Selecting Collaboration Tools

In earlier posts I have discussed the increasing usage of collaboration tools and Matt Dusanic has posted on their importance in a distributed team environment.  This post will briefly discuss what to look for in a collaboration tool.

What to Look For

There are many collaboration tools available for use on Agile Projects.  Some of these are free tools (e.g., IceScrum, Agilefant, Agilo,explanPMT) while others are available on a licensable basis like Mingle, BananScrum, and Jira.  It is even possible to use your existing collaboration tools – with some tailoring – specially if budgets, schedules, or simply user adoption issues preclude using a new tool.

The Collaboration tool must :

  • Provide a single place for Team members to view whats going on in the Sprint (or project iteration/phase) as well as allow Team members to update the status of their tasks. In case of co-location, this is what an Agile Planning Wall provides
  • Act as a virtual  meeting area where Team members can review and discuss status
  • Provide management with a snapshot of how a specific  project is progressing

Required features include:

  • Secure, Internet enabled log-in for all team members (inside and outside the firewall if external vendors are involved)
  • Discussion areas for collaborative interactions
  • Project management features such as shared calendars, milestone tracking, and status reporting
  • Database storage for Product Backlogs, Issue lists, and work products
  • Document and File management to store project documents
  • A wiki feature to set up Sprint specific planning pages and to share Stories
  • Task lists or Taskboard feature to track the Sprint Backlogs

Many collaboration tools like SharePoint or CentralDesktop can also be modified to work with Agile Projects. While off-the-shelf Agile Project Management tools are extremely convenient since they typically automate most Agile-specific tasks such as creating burn-downs (Daily and Iteration), it’s always possible for a Scrum Master to generate burndowns using Excel and uploading the charts to the collaboration tool.

With a little creativity and planning, your organization’s existing collaboration work-spaces can be easily tailored to work well with Agile Projects.

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