Tools for Distributed Teams

Post written by Chris Spagnuolo. Follow Chris on Twitter 14 comments

These days, it’s not unusual for development or product teams to be geographically dispersed. It could be that your team members work on different floors, in different buildings, in different states, or even in different countries. Although I believe that collocation provides the greatest advantage in terms of high performing teams, it’s a reality that we have to find ways for distributed teams to become just as productive as collocated teams.

Ronica Roth, one of my colleagues here at Rally, recently suggested that our team try using Second Life to provide our team with a sense of collocation. Our team has several “remote” team members, and those that are “collocated” are frequently on travel. We rarely get to see each other in person. So, I find the idea of using Second Life for virtual meetings and collaboration intriguing. From the looks of it, we’ll probably give it a try and see how it works. I’ll keep you posted on our successes and/or failures with Second Life.

Ronica’s suggestion got me thinking back to a post I wanted to write some time ago on tools for distributed teams. One of the main challenges a distributed team faces is a barrier to good, collaborative communications. But, there are many tools and technologies that bring the level of collaboration between distributed team members to a higher level. Although these may never be as rich as face-to-face communications, I do believe they can help distributed teams perform better.

I’ve already written about how you can use Twitter to increase your productivity and there are tips in that post about how distributed teams can use Twitter to stay up to date on progress and tasking. In addition to Twitter, here is a brief list of other tools that I think distributed teams can communicate better:

  • Adobe Connect: A really good web conferencing and eLearning platform
  • Wikis: One of the best ways to share information amongst team members. There are tons of free ones out there that are easy to use. One I really like is PBWiki.
  • SharePoint: Yes I know, it’s Microsoft, but it works pretty well and makes sharing of information very easy.
  • Rally ALM: Not to be a fanboy, but Rally is really good for project management, planning, and tasking for distributed teams (disclaimer: I work for Rally, but I was a user before I worked for them)
  • CardMeeting: A collaborative meeting space with virtual sticky notes. Great space for distributed brainstorming
  • Windows SkyDrive: Again, yes Microsoft, but a good file sharing platform.
  • Weave the People: Customized, private and focused networks enable conversations to be centered around what is important to your team. Check out a demo here.
  • CrossLoop: Another good web conferencing and collaboration platform
  • BaseCamp: Shared to-do lists, project plans and files
  • Skype, and Babble: “Free” VOIP services
  • QNext: Free audio, video and document sharing
  • Convoq: Video, audio, screen sharing, presentation, IM,presence
  • And of course the ubiquitous Webex…hopefully no description needed for this one

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a good starting point. If you have other tools or technologies that you use for distributed collaboration, let us know Sharing is always good.

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  1. Ben Carey said,

    One other that I’ve used for pairing and demos is Microsoft SharedView. It’s free and has some good features.

    I like the ability to be able to see the mouse pointers from everyone connected to the session. It allows for easy “virtual pointing” and eases the burden a bit for remote collaboration.

  2. Chris said,

    One that I completely forgot about is Planning Poker. It’s an online collaborative tool for facilitating distributed and remote agile estimating of user stories.

  3. Andrew Donnelly said,

    Hi Chris,
    Perhaps you would be interested in taking a look at Mikogo http://www.mikogo.com This is a freeware screen sharing tool where you can invite up to 10 people to view your screen actions live over the Web. Great collaboration tool and very easy to get started and use.
    Take a look at our homepage and feel free to contact me if you would like further info.

    The Mikogo Team

  4. Alan Blan said,

    A couple of twitter clones that may be appropriate for enterprises are Yammer and laconi.ca. Twitter may be a bit too public for company business. Yammer is SaaS with messages restricted to users in your company’s domain, so it may be ok as long as you trust Yammer’s security and privacy policies. laconi.ca is open source which you run on your own server, but you’ll need somebody to install and maintain it.

  5. Chris said,

    And another freebie I forgot, free conference calling: http://thebasementventures.com/

  6. Sandy Gordon said,

    The list you’ve provided is a really good one, Thank You, Chris!
    I really appreaciate the effort, It has been really helpful, I found some Cool Collaboration tools in there which I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
    I’ve found another one, which could be added to your list. TAROBY (http://www.taroby.org) is a Team Inbox or Collaboration tool for Enterprises, with capability of sharing the same Inbox with your team. Taroby has got Taskmanagement capabilities also, It puts an end to forwarding of mails to your team mates, as everyone in the team shares the same inbox, with the appropriate access rights. Some really Cool Features in there. Do Check it out!!

  7. Patrick Merg said,

    Hi Chris

    Thanks this is a good list. I have a 50 person globally distributed team working on multiple interdependent Agile projects. The combination of web based Agile PM tools and web conferencing are great ways to keep communication flowing between face-to-face visits.

    While dependency on these tools these tools can’t replace collocation these tools help ensure some level of interactivity and communication between team members.

    Daily stand-ups are a huge challenge when the teams are spread across three continents and speak multiple languages.


  8. James Herrmann said,

    Thanks for this. I am on a solutions group investigating this issue. Another product that we are using with success is Cisco’s Unified Meeting Place: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/sw/ps5664/ps5669/ . Feature rich.

  9. Chris said,

    I’m so glad so many people are finding this post useful. And thanks for all of the other great suggestions for distributed tools that you all have added.

  10. Ben Carey said,

    Looks like Co-op (http://coopapp.com/anatomy/) might be a good tool for distributed teams as well.

  11. Chris said,

    It looks like LinkedIn is rapidly maturing and now offer several applications within LinkedIn to allow you to work collaboratively with your network. Here are some of the highlights:

    Box on LinkedIn: Share files and collaborate with your network.
    Huddle on LinkedIn: Private workspaces to collaborate with your network on projects.

    Amazon on LinkedIn: Discover what your network is reading.
    TripIt on LinkedIn: See where your network is traveling.
    SixApart on LinkedIn: Stay up to date with your network’s latest blog posts.

    Google Docs on LinkedIn: Embed a presentation on your profile.
    SlideShare on LinkedIn: Share, view and comment on presentations from your network.
    WordPress on LinkedIn: Promote your blog and latest posts.

    Company Buzz by LinkedIn: See what people are saying about your company.

  12. Lisa said,

    Cisco Unified Meeting Place is a good tool.

    A good Agile project Management tool for distributed team is WRAP (WoodRanch Agile Projects). It provides integrated planning and management of requirements, iterations, releases, projects, tasks and defects. It is FREE for open source and non-profit companies. Take a look at http://www.agilewrap.com

  13. aparadekto said,

    Hey, I can’t view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.

  14. Ken Lin said,

    Using second life for virtual meetings, man who would’ve thought. I utilize pivotal tracker for my virtual meetings and project management. It’s a lot less intensive on the computer than second life, and starts up a lot quicker, haha.

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