July 31, 2014 by Roman Ožana

5 Helpful Tools for Distributed Development Teams

Photo by Ashley Baxter
Photo by Ashley Baxter

These days, online connectivity allows us a huge amount of flexibility in how, where, and when teams work. But while remote working has many advantages, it’s far from perfect.

One of the most important things we’ve learned as a partially remote team is that it’s very important that you have a strong set of tools in place.

Luckily, there are tons of development out there for distributed development teams, whether you’re distributed globally or you’re a local team that works occasionally from home, like Team Testomato.

Every distributed team will have a preferred set of tools that works best for them – what works for us may not suit your needs. Here are 5 useful tools that have helped us stay connected no matter where we are.

Git: Collaborating on Code

When a team is working from different access points, it’s crucial that everyone is able to contribute and access your project codes. Version control can be a challenge when you have people who are disconnected in some way or working offsite.

That’s where distributed version control systems come in handy.

Git is our distributed version control system of choice.  In fact, Testomato isn’t the only team using Git at Wikidi – all of our project teams do.

Here’s why it hits at the top of our list:

  • Commits, diffs, logs, branches, merges, etc. can be done while you’re offline.
  • Each developer has a complete copy of everything, which keeps our code secured and easy to restore.
  • No dependence on a centralized server and that ability to synchronize with other Git repositories allows flexible workflows.

For teams that don’t want to handle their own server, you can use hosting service, like GitHub. It’s not only great for hosting code, but it’s also an amazing collaboration tool for developers building open source projects.

Just a note: We use GitLab for our private Git repository management, code reviews, issue tracking, and wikis.

AgileZen: Tracking Your Tasks as a Team

We use a virtual Kanban board to help us track our tasks and identify weak areas in our workflow. AgileZen has a great board option as part of project management app.

Everything project related (e.g. current tasks, t0-dos, finished tasks) are organized visually so all members can get a look at the big picture. It’s a simple, straight-forward way to track progress, troubleshoot development issues, and monitor how well the team is working together.

The Testomato board contains all the project work and issue stories, which are then selected by Lukas to be worked on by the developers.

agilezen board

If there are any issues that keep items from moving or bock our progress, everyone on the team is able to see the problem and contribute to finding a solution.

Confluence: Team Sharing and Collaboration

We use Confluence as our team wiki collaboration platform, which lets us create and document ideas, discussions, and make decisions together.

Each page is created by one of us and then, everyone is able to leave comments on it. You can set up email notifications for any of the pages and sign up for an email digest with recommended updates to check out.

confluence suggested updates

We use Confluence for sharing and discussion ideas, resolving user issues, working on new copy, and even blog post editing.

For example, Elle and Jan have been working on translating one of Jan’s blog posts into English together. Instead of sending a bunch of emails back and forth, they’ve been continually editing together in the same place.

HipChat: Keeping In Touch

A reliable chat tool is essential for keeping distributed teams connected. We used to use Jabber, but recently our whole office made the move to HipChat.

HipChat is a team chat tool, which incorporates different chat rooms and 1-on-1 conversations into one easy-to-use interface.

Here’s what our lobby looks like with all of our chat rooms and team members:

hipchat screenshot

This ensures that anyone who’s not in the office is able to check in throughout the day to find out what’s going on, discuss real-time issues, or ask questions if they need to.

We also have a few automatic notifications set up in HipChat:

  • GitLab commits
  • Changes to AgileZen board
  • Notifications for Confluence updates
hipchat notifications

UserEcho: Strong Support and Easy Feedback

We use Userecho to help us gather feedback and manage our customer support efforts. User suggestions and complaints play an important role in how we develop Testomato, and it’s necessary that everyone on the team is able to access their comments.

Userecho is a community forum tool, which allows visitors to submit ideas, leave feedback, and report issues. Topics can be categorized and tagged for easy tracking, and replies are threaded so you can keep track of the conversations.

testomato userecho forum

Bonus Tool: Trello

Trello is an awesome collaboration tool that uses cards and lists to organize your projects. It’s one of the easiest ways to visually manage workflows, task lists, or collaborate with a team.

It’s simple to use – create a board and add tasks (cards) to as many lists as you want.

Even though we chose AgileZen because it’s more suited to our development process, Trello is still one of our favorites.

In fact, Elle uses it to help her keep track of our blog content. Here’s a peek at her Testomato board:

sample trello board

We hope you’ll share your own experiences (good or bad) with us in the comments. And be sure to let us know if we missed one of your favorites!

What are the best tools for distributed development teams? 

Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook. You can also tweet us directly @testomatocom.

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