Teamwork Made Simple

By Amy Helen Johnson, CIO |  Software

CHRIS SCHAUB USED TO SPEND MORE time with a clipboard than with a compiler. As a software development manager at Thomson & Thomson, Schaub had the tedious job of updating the project schedule by asking all of the developers how far along they were on their assigned tasks. He was also responsible for distributing the Gantt chart that tracked their progress to all the team members, at the cost of considerable time and toner.

These days, Schaub's job is much simpler. "You want to know where the project is?" he asks. "Log in and look at the collaboration tool."

Since early 1999, Schaub and the 15-person development staff at the trademark and copyright research company in Quincy, Mass., have used Inovie Software Inc.'s TeamCenter as a collaborative project-management tool. Thomson & Thomson is one of a growing number of companies whose development departments have embraced collaboration tools. Although IT departments are early adopters -- these software packages are natural extensions of what managers are already doing with a project-management package or paper -- most of these project-collaboration tools are general enough to be used by any type of team. The software's key capabilities -- chat, discussion forums and resource-allocation features -- overcome the problems that arise when teams consist of people in different physical locations and when workers simultaneously juggle several projects. Once, software tools for programming teams meant a code repository and a bug-tracking database. But as companies find themselves hiring distributed project teams and juggling multiple simultaneous projects, they are turning to tools that provide the communication and resource-allocation features that traditional programming utilities lack.

According to David Coleman, managing director at San Francisco-based Collaborative Strategies LLC, another factor driving IT departments to use project-collaboration tools is a growing realization within companies that writing software involves more people than programmers and more processes than churning out lines of code. Teams can consist of business analysts, quality-assurance testers and upper-level management, among others. And these expanded teams are not sharing just code, he says; they're sharing questions about code. Issues like determining which projects will have the best rate of return, matching skill sets to project needs, and coordinating the testing and fixing phases of the debugging cycle dominate the discussion.

Rushing to fill the project-team void are collaboration-centric products from new vendors like Inovie, Instinctive Technology Inc. and Netmosphere Inc., as well as project-management solutions with expanded collaboration features from established vendors like ABT Corp., Planview Inc. and Primavera Systems Inc. Even programming-tools vendors such as Rational Software Corp. have joined the party.

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