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Tools For Distributed Teams

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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