Update: This blog was originally published March 2016. However like all things, the online world keeps evolving. So I have updated Part 1 and Part 2 of the blog (Dec 2018). I added new software suggestions and removed some.
As part of a side business, I have been working alongside a team of software developers. It has been a good learning experience for me to see how the tech world does things compared to how the mining industry likes to work. We see a lot of private equity flowing into tech and less into mining, so they must be doing something right.
The tech start-up industry has developed its own set of jargon. Common terms are agile management, lean start-ups, disruption, minimum viable products, pings, fail fast, and sprints.
Some of their work approaches do not make sense for the mining industry where one doesn’t have the luxury of using trial-and-error and customer feedback to help complete a project.
For software, the attitude is get it out the door fast and your customers will then tell you what fixes are needed. In mining you want to get it right the first time. Having said that, some mining people will say they have seen 43-101 technical reports that follow the “wait for customer feedback” model.
Now where the tech industry can provide us with some guidance is in the implementation of collaboration tools. It is becoming more common for software developers to work remotely. To collaborate they use the technology available or they develop new technology to meet their needs. Mining teams are also working more and more from remote offices these days.
What are the collaboration software available
The following is a partial list (Part 1) of free software tools that I have used, mainly because I was forced to. With some hesitation at first, I have subsequently found the tools easy to use. Many of them can definitely be applied in the mining industry with remote and diverse study teams.
There are a lot more tech tools out there but my list includes some that I have personally used. Most of these are free to begin with, and enhanced features are available at a minimal cost. However even the free versions are functional and can be used to build a comfort level in the team. Most of them provide both web based access and mobile access so even when you’re on the road you can still use them and contribute.
Trello: If you want to create a “to-do list” or task list for your team, this is the software to use. Imagine a bunch of post-it notes that you can place under different categories, assign persons to each note, attached a file to the note if you wish, and then have back and forth discussions within each note. Once a task is done, just drag the note to another category (e.g. “In Progress”, “Completed”). Anyone on the team can be invited to the Trello Board and can collaborate. See the image below for an example Trello screenshot. This is a great tool for helping to manage tasks in a mining study.
Slack: If you want to maintain a running dialogue of group discussions that invited team members can follow and join in on, then Slack (a Canadian company) is for you. It can replace the long confusing back-and-forth emails that we commonly see. If someone forgets to “reply all” the rest of the team is out of the loop. See the image below for an example Slack screenshot. It’s great for discussions among the team. You can also have private one-on-one discussions or wide open team discussions. You can attach files too and you can get pinged when something new is added. It provides permanent record of conversations and decisions.
Mural: Mural is a recent innovation to solve the issue that remote teams have of not sitting in the same room and writing ideas down on a whiteboard. For that last while, there was no good white boarding software out there but I understand that Mural fills the gap. i have not used it so cannot vouch for its simplicity, however it seems to be catching with the tech developers. The screenshot below shows the type of inter-actions possble. Each person has access to write on the whiteboard.
Basecamp: is similar program to Slack that incorporates features from both the above and some people swear by this tool. I have not personally used it so cannot vouch for it, but some say it is very good.