Interregional Software Development Week, Day 2: Meeting

Especially in interregional development meetings are important. Different teams will use them differently, some may be done after twenty minutes, others need two hours. Even if short, it’s still a good to have them. It’s important for everybody to see what everybody else is working on and what the issues are.

I’m aware of three ways to meet interregionally:
* Video conference
* Phone conference
* Chatbox

*Video Conference*
If the equipment is available to you, meeting through video conference is a good option. Meetings like these are a lot like normal meetings, except that you’re all in different places. Having occassional video conferences also help the team members remember that they’re collaborating with actual living people. You can hear them talk, you can see them move, it’s more important than you would think.

For the meeting leader it is very important to make sure that everybody is participating. To give everybody at least something to participate in, it’s a good idea to start each meeting with a round where everybody tells about what he/she has been working on and how it’s progressing. This is especially useful for the project manager, who can see that everybody has something to do.

*Phone Conference*
There are two kinds of phone conferences: the traditional one, where you actually call using a phone and a new one using “Skype”:http://www.skype.com. The problem of the latter is that at this moment only five people can be at the meeting at a time. But there may be other pieces of software that allow more than five to connect at once, I’ve never really looked into it.

Phone conferences have the advantage of the ability to hear eachother’s voices and being a fast way of communication. The problem is, especially in a conference with many people, that it’s hard to recognize who’s who.

*Chatbox*
Another option is to set up an IRC channel or doing something similar in your instant messenger of choice (such as ICQ or MSN). This approach has an particularly important advantage: the meeting is transcribed automatically, somebody who wasn’t there can read what was said later on. Compared to the phone conference it’s also very clear who says what. Disadvantage is that not everybody can type fast enough and you don’t actually see each other. And MSN icons don’t always show what you look like at that moment. Also, ignore “my previous advice on instant messaging”:http://www.zefhemel.com/archives/2004/11/02/no-smilies ; it’ll do more harm than good in this context.

If, during any of these meetings, documents are discussed it’s a good idea to use a tool such as “VNC”:http://www.realvnc.com to share the desktop of a computer. Members on each location can then look at and scroll-through the same documents simultaneously.

There are different kinds of distributed teams:
* Fully distributed teams, with about each member in another place
* Teams with groups of people in just two or three places

If the team in one place is big enough, it may also be viable to have meetings locally. Be sure to make minutes so that the other team members know what was discussed.

*Tools*
* “MSN Messenger”:http://messenger.msn.com or any other messenger, for chatbox meetings
* “Skype”:http://www.skype.com, for phone meetings
* Video conference software, I’ve never used PC software for this, so I wouldn’t know what’s a good choice
* “VNC”:http://www.realvnc.com, for sharing a desktop during a meeting