With remote software development teams, you need to be excellent at communicating “asynchronously”, across time zones. Much of your communication will not happen in real-time, so you can’t afford to play “Question and Answer Ping Pong”. Here are some proven best practices to follow as you address how to manage a remote development team.
Table of Contents
Set Up a Communication Framework
It’s too easy to lose valuable information when team members are communicating across multiple platforms like Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Email, Zoom chat, Google Hangouts, text etc..
As difficult as it might be, insist on limiting your technical communication channels to two or three.
Email can be used for overall communication between managers and other stakeholders, but technical communication channels should be limited.
Communication Framework for Remote Software Development Teams:
- Jira or another project/issue tracking platform can be used for technical documentation and overall project information. It can also be used to store communication protocol and process information.
- Slack could be used for instant communication and to post “group chat and notifications”. This is particularly helpful if direct communication after hours is used to answer bottleneck questions. Many delays can be avoided in this way.
- Video chat platforms like Skype, Zoom or similar can be used for video meetings and to share screens for collaboration.
Establish Clear Communication Protocols
Very early, establish communication protocols and expectations with your remote software development team. These will cover items such as:
Daily Collaboration Schedules
Work schedules between remote and internal development teams should be structured to maximize the number of daily collaboration hours. This is critical in the early stages but can be relaxed once the teams are up and running. A minimum of 2 hours of daily workday overlap with your remote team is suggested, more if possible.
- Scrum meeting times and frequency
- Scrum Masters and relevant Team Leads from both teams
- Daily at first, less frequently over time.
- Keep recurring meetings at regularly scheduled times.
- Monthly Technical Management meetings
- Attended by Technical Managers from both teams
- Track key KPIs and manage expectations
- Quarterly Executive Meetings
- Executive Engineering Management from both teams
- Roadmap discussions and executive feedback.
Low-Context Communication Expectations and Standards
Set specific standards and expectations for low-context communication from your remote software development team.
Avoid the “Question and Answer Ping Pong”
- Each email and direct message should be precise, meaningful and thoughtful. Short, vague emails usually trigger Q&A Ping Pong.
- Coach your teams to write emails with as much information as possible. Nothing should be left to interpretation.
- All team members should develop a habit of reviewing and proofreading emails and direct messages before sending. The simple question to answer before hitting send is; “If I were the recipient of this message, would I understand it without sending another email to clarify something?”
Once your remote team understands the importance of low-context communication, these improvements become a matter of practice.
After Hours Communication (for bottleneck questions)
Even with the best asynchronous communication between teams, it’s important to have the ability to get quick answers to bottleneck questions. Without this in place, project schedules often suffer the “death of a thousand cuts”.
Project schedules often suffer the “death of a thousand cuts”, waiting for answers to bottleneck questions.
We highly recommended that you get permission and cooperation from your offshore developers to periodically answer quick bottleneck questions sent to them after hours (on slack or another instant message platform). Being available (only as needed) just a few hours before and after the remote team’s formal workday can save weeks in schedule. A good remote team will see the value of this and agree.
Consider Developing a Glossary of Terms (Wiki)
Most teams use industry jargon without even realizing it. In fact, even technical jargon deemed common in the US might be misunderstood by a remote developer. It’s a good idea to develop a Glossary of Terms or Wiki to define any terms and definitions deemed relevant.
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