5 Tools you can’t live without to build products remotely.

build. measure.learn.

Managing product development when you work remotely is extremely hard, an order of magnitude harder than managing a team working in the same office.

But with the right culture, processes and tools it’s possible.

These are the top 5 areas I’d focus on and the tools I’d recommend using:

  1. Product Management: Blossom.io
  2. Social (Team) Coding: Github
  3. Virtual Room: Flowdock
  4. 1-0-1 or 1-to-many Calls: Skype / Google Hangout
  5. Updates and Knowledge base: Dashboard.io, Yammer and Basecamp
  6. Bonus: Still recommend at least quarterly *real* hangouts.

1. Product Management: Blossom

When it comes to managing the workflow of a remote team you just need to watch out for the usual mistakes/problems you’d encounter when working in the same office BUT with the added problem that you can’t white board, can’t look over someone’s shoulder or go grab a coffee.

Lean Startup and Kanban offer a generic methodology for how to manage product development which can also be applied to building products remotely. What changes is the level of thoroughness and engagement you need to get the team’s best ideas on paper, distributed and with everyone contributing to the creative process while not losing control of release-time.

Blossom is a visually stunning Kanban-style board allowing to visualize work in the various stages (idea, development, QA, live), contributors and timeline.

Pivotal Tracker and Asana are two valid alternatives but Pivotal was built with *Agile* in mind while Asana is an ‘all purpuse’ project management tool. It’s really beautiful but in our experience loses against blossom.

2. Social Coding

It would be impossible to manage product development from multiple locations without Github. It has completely revolutionized software development and collaboration. It allows the team to have a full overview of what gets pushed from staging to production, maintaing full control on releases (reversing, forking etc.). Full support for @mention #colorcodedcategories and milestone mgmt.

3. Virtual Room

There is nothing quite like meeting in person and spending a great brainstorming session whiteboarding with the team. But when that’s not possible the closest you can get *without* feeling like you are outsourcing work to an external entity is to get the team to be *always on* in a virtual room. Yes kinda of like Second Life but for product development. Flowdock is just the best when it comes to this. It’s packed with incredible power features and API integration with Github and other platforms. It allows 1-0-1-private, open-many-to-many conversations with @mention, threading and sound-notifications to make sure no-one misses a beat. It also comes with drag/drop photo uploading AND #hashtags to allow you search threads by keyword.

4. 1-0-1 or 1-to-many Calls: Skype / Google Hangout / Go-to-meeting

As much as many hate phones, Voice is still a necessary evil in human communiction. Skype is best for 1-0-1 and Many-to-many . Google Hangouts is best for ‘many-to-many video’ while Go-to-meeting is best to give live Demos and be *sure* of sound quality (it’s the pro service to use when presenting to an investor or business partner).

5. Updates and Shout outs: Yammer, Basecamp, Dashboard.io

Standups and Sitdowns are incredibly useful when you are in an office. They set the pace, the tone and help state objectives / assess results. When it’s not possible to do so in person you have to be creative.

Yammer is perhaps the best tool to do so in real time. It’s akin to Twitter in @mention and #hashtag. It works best for Standups, Sitdowns.

Basecamp: it’s classic for knowledge management. For Updates, largely allows for the same tools as Yammer but it’s somewhat less intuitive and immediate. It is better than Yammer to build a knowledge base organized by Topic and allows you to invite different members for different topics.

Dashboard.io functions beautifully for knowledge mgmt as well as Shout outs so found it provides the right balance.

Feel free to reach out if you know of better tools and / or want to discuss in detail.

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