Case Study: Collaboration and Communication Tools

http://blog.vendoservices.com/vendo-blog/2015/08/27/business-case-collaboration-and-communication-tools

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(This is a business case study. It will be used to guide discussions during the session: “Collaboration and Communication Tools” at the Vendo Partner Conference in Barcelona on September 17th.)

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By Buddy

I subscribe to the view that when there is a problem it ALWAYS boils down to communication. Because of this I’m always experimenting and tweaking the tools that we use in our organization. But changing tools can be disruptive to any organization and it has the potential to cause friction in teams. So I tend to experiment in small groups before spreading anything new out.

Here are some tools that we’ve tried and my thoughts on their strengths and weaknesses

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Google apps for work

Gmail, google drive, google docs, and hangouts make up the best suite of collaboration tools on the market.  I assume that everyone has experience with most of those but I’d like to highlight Hangouts. Hangouts has sneakily become an enterprise level communication tool and because of Google’s lack of marketing prowess no one seems to know. I spend a lot of time in video calls, a LOT of time, and mostly they are on skype because that is just the default that everyone goes to. But Skype sucks, there I said it. In a 1 to 1 conversation under ideal conditions it’s fine, and maybe a group call will go pretty well. But more often than not it’s “can you say that again, you froze”, “can you hear me?” and “one sec, let me restart the call”. It kills me that we’re still dealing with that in the age of low lag and fast bandwidth.

Hangouts just does it better, and it’s built right in to your gmail (which you are probably already using, right?). Group calls are a breeze. Want to record your calls or broadcast your call to a large group? Hangouts on Air is simple. Oh, and do you want a dedicated setup for your conference room? Don’t spend thousands on a glorified Skype set up with proprietary hardware, feast your eyes on this: Chromebox for Meetings. Simple enterprise level setup for less than $1k. Do I sound like an advertisement? I know I do, but Hangouts and the Chromebox are that good. Try them. The only problem I have is getting people to use them. People just reach for Skype automatically, I do it myself sometimes too.

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Jira

Jira is the tool that developers pick when they are free to pick their own tool (which they ALWAYS should be). I see it again and again in different organizations, it’s just what developers love.  We use it inside our engineering team and universally we love it.

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Basecamp

In the same way that Jira is the tool developers choose, Basecamp is the tool that startups love. It’s super friendly to use and just does what it does well. But one hangup is that it is missing a visualization tool (there are some plug ins). We use basecamp outside of engineering to keep track of our projects and tasks and are happy with it. But it took three different tries to get the whole team using it. Like any tracking tool if everyone isn’t updating it then it starts to get out of sync and people stop using it.

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Slack

Slack is a great new Collaboration tool. That’s capital C Collaboration. It does group conversations, file sharing, and has great search features. Have you ever tried searching Skype for something you said a couple of months ago? It’s a f—ing nightmare. No nightmare with Slack. It also integrates directly with dropbox, github, google calendar, google drive, hangouts, jira, nagios, pingdom, twitter, and zendesk to name a few. It is really well thought out and deserves a look. What about the negatives? Well for one the pricing isn’t great for bigger teams, although the free version is useful as is. But the real problem I’m having is the same as the problem I’m having with Google Hangouts: getting people to use it. Skype works fine for chat and calls and it’s what everyone is used to. And although everyone agrees Slack and Hangouts are better when they use them they still tend to use Skype. And so entropy keeps the new (and better?) tools from being fully adopted.

Part of the equation that is important to remember is that most people like what they are used to. And when what they are used to is “good enough” getting them to change can cause friction. That’s why generally I find it’s a good idea to try the tools out in small groups and the good ones will force their way into wider use.

Those are some example from my personal experience. Questions for discussion: What tools are you happy with or experimenting with? How do you navigate the tricky business of implementing them with your team?

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