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Topics: Communications Management
What tools and techiques do you use to keep everyone on the same page?
Do you find yourself having to be 50 places at once on your projects? And if your team and your clients are geographically distributed on different continents, achieving this feat of magic can become almost impossible Using a web-baseb PM application can often get everyone on the same methaphorical page. I would like to hear your war stories and experiences on what tools and techniques you use to communicate with your team members and clients.
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Geoff:

Being 50 places at once can be a feat of magic for even non-dispersed teams!

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the specific kinds of challenges current tools need to be able to address, and what solutions in your experience has helped to bridge these gaps.
Geoff,

Over the past 2 years, we have been using a web based product called eroom by Instinctive technologies to assist in managing large projects. All documentation, notes, files, etc. are posted here as SOP. Nightly change summaries are sent via email and security can be applied at the doc. level. This has proved itself by keeping all members informed, but served as a valuable asset for archive/historical purposes. I highly recommend this tool. http://www.eroom.com
Has anyone tried a tool such as SourceForge for collaborative development as well as collaborative management. i.e something that allows access to code control (such as CVS)? eroom looks impressive, but unless I'm mistaken doesn't appear to be aimed at collaborative development as well as collaborative management.
In response to Mike's posting, I have seen and tried lots of online web collaboration tools, and they all seem to have roughly similar functionality, like project planning, scheduling, task assignment, document repository, forums, and web-based email.

I would use the project site model advanced by David Siegel in "Secrets of successful web sites" as a starting point, then build in collaboration and communication tools.

As mentioned in Jonathan's post, basic functionality for web-based tools can be summarized under three broad areas:

1. Collaborative Development
a. Ability to whiteboard
b. Ability to have controlled browsing - i.e. where I can take the client on a guided tour of the pages we're viewing together.

2. Collaborative Communication
a. Instant Messaging, like ICQ
b. Chat functionality with possibility to store chat history, combined with the whiteboarding feature above.
c. Personal project page for each developer, like "Your tasks for today" with a listing of the currently assigned tasks, and related docs and resources. Should also include a brief summary of what the other team members are doing.

1. Collaborative Management
a. Display the overall project timeline and major milestones.
b. Manage each developers tasks
c. Document storage with thumbnails, specs, updates, etc...

As of yet, I've not seen any out-of-the-box packages that can do the following. In previous projects, I have used a combination of ICQ for instant messaging and chat, NetMeeting for whiteboarding, and a in-house HTML-based project communication site for displaying project tasks, milestones, and documents.


Sorry, in my previous posting, I meant to say "Mark's posting..." sorry Mark!
I've used eroom and other web based environments for project management. They can be a valuable tool for projects. In my experience, their success depends on the following:


1. Ease of use. Too many features and inconsistent behavior will drive team members to distraction. Then the project manager begins spending his/her time training people on the collaboration tool and trying to fix problems related to it rather than focusing on the project its time to go back to e-mail.


2. Keep it Current. Just like we've seen with many web sites, static or incorrect content is not only useless but could also result in team members mistakenly doing the wrong thing. Someone has to administer the collaboration environment. If it's the Project Manager does he/she have the time or resources?


3. Reliability. If the tool you use and become dependant on doesn't work or is unavailable it becomes an obstacle to getting work done. Make sure the vendor, ASP or in-house supplier can support the system adequately. Otherwise you'll have another risk and dependency in your project that was unforeseen.


4. Discipline The project manager has to use it constantly and insist that every team member do likewise. The mniute the project manager stops using the collaboration enveironment as the primary means of communications, it falls into disuse.

Those are my experiences.
I have been using eProject for years. eProject provides a collaborative workspace to share any information anytime for customers and team members.

There is an upload capability from MS Project to bring up your project tasks, assign them to project team members and have them update the tasks in real-time on any machine with a browser. The team can also hold fully-threaded discussions, share documents with check-in, check-out, and version control.

The Workgroup verison of eProject is only $19 per person per month and I have used it to support companies with up to 50 active projects. The newest version, Enterprise, allows teams to track and report on large enterprises. They have added Dynamic Applications (mini-databases) to Enterprise edition to allow a project manager or administrator to create small applications on the fly with web entry forms. The form can be attached to any website and the user doesn't even have to hav a license. Check out www.eproject.com.
Dear Geoff, check out the Processes On Demand suite of products. The Enterprise product provides the out of the box functionality that your are looking for. Alternatively, Express provides PMBOK and SDLC PM processes that you can use in conjunction with your choice of collaboration platforms. You can find it on the web via a google search on, "processes on demand". Good luck. -- Mark Perry, VP of Customer Care, BOT International
Anonymous
As John Fillicetti works for eProject. I'd say his comments are a bit biased.

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