Remote teams have changed the game. They’ve broken every rule about productivity and showed an entire generation of control-freak managers that productivity is best when notmicromanaged between four flimsy cubicle walls.
With that being said, remote teams, especially remote product development teams, face unique challenges when it comes to design, vision for the product, roadmapping and team aligned with vision, creation and refinement of the product.
Here’s how to take advantage of the productivity benefits of agile product development teams without losing the cohesiveness your product needs to go to market.
For a remote product development team to be effective, it must have the right team leader. This means someone who has the technical chops needed to oversee the project, but who can also easily wear the project manager hat. These two skills aren’t always easy to find in the same person because they require technical, people and organizational skills – along with big picture thinking. While it makes sense to have this manager be someone you already have in house, if you don’t already have someone that fits the bill, consider hiring someone specifically for this joint role. You’ll save a lot of money in lost efficiencies and sub-par products in the long run.
It sounds simple, but making sure that the entire team is absolutely 100% clear on their individual role, responsibilities and how their part contributes to the larger picture of the company goals is critical to keeping the project moving in the right direction. Clarity is vital to avoiding mistakes and apathy that occurs when team members feel like their role isn’t as important as someone else’s. To combat this, repeat often why each role is vital to the product development team’s success and continue to clarify as the project develops what each person’s specific role entails and the impact they will have. As projects unfold, roles evolve which makes constant clarity and all communication filtered by the team leader to avoid mixed messaging and promote his team’s success.
It isn’t the customer that has to be won over first to make a product successful – it’s the product development team. This can be especially tricky when working with remote teams, who may feel more disconnected from the product and overall company goal. Team members who understand the overall mission and interact with users regularly are more excited about the product, which leads to more productivity and accountability. To cultivate product excitement and empathy, Agile Coach Savita Pahjua suggests encouraging your team members to attend conferences and meetings where users are, so they can see the product in action and share their excitement for what’s coming next.
Tools like Agile (Scrum) and Kanban have made it entirely possible to maintain an efficient, transparent workflow with remote teams. For these tools to be successful, it’s important to be clear about which technologies each member of the team will be interacting with for each phase of development.
Separate the team into smaller squads to tackle certain features and make sure to appoint the right specialists to the right tasks. When in doubt, always ask your remote team members what they like to work on. People perform best when they’re in the right role with the right tools to support them.
Sounds simple enough, but we see it way too often–product development teams who get caught up in mundane, repetitive tasks that could easily be automated, that in turn pull them away from the job they were hired to accomplish. When the team is remote, the risk for falling into “busy-work” habits can be even greater, because there’s a certain level of disconnect from the team priorities. Automate continuous integration tasks so that the specialists are free to focus on what they were hired to do and the priorities made clear.
Consistent workflows are important for everyone, but for the remote product development team – the more consistent the process, the easier it is for everyone. Use screenshots, annotations and GIFs for clarity (don’t rely on text-heavy emails) and have clear processes in place for every stage of the project. The last thing any team leader wants is to stress over an update, simply because the team is unclear on when, where or how to communicate the project’s status.
Possibly the most important “rule” to remember is: as team and projects change and grow, so will the processes. As important it is to track in house teams, even more so does this apply to remote ones. Not because remote workers aren’t productive, but because it’s easier to lose sight of team goals, product vision and priorities. Every great workflow tool has the ability to visually track metrics – take advantage of this! Regularly check average cycle times to make sure the team is staying on track and don’t be afraid to adjust the project where necessary. Often times, it’s the 2mm changes that make the biggest difference.
Is your product development team remote? If so, how do you overcome these agile team challenges and what advice would you have for other product development teams that are looking to expand remotely? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!