Tools for Distributed Teams

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Categories: Agile

It's rare to find project teams that are collocated anymore, including agile teams. People are increasingly working from home, remote locations or overseas.

Traditional communication tools like teleconference or e-mail are often insufficient due to a lack of a sense of presence. But a new generation of tools offers better possibilities for teamwork. These new tools aim to provide effective communication and help remote agile teams by simulating a visual environment.

: Tools such as Sococo show the layout of an office floor and represent people by dots.  Each team member gets an office. When people visit each other in the same room, voice, audio as well as text messages are limited to that room to indicate who is speaking with whom. They can also share screens easily.

2.5-D: Some tools show static 3-D representations of a space. The pictures do not move, but participants feel like they are at a live event. They can navigate to rooms to attend events of interest and gather with people of similar interest in chat rooms. Unisfair and On24 are examples of this, and have been used effectively for trade shows.

3-D: The next class of tools uses an avatar of each team member in a 3-D space. But many have different features that allow different uses. Most use a stereo sound that fades with distance to highlight who is speaking by reducing the volume of their voice according to distance.

Venuegen is designed to get people running quickly and to show body language through common gestures. A variety of settings can be chosen, ranging from an office, war-room, classroom or trade floor. Each contains screens to show presentations, web pages, documents, video and images.  

Teleplace extends this model by allowing team members to post notes on the wall, display documents, and also to co-edit spreadsheets simultaneously in 3-D breakout rooms. This platform is popular with government teams for training and simulation. Teleplace and graphically rich environments based on the Unity3d toolkit allow importing of professionally created models and settings.
3-D programmable:  some platforms allow users to create custom objects with easier modeling tools, or even script interactive behavior. Opensim based environments are popular with universities, and platforms such as the Unity3d toolkit support more advanced programming.

No matter which tool agile teams use, many of these platforms create engaging venues for training and collaboration. Seeing visual representations of yourself, others, documents and data allows new ways to erase the distance between today's dispersed teams.

Pictured: A sample screenshot from the Sococo tool.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

Posted by William Krebs on: November 17, 2010 04:12 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Graeme Fraser
Blimey, I've not heard of any of these. Thanks for compiling; I'll investigate in due course.

Randall, team building guy
First of all, great article! It gave seeds to a few ideas that I would like to post here.

Teamwork is a dynamic process involving people with complementary backgrounds and skills, sharing common goals and exercise concerted effort in assessing, planning, evaluating and executing towards the common goal.

However, there are significant problems that are experienced while building collaborative groups among individuals. We should consider cultural and individual differences, professional, social differences, education differences and gender differences.

Unsolved communication issues, poor commitment from all stakeholders undermine team spirit. We must also consider factors such as differences in political views. Organizations often fail to create viable policies to govern team building, so all efforts become obsolete sooner that they can settle to become useful for any community.

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