Sunday, January 29, 2006

Online Workspace Tools for Distributed Teams

Some of the tools that are useful for distributed teams are also appropriate for teams that may not be distributed. I recently had a chance to listen to the collaboration requiremetns of a small team, within a financial services company.

They told me that they were considering WebEx workspace and Rational Clearcase for online document collaboration. They are a content development team. They work mostly with word documents, PowerPoint files, image files and pdf files. They struggle with document versioning and finding a document associated with a project quickly and efficiently. [They work on about 20 projects a year]

I compared the options they had. I looked at WebEx Workspace and compared it with Microsoft SharePoint. Rational Clearcase, in my opinion, is not for small non-technical teams. WebEx Workspace looks promising. There is document versioning available. However based on the trial account I looked at, it has a long way to go before it can catch up with the ease of use and feature list of SharePoint.

One downside of SharePoint is that it will require other Microsoft products such as FrontPage [to customize the look and feel] and the latest versions of Microsoft office for users to take advantage of all the features that are available.

Branding of the home page was never mentioned as a big priority for the users I spoke to. Ease of use and navigation were big priorities. A simple clean home page was another big priority. Total cost of ownership was a priority. Help to understand the boundaries of the software and best practices of online collaboration was a priority.

The marketing efforts of Microsoft seems to be towards promoting SharePoint as a WebSite creation tool for small companies and businesses. I wonder if that is the right direction. Even the examples provided in the Microsoft web site emphasise branding over collaboration features.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Leaders: Be Visible and Reachable

Leaders of distributed teams need to be visible and available. This is not always easy to do in a distributed environment. Last week, one of my team members had to go to a client meeting in Ireland. He informed his manager but left without informing his team or providing a contact number. This led to a lot of anxiety and escalations. In a virtual environment it is extremely important to keep people posted about your whereabouts.

Another important thing is to be available to your team. If people can’t reach you when they need you they will find a way to get things done without you and eventually your will be of less value to them. It is good to let everyone know about your preferences for communication so that they can reach you when they need you.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Document Portal: No weather info please

I recently has a chance to talk to some users in a 50 person distributed company about what they want and do not want in their collaboration portal. They use Microsoft SharePoint. They said that they wanted a simple site which clearly tells them what the can find in the site and where they can find it. They specifically requested to remove information about the weather and business news.

I wish that the portal administrators of large companies listen to their employees. Almost all company and academic collaboration portals that I see are overloaded with weather information, stock price, a large number of rarely used links and too many features. My advise would be to cut features down, keep it simple and add features only if users specifically request for them.
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