Zoho: Aligning Projects with Business Goals

Sridhar Vembu, Co-founder and CEO Walking into the state-of-the-art Zoho Estancia tower—Zoho Corporation’s global headquarters located in Chennai, India— one might get to meet Sridhar Vembu, co-founder and CEO of the internationally-recognized business software solutions company. Vembu would typically be seen in a black polo-neck T-shirt paired with denim pants. And the T-shirt is likely to have the Zoho logo embossed on it— spelled out in four square blocks that look like they have come from a children’s alphabet building game. But nothing at Zoho is child’s play: quinquagenarian Vembu is dead serious about how he runs the company, which he co-founded as AdventNet Inc in 1996 with his brothers Kumar and Sekar as well as Tony Thomas, an entrepreneur who wrote an early version of the company’s software.

AdventNet became Zoho Corporation Pvt. Ltd. in 2009, and it was around this time that the company’s direction was further cemented. Businesses were increasingly turning to the internet for software that operates on a subscription basis, rather than opting for expensive software license purchases. At that juncture, Zoho.com— the company’s youngest division—which was offering internet-based software for workplace collaboration and office productivity tools for managing customers, vendors, and partners, started emerging as a promising future-ready business. Today, Zoho has transpired as a go-to company for enterprise project management. By enabling an organization’s internal and external teams to better plan, organize, and collaborate, Zoho’s cutting-edge project management toolsets help organizations like McKinsey & Company, Intel, IKEA, and Jaguar to facilitate communication within their teams and make sure the collaborations are seamless, backlogs are addressed, and loops closed. Today, with 5,000 Zoho employees located across seven countries, the firm powers the global business landscape to mitigate complex workflows through their simple-to-use, yet comprehensive project management system.

Great Project Management Begins with Great Planning

Zoho’s cloud-based project management solution, Zoho Projects, facilitates easy-to-do project planning to break down the tasks into more manageable pieces so that a user never misses a deadline. To top it off, every user has centralized access to all of the projects, so everyone has a clear and comprehensive view of each project. “Additionally, you can break your tasks into subtasks, write comments on tasks, and even view tasks by dependency,” says Vembu. Creating a dependency indicates that one task is dependent on another, so the employees won’t be able to move forward to another task until the dependent task is complete. That said, Vembu highlights, “One of the coolest features of our project planning is the Kanban.” The Kanban feature allows users to view the workflow as cards that they can sort by percentage completed or priority. This approach makes it easy for everyone on the team to visualize the progress of the task at one go.

By enabling an organization’s internal and external teams to better plan, organize, and collaborate, Zoho’s cutting-edge project management toolsets help organizations like McKinsey & Company, Intel, IKEA, and Jaguar

Another way to visualize the progress in Zoho Projects is using Gantt charts. Explaining the use of the module, Vembu states, “With Gantt charts, you can see every detail of your project including milestones, overdue tasks, and dependencies.” To easily identify and distinguish, each category is assigned a different color. Gantt charts also facilitate seamless rescheduling of a task. Other interesting features of the software include document management, which provides a portal for sharing documents with the team members. Zoho Projects also includes a powerful search tool that helps a team member locate files without having to search through every folder.

A Comprehensive Reporting System: Zoho Reports

Vembu further remarks, “What is a project management software without reporting tools?” Zoho Projects goes above and beyond when it comes to reporting tools. The project management software seamlessly integrates with Zoho Reports where a user gets full access to more than 50 types of reports and a reporting dashboard. Zoho Reports helps a project manager customize the dashboard and track metrics that are important to him to get the most apt management summaries. Further, the module allows managers to easily monitor the team’s progress, keep track of valuable KPIs, and make adjustments to the workflow strategy as needed based on the data. “We also allow you to drag, drop, email, export, and print reports at will,” adds Vembu. Together with that, another significant advantage that Zoho Projects brings to the table is seamless integration with third-party applications that include Google Apps, Jira, MS Project, Dropbox, Box, MS Outlook, Slack, and others. With the help of Google integrations, users can easily sync the tasks with their Gmail accounts, assign tasks in the Google Calendar, and attach files from Google Drive. “This feature brings an additional degree of collaboration in the hands of the project managers,” says Vembu.

Project Management On-the-Go

While hassle-free, uncomplicated project management is Zoho’s mantra, the company effectively lives up to the expectation through its smartphone app (compatible with iOS and Android devices). “Whether you are on the road, attending a conference, or away on holiday, your projects will stay by your side,” asserts Vembu. Through constant feeds about ongoing discussions, tasks, comment threads, and much more, a project manager or a team member can stay updated on every movement of the project from remote locations.
Offering More Flexibility for Agile Teams

Vembu believes that building great project management software is a constant learning process. “When we are faced with uncertainties, we make flexible adjustments and discover novel solutions through an iterative, trial-and-error process,” says Vembu. These learnings led to the genesis of Zoho Sprints, a project management software for the more agile teams. “It is simple and clutter-free, letting companies put all their focus on building the best possible product,” remarks Vembu.

Zoho Sprints comes with built-in GitHub integration to effortlessly attach GitHub repositories and pull requests with the work-in-progress items in Sprints, thereby ensuring that all the data is in sync with the project’s latest progress. Together with that, Zoho Sprints’ timesheet modules let an employee track the billable and non-billable hours, approve time logs, and get a sense of how long work items take so the users can improve their time management with each sprint.

When it comes to bringing more agility to the project management practice, Vembu notes that meaningful face-to-face meetings are a key feature. Sprints allows the project members to effectively achieve this by letting the project members set an agenda, choose which participants need to be there, and apply time-limits on meetings. “To add to that, we also send automated meeting reminders to each of the participants through emails and feeds,” adds Vembu.

The Other Side of the Coin: Zoho University

Ushering a fresh breeze of thinking is at the heart of this company. Whether it is devising a new solution or strategizing its role in bringing a new gene of talent pool that is skilled in the technology arena, Zoho has always been able to make a strong impact. The leadership team of Zoho believes a skilled tech professional’s path to success does not always need to travel through the traditional four-year college degree course. As a strong proponent of this philosophy, Vembu started his “non-traditional” Zoho University. Though the program started as a small experiment in 2004 with one professor and six students, today, Zoho University has set a benchmark in the non-linear instructional training realm.

Building a Road toward a Sustainable Future

Vembu strongly believes that Zoho’s simple, yet powerful and cost-effective project management offering has become their secret harpoon of success not just among big enterprises but also the small and mid-sized business market. Today, the company boasts a high renewal rate from customers around the world.

"While hassle-free, uncomplicated project management is Zoho’s mantra, the company effectively lives up to the expectation through its smartphone app"

As a roadmap for the future, Zoho intends to make their project management applications more accessible and valuable to customers. The upgrades will focus on injecting more sophisticated features for improved collaboration among internal and external team members. Therefore, with the intention to shore up the already robust project management functionalities in Zoho Projects, the company’s future course of actions are poised to usher a momentous transformation in the business software solution landscape.


San Francisco, CA

Sridhar Vembu, Co-founder and CEO

Zoho offers a suite of business, collaboration, and productivity applications