One of the things I’ve noticed while talking with other UX pros is that keeping lines of communication and collaboration open between departments can be very challenging. If an organization isn’t adequately prepared, it can be even trickier when you add remote employees to the mix. I have put together this list of tools that keep our organization Schoolwires running smoothly when folks are in the office, as well as when people are remote.
- TargetProcess – Keep track of who is doing what and when. As far as interdepartmental use goes, our Product Management team comes up with features and requirements and puts them in the backlog. Our Design, Dev and QA teams go through the backlog and figure out how much time is going to be needed to accomplish the requirements and who needs to be allocated to each piece of the project. Once those pieces are determined the epic or story goes live and tasks are added for each team member that needs to contribute from the UX, Content Strategy, Design, Development and QA teams. Time tracking can be included in tasks as well. When a team member completes a task, they close it. This product is fantastic, because instead of people calling to ask when something is going to be finished or what is being included in a release, they can just look in TP and see a live update at any time.
- Balsamiq – It’s a wireframing tool with an awesomely simple yet powerful UI. It has a desktop interface as well as a web interface so you can design from anywhere. As far as collaboration goes, we have a design kickoff meeting where we come up with concepts and throw out ideas based on a market problem. After the meeting our Design and Innovation Team (VP, UX Manager, UX Designer, Content Strategist & 2 Architects) work together in Balsamiq to create mockups. Balsamiq shows live updates, so we can all be in the same wireframe working on different mockups and we see alerts about what the rest of the team is doing. It also has commenting enabled, with optional email alerts so we can discuss design changes right in the wireframe. After we finish the initial design mockups, our architects add all of the necessary charts, business layer and data layer info. Then our Content Strategist goes through and does a final sweep of all of the screen copy, labels, tooltips and any additional in product UA to ensure a consistently warm & friendly, yet professional product tone. Finally our UX Designer adds a final high res mockup to the project, and it’s ready to be passed on to Engineering. I LOVE this product. It is absolutely amazing for collaboration.
- GotoMeeting – It’s ridiculously easy to set up web conferences with GotoMeeting. We use this all the time for collaboration among teams. You can do a straight web conference or you can take advantage of their integrated HD video conferencing. Another great feature is being able to record your entire session. So, if you have a meeting and a major stakeholder can’t attend, just record it and they can play it back when they are able.
- Shared Calendars – We use Outlook, but there are tons of calendar sharing programs out there. Being able to schedule a meeting while looking at the availability of everyone who needs to attend is worth it’s weight in gold and it cuts out tons of unnecessary confusion and frustration. We use it to simultaneously book meeting rooms, which is also extremely handy.
- HipChat – A ton of our internal communication happens through chat. It’s perfect when you have remote staff members, but even people who are sitting right across from one another use chat to communicate in our office because it’s extremely difficult to code/design when people are talking loudly all around you. We still chat and joke around and collaborate out loud on a regular basis, but when it’s something small, being able to fire off a question via chat without disturbing the person next to you who is neck deep in code comes in super handy. We currently use HipChat, which is a completely awesome collaborative tool. You can create chat screens organized by topic, and assign members to the various topics. We have our HipChat broken out into project specific chat screens, one for research, one for sharing cool innovative finds, we even have one for future office decor ideas. It is incredibly helpful to have a one stop shop for team discussion when you have remote employees, they never miss a single detail. As an added bonus, HipChat has cross device compatibility, so you can use it on your PC, Mac, iPhone, Android Device or you can just fire up the web view. I’m a huge fan of this product, it has really opened our lines of communication!
These tools in combination with a completely awesome staff, keep our company running smoothly whether employees are all in one room or spread out all over the country.