Tag Archives: project tracking

Managing small teams: the tools you should use

Bobby Kostadinov recently asked me the following question on twitter:

And I was curious enough to go ask my team at eBay, where we use yammer to have fun conversations like this one.

The net of it is the team prefers simple approaches over complicated ones:

  • Many folks prefer using sticky notes, a whiteboard, and a camera for capturing them
  • A few folks like a spreadsheet, probably one with a few macros that create burn down charts and statistics
  • Using tools such as Jira, Trello, and Github Issues is becoming popular in the team

My personal experience with very small teams has been with sticky notes, whiteboards, and simple spreadsheets. When I began my career in 1990, I used a whiteboard on my first team and a polaroid camera to capture it. Many years later, I used a simple spreadsheet, and sticky notes late in the project to close down bugs and those final few features. If I had my time again on a small project, I’d probably do exactly the same thing.

The people on my team are wiser than me — they’ve got current experience with small teams — and here’s a compilation of what they said.

The most popular method: a whiteboard, a camera, and sticky (aka PostIt) notes

Ravi started the conversation about a simple approach and says that “for a small team – especially if they are working on a new project – [the] best I have seen so far is a whiteboard with cards or sticky notes. Put tasks as sticky notes or write in a card, move it along the white board from start to finish. Annotate the sticky with blockers, etc. if required”. Ibrahim has worked at two other major Internet companies prior to eBay, and says “Wow. Sticky notes people. It’s the most ‘obvious’ answer to all this. Sticky notes, whiteboard, and a camera (to capture) is all you need”.

Mitch, who’s probably been around as long as me, has the same experience and agrees, except when a team is remote. In that case, it’s time to switch to tools: “hypermail, jira (or similar, integrated system)”. Farah is of a similar mind and agrees “… sticky notes with daily huddles work very well. But being remote I have a strong preference for documenting everything. Taking pictures of the whiteboard after every huddle and putting the images on a wiki might work.”

Use a Tool

Sri’s one of our Vice Presidents, and has a long and distinguished career at eBay from individual contributor all the way up. He has “seen most open source initiatives use Jira. The rich portfolio of plugins make it a great tool for both the teams and for the project owner. Nice thing about Jira is that the companion wiki (confluence, the one we run) can surface it neatly inline as well through simple macros.”

There were many votes for Github Issues, including from Utkarsh who says that you should use it if you “are based off github. Simple and just works.”

Another popular emerging tool is Trello, which quite a few folks recommended. Other tools mentioned were Pivotal Tracker, newcomer Asana, and redmine.

Use a Spreadsheet

Jon D, who’s a veteran too, says that he’d stick with a spreadsheet. “For such a small team, especially if co-located, simple is good. A spreadsheet (Excel) or MS Project (using only basic features) are sufficient”. He was supported by several folks, who pointed out that there are good spreadsheets you can download and use, and that Google Docs is a nice way to collaborate across the team.

Other ideas

A few other ideas were mentioned, including using email (Google’s Gmail has excellent search capabilities), groups on Yammer, a Wiki, and (urrggghhh!) Sharepoint.

Hope this helps you Bobby, and a few others out there! Looking forward to starting a conversation on this one…