Chow #14 – What online tools do you suggest for a distributed team?

Lets take a drive around how teams are operating in a distributed environment. I am sure a lot of us would have been meeting people remotely. This challenge is to take collaboration a step further.

Roopa, a seasoned manager has got started on a small but interesting project. Her team is rolling out a health monitoring mobile app to districts in eastern and southern India. Her team is co-ordinating with NGO representing the states, district health officers, volunteers and her own team that visit these folks on the ground.

Their team needs to showcase the mobile application to the NGO every week and to some selected volunteers. Roopa, the team’s analyst and couple of senior developers discuss with the NGO on an almost daily basis about the app; take feedback and generate ideas for subsequent milestones. This is a true distributed team – with everyone having views.

If they were co-located, Roopa would have hit a sixer with her facilitation skills, stickies and white board. But, that is not what it is – and, Telephone and video calls are proving to be not sufficient at all.

After a bit of haggling – her company has told it will support budget and consider specific security reviews if she can recommend some  tools for simulating the workshop process online.

Can you help her find those tools, she is using her home computer to research tools giving these features

  • Collaborate on ideas and do facilitation online
  • Showcase her mobile app without having to do the installation in every phone every week

Network availability (3G or wired), power situation is good at NGO and Government offices – almost on par with her offices.

Roopa has several options to review and select from the below categories

Collaboration tools for Team Meeting: These are tools that distributed teams can consider – this category of  tools is more well known too

GoTo Meeting
Google’s Hangout
Slack – Just awesome for the amount of integrations. Now they have opened voice calls too. You may want to look at their site if you will need to look at


Collaboration for discussing generating ideas (Facilitation tools): These tools can be used to actually change the tone of meetings, especially if all people must participate and contribute to ideas

XMind – Primarily an offline mind mapping tool; but very effective if you use it with team meeting tools and in some cases let the other person take remote control.

BlankCanvas: Another tool that is just awesome for the way it allows us to consolidate and group ideas and get people to contribute. Worth taking more than a look.

MindMeister: Have used it very little personally, but avoids X-Mind’s offline challenges.


Team Tasks & Dashboards:  What is a team if we can not point who is to do what and see how the team is progressing; the following tools help people become what they could be – “effective team”

Trello: Easy to setup, share and create lists, tasks and integrate with other collaboration tools. This should be your first choice if you are looking for something light weight and effective. Pulling metrics is slightly difficult (IMO), but you could export and get things done in a jiffy.

Mingle – I like this tool for the amount of reports and insights that you can pull up and consider it truly enabling for  teams in organisations.

Also consider BaseCamp, I have heard good things – but never used it.

User Experience sharing tools
If you use mac, go first for SketchBalsamiq is good for doing mock ups. Check out Creately too. If nothing else, use powerpoint (or) KeyNote (or) LibreOffice itself to create new visuals – those are very very effective. All these tools can be used from a very light-weight sharing visual ideas to a proper end user ready prototype.

Mobile Application Showcase & Sharing tools
Consider HockeyApp, TestFlight (for iOS). These tools give more options to understand crash reports, actual user behaviour (especially links that users do not even bother to look -which ideally you must get an idea during early prototyping).

But, if the idea is just to demo – then a screen recorder will be good too


What do you think?

Leave a Reply

What to read next