AdventureLab, part 2: 5 top tools for collaboration

This is part 2 of the AdventureLab series documenting the Technology Entrepreneurship course at Stanford. For more information about the series please see the introduction. For a list of all articles in this series please see the AdventureLab collection.

Yesterday was the deadline for the second assignment, but that marks more than just the end of another task. With yesterday another round of team formation closes as we get ready for the real beginning of the course. Prof Eesley has posted just yesterday announcing the final approval from Stanford to publish lessons and material and here's a the blog post with videos for the first few weeks.

Crazy exciting time.

But as much as it's important to look at what's to come there's a lot that can be learned from what is just behind us.

Last week teams were assigned a worst idea from the ones generated during the first assignment and their task was to turn that around and come up with a pitch, slides and or video commercial to promote the product. This was a very interesting exercise as it promoted the concept that the difference between a bad and a good idea is less obvious than one might think. While of course there are plenty ideas that won't make it to the market, it's obvious from the stuff already published that a lot of what groups considered worst ideas could actually have a lot of potential.

A lot of videos have been published on YouTube. Our team was assigned Selling real estate on the Moon and I think we've done a pretty good job at making that appealing, but judge for yourself.

In both assignments team collaboration has been pivotal to the success of the project and with a lot of remote and distributed teams what I'd like to look at is the tooling that made that collaboration possible.

5 best collaboration tools, tips and tricks

Best is always a tricky concept and the tools I'm listing below are what worked for us and most people I spoke to. You can take the survey below and respond in the comments to help us improve the selection.

  1. Email. Despite all the social media craze good ole email remain people's favorite way to communicate and our group was no exception. A lot of teams have created a google group to simplify that exchange, but otherwise email it was, with attachments sent back and forth and all that jazz. I highly recommend the google groups over using CC's as that can lead to people being left out. A little known fact is that google groups now also support questions which you can use as a lightweight form of issue tracking system.
  2. Google docs. Again maybe not the most elegant solution, especially for things like brainstorming, but the easiness of access and price point :) (everybody loves free) makes it an obvious choice. There's also an abundance of ready to go templates for things like the business model canvas that make google docs even more appealing. The most useful thing I learned to work on shared docs is to create a collection and share that with the group. Any document added to that collection will be shared with the group which removes a lot of hassle.
  3. Skype and google hangouts. Most people I've reached out to besides email address shared they skype account. Skype works reasonably well however it has two major problems: messages are only sent when both receiver and sender are online, making it not idea for async communications; if you want to do video with multiple people you have to pay. This is where g+ and hangouts fill the gap by making for smoother async communication and video group chats.
  4. Google calendar and doodle. To maintain transparency and work with a tight schedule you gotta have some calendar reminders. Initially just put up whatever deadlines you have and come up with a couple milestones. They can be changed, but they will help to direct efforts. Also worth putting on the calendar any meetings that have been agreed upon and set a reminder. Google cal is a clear winner in this space, but organising meetings for groups spread all over the world would not be as easy without doodle. If you pay you can integrate it directly with the google calendar, but even the free version is as helpful and few other things are. There are two important tricks to know: enable timezone support, this will take remove a lot of hassle in figuring out what time is where; when you create the poll, in the advanced panel, enable ifneedbe - this will help finding a spot when availability is tight.
  5. Forums. Like email, forums might be not the most glamorous tool in a social media world and yet they remain extremely powerful if used well. The Venture Lab's forum has been pivotal to getting people together and figuring out teams, projects and sharing knowledge. The one thing that's important to keep in mind is to search before posting as a lot of new threads on existing topics will dilute the knowledge and make it harder for people to find what they need.

Bonus: find out what worked for others and share your experience

9 simple questions, nothing mandatory, to contribute to building stronger and more efficient teams. Share your experience and learn from what others have done by taking part to the survey, it will only take 2 minutes of your time. Thanks.

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