Sunday, 6 December 2009

Online Issue Logs

Activity - Using workspace features to usefully share a key project document

Participants - 1 project manager, 1 project board member, several team members

Technologies - The spreadsheet in Google docs was used after uploading a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. (It is worth noting that the Microsoft shared office features available are very impressive..... if your organisation has access to them)

Issue logs are an important aspect of the PRINCE2 project management methodology. They are really useful for controlling a project and are used to log any "issues" that are important and any steps being taken to address the "issues". What I have experienced is that they work best when they are visible to a number of key people in the project.

In the past I have e-mailed similar project control documents to team members responsible for the delivery of products. This does present a challenge to version control..... once the issue log has been sent then it will get out of date when a new project issue is raised by the project manager and also when the team manager updates an issue with new information. There is a real danger that people are working on different versions and therefore the clarity that comes from an issue log is replaced with confusion.

What I have experienced recently is a real benefit from using a simple spreadsheet for each discreet project and sharing it online with the team members and a member of the project board. The spreadsheet has been hosted on Google docs which has offered some definite online collaboration benefits:

  • Different-Time : as project manager I have been able to continue to raise issues while the team have been updating it with information about resolutions to issues.
  • Different-Time: My project board member is able to see what is happening if they want to get a live, current update.
  • Real-Time: Google docs has enabled us to look at the same document during checkpoint meetings (using Skype) and collaboratively update the issue log during our discussion

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Project Collaboration

Activity - a shared online workspace. Using PowerPoint, Word, Visio, an Project files and comments

Participants - 1 project manager and 1 consultant

Technologies - was used as the workspace

On Tuesday I took part in a presentation to a board following a year long project of requirements gathering, process analysis, selection workshops and reporting. It was a great project working with great people.

The project manager and I collaborated extensively, we met regularly face to face, discussed plans co-authored documents, diagrams and presentations.

The co-authoring was supported by the use of a shared folder on What was really valuable was keeping the current version of the documents and also providing comments for each other about next steps. This was useful while we was developing things and also served as a prompt.

Personally the thing I noticed was greater awareness of the combined effort, I noticed:

  • when a new version of a document was uploaded - prompting me to review it
  • when a document was downloaded - reassuirng me that things were happening
  • when I hadn't uploaded documents I was aware that the project manager would know I wasn't working on it :-)

Monday, 3 August 2009

The unique opportunity of online collaboration

It occurs to me that the possiblities presented by using technology to collaborate are massive, you can assemble teams that woulldn't naturally have the opportunity to work together. Crowdsourcing using sites like can enable teams of really capable individuals to solve problems and generate new concepts.

The limitations of the communication that is not face to face are more than compensated for by the people who are "sitting around the table".

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Meeting to develop a proposal

Activity - Meeting to

develop a proposal

Participants - 4 participants

Technologies - skype used as a telephone conferencing tool a Microsoft Word document had been distributed by e-mail prior to the meeting.

Joining the meeting - The consultant who was facilitating and 2 participants had Skype. The consultant called the two Skype particpants simultaneously using a conference group. This worked reasonably well. The third particpant was using a landline in the Phillipnes and was called from within the Skype group, this was the only part of the call that had a financial cost attached to it.

During the meeting

One thing I found really useful was that Skype shows boxes around each of the participants and so you can see when someone is about to speak or if you might be getting some interference. I've also noticed that it is often useful as faciliator to direct the flow of conversation around the participants at time to try and prevent over-talking, however sometimes it is also good to take a step back and let the conversation flow. It feels uncomfortable at times it isn't as good as face to face but then when you are across a few time zones it is a lot easier :-)

We went through each participant expressing their view one at a time and as faciliatator a bit of summing up meant that some actions were clarified to finalise the development of the proposal.

One of the participants seemed to be having some bandwidth problems and was lost a couple of times. As the host I've learnt to ensure that I've closed down any other programs that might use bandwidth and make the connection flakey for all the participants.

It also occurs to me that being able to share the document on screen might have been useful, also some tools to measure the bandwidth usage.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A Quick Fix - that worked

Activity - Quick use of Instant Messaging and Screen Share to fix a problem

Participants - 1 software developer and 1 consultant 

Technologies -yuuguu was used as IM tool and to webshare the consultant's screen.

I was checking a web application that had been developed and I realised some of the data wasn't right. 

I saw that the developer was available on my Instant Messenger and so I said a quick hello and mentioned I needed some data changing. I also shared my screen so he could see what I was looking at. He confirmed in quick line what I meant. 

5 minutes later he asked me to refresh my browser and I could see he had fixed it and so I confirmed the fix. Very few lines of text were exchanged and we got a quick fix with little disruption to both of us. If I had tried to just e-mail the change it wouldn't have been easy to comprehend and if I had tried to phone through it would have taken far longer

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Instant messaging - A quick solution

I needed to arrange for something to be changed on a client's web applications and through my contact on my IM tool I was able to make the request and have confirmation of the change within a short period of time.

I could see that the developer was in the office which had an advantage over e-mail. Althought the response wasn't immediate from the developer, a quick message came through to confirm it was updated within a reasonable time and I could acknowledge it. 

One of the things I've noticed with IM tools is that messages tend to be a lot shorter as well and therefore when time is important quick updates and assistance be arranged.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Using my workspace

Activity - Updating tasks on shared workspace


Technologies - btworkspace(based on Microsoft SharePoint)

is being used to store shared documents in folders labeled for each project. Tasks are also their,


I updated some tasks stored on a central workspace with comments based on information that I had received. I also created some new tasks for colleagues to review. The benefit of this is if my co-worker needs an update at any time on where projects are currently at he can just read it.

I had briefly experimented with a product called Konolive which had the clever idea of linking IM to a shared workspace for storing files. At the time of writing though it is too inconsistent for me: didn't smoohtly integrate with the workspace tool and my colleaguing trialing it struggled to install it.

Withdrawal from Instant Messaging - too may interruptions

I was talking to a software development partner and I had noticed that they were no longer on skype. I had found it useful in the past to see when they were on skype and logged on. In fact I found it strange that they weren't there anymore, I was even wondering to myself if they had gone out of business! This on reflection seems to me to be a good case of where the sense of their presence was quite real to me.

I had a call scheduled with their MD and discovered that they were still very much in business and after we had finished our conversation I asked him if they were on skype any more. He told me that they had decided not to use it any more as it had become too distracting for them with too many people trying to talk to them througought the day.

This seems to be a re-occuring problem with Instant Messaging (IM).......
  • won't it just prove too distracting to people
  • anyone can contact my staff anytime
  • People will never get things done, never achieve their work goals.
I actually asked someone to remove MS Messenger from their PC in an organisation I ran because they were too busy messaging their friends around the world......... was that the right answer? I certainly have expereinced the problem. 

The reality is that by providing IM you are creating another communciation channel for people and therefore it needs to be managed in a way that is effective for you and your organisation. Everyone already has a number of communciation channels available: The phone, e-mail and the person sitting next to them. These also can be disruptive to a person acheivng their work goals.

What needs to happen is that we need to have clarity about how we will use these different tools and have agreement with our collaborators. I've known people:
  • choose not to answer the phone at certain times
  • not to instantly respond to e-mail
  • switch their phone off in meetings
  • wear a distinctive hat or headphones when they don't want to be interuptted by colleagues in their office
  • put a do not disturb sign on the door
  • encourage staff to only use the phone for reasonable personal use
All of these methods translate into Instant Messaging, at least in principle.

IM has the added benefits of 
  • making your office bigger - your physical office is limited in space
  • opening contact with other time zones
  • letting people know when you are in
These can create problems by making your contact pool larger and so you need to learn to use do not disturb on your IM tool at times. 

In my view I would also encourgage people to think of IM as a little less than instant so that people feel comfortable completing their current tasks before responding. 

Finally we need to work with people who we trust to be responsible. If someone is focused and shares our commitment to work goals then we can trust them not to be messaging friends to the detriment of their work goals. Sure they might take a break at times that's healthy but they won't neglect their work and they will experience the benefit of being part of a larger group of people.

Adding colleagues to your online office

Activity Adding new IM contact and testing it works

Partcipants Me and 1 client. 2 miles away

Installed yuuguu client


I recently had invited one of my clients to join me on Yuuguu. They installed the client and gave me a quick hello to check it was working. It occurred to me it is nice to do a quick introduction to someone once they are on. One of the benefits that occured to me was the fact that we will know whether each other is at their computer when we need to call. This will be really handy as we are both often out and about.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Working at different time


Activity - Following online meeting with software development company a workspace is being set-up to support online meetings by having a single source of information.


Participants - 3 software development company team members, 2 client participants, 1 consultant


Technologies - btworkspace(based on Microsoft SharePoint)

is being used to store shared documents in folders labeled for each project. Tasks are also being set-up and assigned to different people within the group.

The workspace will notify people in the group when activity occurs. I am curious to see how much activity takes place.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Online meeting 7 May 2009

Activity - Meeting to review a number of software projects being developed

Participants - 3 software development company team members, 2 client participants, 1 consultant 

Technologies - skype was used as a telephone conferencing tool, yuuguu was used to webshare the consultant's screen who was acting as facilitator.

The facilitator shared the screen showing the agenda. The agenda had previously been sent out using outlook as a meeting invite. 

Joining the meeting - participants were given a skype in number to dial which was a normal uk phone number. As each member joined they were added to the conference in Skype. The 3 people from the software company were sitting in an office in Louth around a speaker phone, the consultant in Grimsby and 1 client in Hull. One thing I have noticed about skype is that it doesn't do the announcement "Mr Smith has joined the meeting" I miss that although I guess it does save some money on phone calls and often the call quality is better. The last partipant, located in York, I instant messaged on Yuuguu and asked him to phone at a conveniant point so that he could join in the meeting about 30 minutes in.

I sent a link to the Yuuguu site and pin number via Yuuguu to all the participants except one who I e-mailed (they have Yuuguu but it has stopped working for them)

During the meeting
I started to share my screen and showed the agenda. 

As we discussed certain solutions I showed the particular screen shot that related to it on screen. This seemed quite useful as we were all looking at the same thing. 

In contrast at one point we discussed another document that 2 particpants had printed and I didn't have a copy. They each had something that looked different it transpired after about 5 minutes of discussion. 

On a different point it was quite distracting when I moved off the main screen to add a note to something else. I learned to use the pause button in Yuuguu which keeps the screen at time of pasuing in view while you go off and do something else.


I spoke to two particpants after the meeting who both said they found it really productive. They also said that it would have:

  • Benefited from having all documents shared, the same version in a shared workspace
  • Been useful to be able to note actions on screen as we agreed them
  • Seen all the agenda on one screen

Monday, 6 April 2009

Online meeting 6 April 2009

Activity - Meeting to review a number of software projects being developed


Participants - 3 software development company team members, 2 client participants, 1 consultant


Technologies - skype was used as a telephone conferencing tool. The agenda had previously been sent out using outlook as a meeting invite. 


Joining the meeting


I used Skype for a conference call,  I could set it to ring several numbers at the same time, and so I did, the problem is the fact you get loads of answers all at once, which is even worse if you are going through switchboards. I had to stop and redial using the conference call option with just one participant and then adding others in one at a time. Each time the current people who are in the call can hear the ringing of the phone at the other end.


This I guess still doesn't work as nicely as the old fashioned dial-in conference call where it announces each attendee as they arrive.


The cost was relatively high for me as I was paying for all of the 3 calls to participants in York, Louth and Hull. This was still better value overall than a premium conference call service where everyone would have been paying 10p per minute. I think next time I try Skype I will give out my Skype-in number for people to dial in to and try my hand at adding them in as they turn up. It should save on cost and might be a better experience.


The voice quality was ok, there was a bit of echo which I suspect was down to one of the participant's phones.


During the meeting


We didn't screen share, truthfully I forgot to set it up. We had a successful meeting reviewing our actions with me facilitating it. I suspect having a screen share of the agenda would have added a little value, giving everyone something to look at. We did talk about a couple of software applications and some design work which would have been useful to show in support. Upon reflection the ideal scenario for screen sharing in this case would have been everyone able to screen share.


I am conscious that Skype requires installation on a person's machine, although people could maybe do screen shares using a plug-in.




It was a little too disjointed calling out with skype and I missed a chance to webshare

  • Next time I intend to use a normal conference call number or get them to call me, calling out is too messy
  • I'll use a web share for the agenda next time

Friday, 13 March 2009


Activity - Working with a software development company at the other end of the country to enable contact for quick answers and to start phone conversations


Participants - 3 software development company team members and 1 Consultant


Technologies - Skype

is being used to show presence of members of the team and to allow chats to be inititated using the instant messaging/chat features of Skype

In Practice

This has most often been useful to send a check when someone is available for a phone conversation (Skype to Skype chat at no cost). It is better than ringing and the phone ringing out, I know the person is there and often even if the developer are in  a meeting they will send me a message back within  a minute to let me know they will be available later on.

It doesn't personally give me that sense of working in the same office with them and sometimes it is still pretty easy to ignore they are then when there is other pressing work to do.

I did on a couple of occassions have an ongoing chat/messaging with a few members of the team as one group which was quite effective in allowing us to clear up some issues. I also used the feature to transfer files over to them as well.