A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Distributed Teams Presentation and offered two items for followup. I’ll address the second here.?
Second, what kind of tools are available to tie team and project status together into a single overview that can be used to track and manage disparate and distributed team members?
Jack, my presenting partner, uses along with his management team a shared spreadsheet on Google Docs which gets updated regularly for the high-level project dashboard view – rolling up team reports, status information, timelines and more into a consistent and concise overview.
I’ve used a variety of project task management tools to do project status; at Mark/Space we’re using FogBugz to track all features, bugs, schedule items and data points for projects. In the past I’ve also used Copper Project, which is an online project management application. For personal work, as well as for initial engineering project estimation scheduling and resource allocation, I use OmniPlan.
Additionally, and especially useful for distributed teams, web hosted applications are becoming more popular and more powerful. The suite of tools from 37signals, including BaseCamp, are a great way to jumpstart project management needs.
All of these tools work well – some great – but can only work to their full potential (and thereby become invaluable to the people using them) if the data that goes in is good. When using any tool, from simple spreadsheets to comprehensive PM software, if the numbers that the team enters are consistent, reliable and accurate, rolling the status of a project up into a high-level overview can be done.
The challenge then, no matter what tools are used is to have a team (distributed or not) who takes seriously the value of strong estimation, regular updating of status and the ultimate use of the data to improve project work and delivery. No single overview will be useful if the underlying information isn’t correct or isn’t available; it may be even more dangerous than having no overview at all.