useful than needed.

Inadequate Mobile Slack Application

Maintaining the mobile version of the desktop website takes longer and consumes more resources.

Some of the admin screens are heavy, too, especially reviewing the list of users in the organization or the channel list with stats and the like.

While Slack is trying to push users to the mobile application (which generally makes sense), there are certain problems that aren’t solvable on mobile.

Plus, you may be using a company smartphone that restricts you from installing apps (which is rare but still possible).

The desktop version of the admin screen lacks certain features as well. For instance, adding a custom emoji while browsing the admin back-end on mobile won’t work unless you try to switch to the desktop mode (otherwise the same features).

All things considered, Slack is trying to reduce their focus on anything they can get rid of (and get away with).

Are You Now Looking For Slack Alternatives?

Slack alternative

“But engagement is what really matters to Butterfield, not headline user metrics. The chief executive quipped, “Just look at the weak engagement numbers that Microsoft themselves reported about Teams and the much deeper level of engagement you see among Slack users.” – The Motley Fool 

This is precisely why I’ve been researching Slack alternatives for a few months now and we shift our processes in managing projects and clients to be less Slack-dependent.

The whole game in professional communication tools is no different than Facebook: 

It’s not about business productivity; it’s about highly engaged and active users, no matter the business results or employees’ sanity.

Your thoughts?