Tools of the Trade

We, at Optimal Partners, are not just a Higher Ed IT consulting company; we’re a group of IT professionals, techies, and entrepreneurs who are passionate about the mission of Higher Ed. s such, we are excited to feature some of our favorite tools and resources that we use every day. Each of our tools of the trade is field-tested and come highly recommended.
Disclaimer: While we recommend all of these products without hesitation, it is important to disclose that some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, should you decide to purchase any of the affiliate products, we will receive a small commission. While we have personal experience with and consider all of these tools to be extremely useful, we urge you to conduct your own research into which tools will best suit your needs.

Project Management

Teamwork Projects

Teamwork Logo
Teamwork has a wide array of features, including setting dependencies and creating subtasks—making sure that your team members know that they cannot complete their portion of the task until another team member has completed theirs. We also take full advantage of the chat feature, which allows our team to stay connected and easily add tasks right from the chat window. Not only does this assist in overall organization, but it keeps everyone on the same page.

JIRA

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JIRA is perfect for tracking issues, bugs, and planning sprints in an Agile environment. It offers detailed tracking and assignments, scrum boards, Kanban boards, and sprint planning. Its reporting and charting tools are unmatched. It also seamlessly integrates with Confluence for team collaboration.

Confluence

Confluence Logo
Confluence is one of the best content managers and wikis out there, which is why we use it every day. It is easy to learn and rich in features. All page updates are tracked and can be reverted to, any user can be automatically notified of changes, and search and security are robust. There are many add-on macros with prebuilt functionality and it easily integrates with many other products, including Microsoft Office. With over 50,000 organizations using Confluence, you can’t go wrong.

GoToMeeting

GoTo Meeting Logo
Sometimes it’s hard to make a meeting in person, but with GoToMeeting, you can stream high-quality voice and video from anywhere. You can start a meeting with just one click—we’re always on the go and coordinating virtual meetings has never been easier!

Nimble

GoTo Meeting Logo
Nimble is one of the easiest customer relationship management tools to use. It has a sleek interface that brings everything together for you in a very accessible format. Nimble allows you to keep track of all of your history with your contact, as well as all of their relevant information: including their addresses, place of employment, social media accounts, and more.

Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework Book Cover
This is a really cool book! The creators of Basecamp deliver many innovative ideas for better software development and project management. This is a treasure trove of wisdom based on real life experiences. This book is not about theory; it is about on-the-ground practices that will truly make a difference in your projects.

The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard & M.D. Johnson Spencer

A quick must-read for anyone looking for effective approaches to managing teams and staff. The author leads the reader through several real-life situations and provides insightful advice for maximizing team performance and independence. The advice applies equally to the novice and the seasoned manager.

Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale

LeadTheField
This is our all-time favorite audiobook—a very powerful reminder about being a more effective leader and person. It discusses the twelve characteristics of the most effective people;
among its vital messages are the value of a “service” mentality, the power of attitude, and the impact of treating everyone as the important person that he or she is.

SCRUM by Jeff Sutherland & J.J. Sutherland

SCRUM Book Cover
The father of the Scrum methodology delivers with this book. Jeff Sutherland teaches that by using Scrum, you can multiply your team’s performance many times over. It is essential reading for anyone that does not want to be bogged down by traditional and outdated processes, whether you are a team member or the leader of an organization.

The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, & Robert M. Galford

TrustedAdvisor
Trust is the most important component of developing relationships with internal clients at your university. Without the project sponsor’s trust, your project is doomed to fail. This book provides wonderful advice for building trusting, consultative relationships that significantly increase the chances of project success.

Cloud-Based Productivity Suites

Google Apps

GoogleApps
Google Apps for Work has made it extremely easy for our team to stay connected and highly productive, from having access to everything via Google Drive, to syncing calendars, sharing spreadsheets, document creation, presentation, and much more.The ability to have multiple people view and edit the same document simultaneously is incredibly useful for collaboration.

Blogging Tools and Web Hosting

Inmotion Hosting

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If your IT department is looking for an external web hosting service, InMotion Hosting might be for you. This is the service we use for our website and blog. Not only do they have great customer service and technical support, but hosting through them is affordable. Their one-click WordPress installations (and many other products) and free daily backups can make setting up and running your site easy.

WordPress

Wordpress Logo
If you are trying to build a blog for your university or department, WordPress makes creating and managing a blog easy. With thousands of plugins available, you can customize your site to suit your every need. With so many great features, it’s a truly valuable tool to have in your arsenal.

Studiopress

Studiopress Logo
Our blog uses a Studiopress theme. The company has a number of themes to choose from to give your WordPress site a more customized, sleek, and polished look that is also mobile-responsive. Despite the initial cost, these themes are truly worth the investment.

Content Planning and Editing Images

Buffer

buffer
Buffer allows you to efficiently schedule all of your social media posts through one centralized dashboard. What’s more is the ability to view your posts’ analytics and your editorial calendar all in one place. It’s super easy to use and their customer and technical support team (aka “Happiness Heroes”) are friendly and always willing to help.

Canva for Work

Canva Logo
As a free online graphic design tool, Canva’s simple interface allows for anyone to design professional quality images. By using their pre-made templates, you can design your own infographics, banners, or other images already sized to the official dimensions recommended by social media platforms. It’s a great tool for your university’s web development team, your user interface specialists, or your training organization.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop
Abobe Photoshop is a more advanced tool for creating high-quality graphics. While it may seem intimidating to work with a professional program, it is easy to navigate and offers many great resources both in-application and on their official forums. Also, because it is so widely used, you can easily find tutorials for what you need online.

HR & Payroll

ZOHO

Zoho logo
ZOHO is our preferred recruiting platform. Your university’s IT recruiter will find it is an easy and efficient way to track applicants, candidates, positions, and contacts. It also offers workflow management, all for a reasonable price.

Other Books and Ebooks

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

4 Hour Work Week Cover
This is a truly valuable read on accomplishing much more while working a lot less. Learn how you can improve your own productivity by eliminating useless tasks, automating other tasks, delegating, and concentrating on what only you can do. Although focused on the small business owner, these principles can be applied by your IT department’s management and staff too.

Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch

Duct Tape Marketing Cover
Although this book is focused on small businesses, it contains highly relevant principles for marketing in any organization, including universities. This book is great for those without prior marketing knowledge, as it makes marketing practices much easier to understand.

Creating Room to Read by John Wood

Creating Room to Read Cover
Learn more about this charitable organization that we are so proud to sponsor and how it came to be. This book narrates the inspiring story about a group of people who recognized the global literacy disparity and came together to help equalize educational opportunities for young girls.

Social Media Strategy for Professionals and Their Firms by Michelle Golden & Bruce W. Marcus

Social Media Strategies Cover
A great book by professionals for professionals about how to best utilize social media. These principles can be applied to any organization, including for your university’s social media outreach efforts. Find out some of the best methods that worked for other professionals and can help with your social media strategy.

Gadgets

Best Headphones: BOSE Quiet Comfort 25

BOSE Headphones
Many headphones will promise to cancel out all background noise, but these make good on their promise, and the sound quality is superb! The headphones themselves fit very comfortably, so you won’t need to worry about having to stop working to make adjustments. These will help you focus on programming or documentation in your noisy office.

Mobile Speakerphone: Jabra Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

jabra
Having tried numerous other speakerphones for our team meetings in the past, Jabra’s speakerphone is easily our favorite. It has the best sound quality, and the tap controls make accepting, muting, or ending a call simple. We love its portability with its internal rechargeable battery which makes making calls on the go a breeze.

Projector: Brookstone Pocket Projector Mobile

Brookstone Projector
One of the smallest we’ve worked with, and ideal for travel, this projector weighs only a pound and measures just five inches square. Despite its small size, it can project up to a 60-inch screen. The projector connects using an HDMI adapter and features built-in speakers. With up to 20,000 hours of lamp life, you won’t have to replace the hardware often. It also has an AC adapter, but running it on battery works just as well, since a single charge will last for around two hours.

High-power Antenna: Ideawork Antenna

IdeaworksAntenna
Many of our staff work on the go, making it difficult to maintain an internet connection without using our phones. This antenna is perfect for picking up long distance public wifi signals when we would normally not have access.

Fujitsu Laptops

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This is our absolute favorite laptop manufacturer. Fujitsu’s machines are built to last, and in our experience, their quality is unmatched. For example, our last Fujitsu, the T2010, lasted seven years without a hitch and is still going strong.

Best Phone for Productivity: iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone 6 Plus Logo
Apple’s iPhone is one of the most popular phones for a reason. They’re the easiest-to-use phone with the most available apps, giving us access to everything we need for both work and personal use.