Collaboration tools for Virtual Project Teams

Wow – lots of feedback on the last week’s post “Project Management: Keys to managing a remote project team”!  Thanks for all the comments and stories.  Based on the questions I am expanding on the topic today.

As I mentioned last week—and it is worth repeating—the key to successfully managing remote or virtual teams is COMMUNICATION. That includes voice, texting, and email and also sharing documents, project history, and status information preferably in near-real-time. I am impressed with the myriad tools available on the web to support team collaboration. Many of these tools are free or cost little compared to traveling to sites or leasing office space for everyone on the team.

That having been said, there are some useful cautions on collaboration tools as mentioned in Wayne Turmel’s article “Remote Working: The Truth about Collaboration Tools” posted on BNET. A couple of important observations in Wayne’s article:

  • Technology rarely solves a business problem by itself
  • Everyone on the team needs to know how to use the tools—what you like is what you know how to use
  • The collaboration tools won’t help if they are not used consistently and frequently

Here are some resources I have looked at to get you started in finding the set of collaboration tools to facilitate communication on your project:

1.  SharePoint is the premier tool from Microsoft. Microsoft’s Office SharePoint Server 2007 called “MOSS” is an integrated server platform that provides web content management, enterprise content services, and enterprise search features. It provides an integrated suite of server capabilities for sharing and managing information. A sub-set of SharePoint is included within the license of Windows Project Server. Another great feature of SharePoint is that it supports the creation of websites, wikis, and document sharing.

I have personal experience in managing all sizes of teams using SharePoint and love its flexibility and scalability.  It also provides a good structure when utilizing data and collaborating among many teams and projects.  ToolBox for IT summarizes SharePoint as follows: “SharePoint Portal Server is a portal server that connects people, teams, and knowledge across business processes. SharePoint Portal Server integrates information from various systems into one secure solution through single sign-on and enterprise application integration capabilities. It provides flexible deployment and management tools, and facilitates end-to-end collaboration through data aggregation, organization, and searching. SharePoint Portal Server also enables users to quickly find relevant information through customization and personalization of portal content and layout as well as through audience targeting.”

SharePoint Server is neither inexpensive nor is it easy to learn and integrate into your development and information sharing processes. However, those professionals who use it regularly and comment on various IT blogs say positive things about MOSS’s contribution to communication and productivity. SharePoint is powerful and supported by Microsoft Partner companies and Technical Services.

2.  Campfire is a web-based group chat tool. Unlike traditional chat or IM that is designed for one-on-one communication, Campfire supports interaction among several participants. The service provides password-protected chat rooms for intranet and extranet communication. The service works through your web browser, so there is no special installation or configuration required. Campfire is iPhone compatible.

Features of Campfire include: multiple rooms that may be organized by project, task, or topic. Permission for each room can be set and you can invite an outsider for temporary access to any room. You will see who is in chat mode in any room to which you have access. You can also have an audio alert when someone is active in one of your chat rooms. A chat history is maintained so that you can go back and review chats when you were not on-line. Campfire also lets you upload files for sharing and images can be placed directly into the chat.

Campfire has a four level pricing model:

  • Basic is $12 per month supports 12 chatters with standard security and 1 Gigabyte of storage
  • Plus for $24 per month supports 25 chatters with enhanced security and 3 Gigabytes of storage
  • Premium for $49 per month supports 60 chatters with enhanced security and 10 Gigabytes of storage
  • Max for $99 per month supports 100 chatters with enhanced security and 25 Gigabytes of storage

3.  Basecamp is brought to you by the same folks as Campfire. Basecamp supports document sharing across a single or multiple projects. Basecamp supports a message board, project document sharing, time tracking, milestone tracking, a project dashboard and shared to-do lists. Like Campfire, there are four pricing models in Basecamp ranging from $24–$149 per month, covering 15–to an unlimited number of projects, and supporting between 3–50 users. All pricing options except Basic support time tracking.

4. Zoho Office Suite: According to Wikipedia, The Zoho Office Suite is a Web- based online office suite containing word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, CRM, project management, invoicing and other applications developed by AdventNet Inc., an Indian-based company. Some applications, such as Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects, require a fee to be used; other products may be used with only registration. Zoho Office Suite includes the following tools: Writer, Sheet, DB and Reports, Show, Projects, CRM, Creator, Wiki, Planner, Notebook, Mail, Chat and Meeting.
Users can collaborate and edit documents with Zoho and then store and manage them in Microsoft® SharePoint®.

More tools for collaboration and communication:
5.  EditMe  lets users create, edit and share websites in minutes including support for wikis, web publishing, and online documentation. EditMe has pricing options that range from $4.95 per month to $49.95. Each plan allows unlimited users but varies on the storage space and traffic per month.

6.  PBWorks  offers collaborative page editing, document management and file sharing, history and audit trail, automatic backups, enhanced security including: access controls, page and folder-level access, IP white-listing and black-listing; search across pages , point-and-click editor that supports images, files, colors, and fonts  with the ability to edit the page source and customize HTML. Project collaboration using PBWorks costs @20.00 per month per user.

7. lets users view documents, create a document online, upload a document from your computer, create a workgroup, publish documents online and link to documents from your intranet. Cost? But registration is free.

Useful Links:
Well I could continue but I think you get the point – there are tools to help you collaborate effectively.  Here are a few other links I haven’t called out which might be of use.

Wayne Turmel’s article “Remote Working: The Truth about Collaboration Tools” in BNET.
ToolBox IT answers 50 questions users and potential users of Microsoft SharePoint may have.
SharePoint 2007 Review – Six Pillars of MOSS from CMS Wire
How to’s for SharePoint from Microsoft Technical Services
Campfire  home
Basecamp information on sharing document and project information
Summary of features for: Zoho Office Suite on Wikipedia
Zoho Company information
25 Web Sites to Watch according to PCWorldsee comments on Approver
The Online Collaboration Tools Guide from ReadWriteEnterprise compares Zoho, Google Docs, Syncplicity, and Box.

Thanks for all the suggestions – for everyone reading this I encourage you to leave a comment with a tool name or your experience in collaborating on a team.

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