Six Essential Tools for Managing Distributed Teams

Quick Summary - As COVID lockdowns persist, many companies are looking more seriously at how to boost telecommuting and distributed team productivity.

Six Essential Tools for Managing Distributed Teams

If you’re making the shift or just getting started, we have some tips on selecting the essential tools for managing distributed development teams.

Project Management Software

Let’s start this off with a list of 41 project management software (PMS) titles. A list like that insinuates that the PMS options available don’t please most people most of the time. They each have their pros and cons, ways of doing things, and specialize for certain types of projects. JIRA is the most used PMS by Agile Teams, but we’ve also seen Basecamp, Trello, Teamwork, and Zoho Projects used – and a lot more diversification as of late. Some teams still use Google Docs and Sheets. To guide your decision and avoid the work associated with changing programs, we have three tips.

  1. Define your requirements, desired feature sets, and budget – then compare. Most offer a free trial version. Choose the one that fits your needs best.
  2. Whatever your choice, there’s a good chance it may miss a feature that you want. In all probability though, they can handle links and attachments. So, you only need to define which programs to use to handle the exceptions. This should get you to 100% coverage of your requirements.
  3. The most important part is to make sure that all of your team members are trained to use your PMS up to your standards – and enforce the standards. The goal of a PMS is to make managing products faster and easier while keeping administrative overhead to a minimum. Often this translates to poorly defined tasks, actions taken.

Software Version Control

While there are several different Version Control Systems (VCS) to choose from. For most projects, there are good reasons to use Git. It’s a free, open-source, easy-to-learn, high-performance VCS option with a 15+ year history. It’s not the most powerful, but it is the fastest and most commonly used VCS – especially for open-source projects. Git makes it fairly easy to track the progress of your software development and help ensure there are no code conflicts. Rob Rawson provides a comprehensive comparison of Git, Mercurial, CVS, and other version control options.

Code Repository Management

Git works with most of the top repository hosting and management services like GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, and Azure DevOps. While it’s universally recommended to keep your code repositories under 1 Gb, that’s not always possible. The larger your repository, the longer your developers will wait for interactions to transfer.

Each has their own feature sets and price packages, but one significant difference between the different repository hosting services is their maximum repository size limit. For Bitbucket and GitHub, this is 2 Gb, though you can make arrangements with the latter for up to 5 Gb. GitLab and Azure DevOps allow for up to 10 Gb. You shouldn’t need more than that, but if you do, engineers at Microsoft introduced their Git Virtual File System for use with the world’s largest git repository – over 300 Gb.

Software Development Analytics

To get the most out of your Git repositories, you should seriously consider automated software development performance analytics. These plug into your Git repositories so you can track the performance metrics and better manage your distributed teams. Metrics span efficiency, productivity, quality, and collaboration to help software engineering managers proactively identify and respond to problems. Options here include Gitential, WayDev, Codacy, and Code Climate, among others.

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Web Chat and Meeting Services

In a telecommuting or distributed development environment, you need an easy way to communicate. While everyone’s familiar with Skype, it should be no surprise that there are a variety of web chat and teleconferencing systems to choose from. Many offer free or low-cost plans suitable for small teams. In our experience, we’ve seen a lot of teams using Zoom and/or Slack for voice and instant messaging with minimal disruptions. Perhaps unconventional, but software developers working on games might want to check out Discord for its value-added gaming features.

Just about everyone has, at one time or another, experienced poor performance by all providers. Few were prepared for the massive uptick created by the pandemic. Poor performance, however, can also be tied to trying to use free services when their organizational requirements demand an upgrade. Free services tend to limit the number of concurrent users and/or time per call. Users of Google Hangouts should know by now that the service is migrating to Google Chat (similar to Slack’s messaging) in 2021.

Virtual Conferencing

Sometimes, you need something more. Sococo lets you put your entire organization into a “virtual building – complete with virtual offices, conference, and break rooms.” At a glance, you can see everyone who is online and what they’re working on. With a click, you can jump into their office – unless they have “Do Not Disturb” on signifying perhaps a private meeting. It’s an excellent tool for managing large distributed teams.

Sococo Explainer Video 32520 from Sococo on Vimeo.

And sometimes, you need to collaborate closely, but flying everyone in isn’t an option. Spatial provides a VR work environment allowing everyone to interact almost as if they’re in the same room via avatars. It requires users to have a VR/XR headset for the full experience, but you can get the gist of it with an ordinary web browser.


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