Virtual Team Management

Question:

I want to ask you to write an article about your experiences with team management via the internet. How do you deal with people, what channels do you use to communicate (e-mail, IRC?) and how does it differ from working with people in real life on a game?

Answer:
The main tools we use to communicate are:
- MSN (for live chat)
- Skype (to talk)
- Forums (although currently I haven’t set up one, used in the past)
- Emails

Use of Skype is very limited in projects where I’ve been, but it can be used. It’s especially good if you need to test something and need your hands free. Forums can be efficiently used to assign tasks, report progress and get the team together more efficiently. Email still is the very useful tool for virtual communication. It’s something everybody uses & reads, and it’s cheap. We exchange lots of emails all the time, although the use of forums might reduce the need for emails. MSN is a good for meetings and for explaining some tasks in greater detail.

In my opinion, team management is much similar virtually than it is in an office. The major differences I’ve experienced are:

[1] Different times of work & timezones. For example: I’ve worked with people that come from USA, UK, Hungary, Finland etc. and they all have different timezones. When I wake up and start working, the guys might be about to go sleeping on the other side of the planet. This limits the live chat options & meetings, but on the other hand: it (theoretically) makes it possible to build product 24 hour each day – when one guy goes to sleep, other guy continues. In theory, but not much in the practise. The best ones have been the cases where I’ve (for example) programmed all day, given artist a job to do, gone to bed and wake up next morning with a finished 3D model to use next day. This way timezones can help production.

[2] Need to use more formal ways to assign tasks: in an office, you can use non-formal ways to assign tasks, but in virtual workplace you need to write down everything, draw & scan papers, email more details, pictures etc. to make sure the team member understands the task correctly. In fact – I think this is something that [i]should[/i] be done anyway – whether we are at the office or not. Too many times I’ve heard verbal instructions that get forgotten the moment after manager leaves the room. Virtual working place kind of forces team leaders to give written instructions, and that’s a good thing.

There are other differences also: such as less chit chat, working in your own separate office, using more English but these are – at least for me – minor issues compared to the 2 previously mentioned ones. Technical requirements are pretty much the same (instead of intranets you can have similar system in the Internet, version control software work well across the Internet), same problems (how to motivate people, how to hire the right persons, how to be on schedule etc.) stay.

For a person who likes to be among people, virtual team management can be tough – but for those who like to work from home and can handle timezones this method of working suits very well I think.

6 thoughts on “Virtual Team Management

  1. Kal_Torak

    I was going to recommend Basecamp, but it looks like Neil beat me to it. ;)
    I find that IRC is also good, for the reason that it retains the chat logs after you have left the channel.
    I.e. You can just pop in, run your mouth off and leave, being pretty sure the other members will see it when they get in.

    Reply
  2. Neil

    I recommend Basecamp by 37signals as a very easy collaboration tool that focuses on tasks and milestones rather than people management. As a developer, I love it since it focuses on the work that needs to be done and coordinating that work with other team members. Glorious. :)

    Reply
  3. Christian Behrenberg

    Since our team is settled in a 100 km radius its very common to come together every weekend or so, but virtual team management is also important.+

    Beside common communication like Messengers or VoiceOverIP (or normal telephone ;) ) some developing tools are helping, too.

    We use Subversion für version tracking and the TRAC ticketing system in combination with subversion and by this we can plan and discuss several tasks, enhancements and defects in a very fast paced development cycle.

    from their website:

    “What does Trac do?
    Trac lets software project developers and users track, use and manage:

    software issues, bug reports, feature requests, overall progress over time, project tasks, source code changes, documentation / wiki text.

    Having a network of links between issues/bugs/tasks, code changes and wiki text makes the big-picture perspective of a project truly accessible at any time, and it becomes easy to quickly get up-to-speed on the .”

    http://www.edgewall.com/trac/
    http://subversion.tigris.org/

    Reply
  4. Tim Fisher

    We’ve recently started using a new web based video conference facility, it’s not officially released yet but it will be a great asset to all when it is (www.vwho.net). It allows us to set up video conferences quickly and for no cost. The quality is great and it allows us to do all those things we could do if we were sitting in the same room. We’ve been using it extensivly for business meetings and providing customer support.

    Reply

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