Managing a team of developers can be a difficult undertaking when you’re working remotely. And effectively overseeing team members working solo in different time zones all over the world, as many tech companies now do, is even more complex than having just one or two off-site freelancers. That’s why I asked fourteen members from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:
We work with a big team of developers, all remote. What is one tip you have for helping me better delegate/assign/monitor the workflow? (Looking for strategies more so than tools.)
Their best answers are below.
Adopt a Known Development Management Process and Stick to It
We have about 25 remote developers all over the globe, and we stick to the scrum agile management process for keeping everyone honest and productive. While the extreme scrum evangelists push the “scrum board,” that is hard to do when people are remote — especially for the stakeholders/management.
We use the Atlassian Jira tool to help monitor the work and progress.
Tim Maliyil, AlertBoot
Use Video Conferencing
While team management tools are extremely helpful and effective, nothing gets everyone on the same page more than a video conference. Utilize your standard team/project management software, but kick off each project with a video conference to get everyone on the same page before starting. Have another one mid-project to make sure all team members are on track and then end the project with a video conference.
With proper planning, it isn’t too difficult to hold three video conferences per project.
Jonathan Long, Market Domination Media
Record ScreenFlow Instructional Videos
A lot of time I’m working with remote graphic designers and other workers who are in different time zones, and I’m unable to be available to them to guide them through instructions. Sometimes the written word just doesn’t cut it with getting your point across, so I’ve gotten into the habit of recording instructional videos through the ScreenFlow app and uploading them to YouTube as unlisted videos.
If they have any questions, I’ll hear from them when they start to work and can most likely answer them easily through text or email, because the bulk of my instruction has already been covered in the video.
Rob Fulton, Audio Luminaries
Implement EOD Video Updates
We’re a 100 percent remote company, so it’s essential for us to have virtual communication practices that also save time. In addition to setting out the work I want our developers to do and using our own time-tracking tools, I have our developers send in a two or three minute Screencast video update of what they did at the end of the day.
I can easily check for understanding and give them guidance if they need it, and it’s much faster than spending time in virtual meetings. For the developers, they get the added benefit of summing up their wins for me, which increases their sense of accomplishment in their roles. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Jared Brown, Hubstaff
Rally Around the Customer
Technology projects are hard to coordinate. You need a rallying point that everyone on your team can use to help them make the best decisions on their own, and what better rallying point than the customer? Take time to really agree on the customer’s needs and then your team will have a common goal to achieve, which will help keep your team on the same page.
Faraz Khan, Go Direct Lead Generation
Set 30/60/90-Day Expectations
We have more 100 people in our agency, all working remotely, and we’ve found that setting clear expectations over time encourages people to take control of their own work and deadlines, especially in 30-day increments.
Alec McNayr, McBeard Media
Prioritize Lean Development
The main reason many companies struggle with large outsourced development teams is because they ask them to do too much at once. This issue is compounded by the fact that there is a lack of delivery and review processes to ensure proper function and integration of new systems. Work on one thing at time, complete it, test it, perfect it, deliver it to market, then add the next. If all else fails read The Lean Startup and you’ll get better insight into making this work. That book was a game changer for our team of six full-time developers.
Roger Bryan, Enfusen Digital Marketing
Build Personal Relationships
Your remote developers will be more productive if they’re interested in the outcome of their work with you. Build relationships with them, genuinely ask how they’re doing and let them know how important their work is to you. Extra points if you remember birthdays or important holidays in their country of residence if they’re located abroad.
You’ll also get to know their strengths, weaknesses and work preferences better this way, which will make you a much more effective delegator. You’ll be able to assign work that plays to their abilities and lets them shine, which will also increase their productivity. Just because they’re remote doesn’t mean normal office soft skills don’t apply.
Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com
Create Macro and Micro Goals
Rally your developers around a common goal and break the goal into smaller milestones that can be worked on at the same time. Prioritize each milestone that achieves the goal quickly and shift resources when roadblocks begin to add up.
Assigning work in this structure gives your developers a sense of ownership and individual accountability for whether things go well or not. It also provides flexibility in reaching milestones as resources are given based on priority. As milestones are completed, you will have a better sense as to how realistic a launch date truly is.
Andrew Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings
Encourage Open Communication
With remote workers, staying in close contact and keeping an open flow of communication is key. Without having real conversations with remote developers frequently, not only do projects have the risk of running off-track, but employees will potentially not be as motivated as they truly could be.
With open communication, remote workers can feel that they are integral members of the company and know that their work and opinions are valued. Even just a short “check-up” meeting over Skype once every couple of days will help employees feel much more involved, which will in turn lead to great work being created.
Miles Jennings, Recruiter.com
Know How to Use Your Tools
Our team values the benefit of being able to work remotely. In order to stay connected, we do half-hour, full-team meetings every Monday. Individuals give updates and share what they’re doing to move the needle. Teams use Asana for meeting agendas and Slack to communicate questions. They note important pieces of information and monitor things like press mentions.
One thing that is particularly important to me is using Slack in a way that is respectful to my colleagues. I advise using settings that only notify you when someone mentions you or key words you’ve selected directly. Otherwise, you may be constantly interrupted. This is especially helpful for part-time team members who may have other clients.
Heather McGough, Lean Startup Co.
Be a Guiding Light
Micro-managing isn’t possible in this scenario, and many remote developers don’t feel engaged when they are macro-managed. Replace management with leadership, and trust them to manage themselves. Set clear goals to establish initial alignment, then focus on providing inspiration.
Let them find their own way to the goal, but the same time, don’t leave them to go through the journey alone. Asking thought-provoking questions and challenging their line of thinking will set them on the right path without having to hold their hand.
Adam Roozen, Echidna, Inc.
Outline Your Workflow and Keep Up the Communication
Working with offsite developers or freelancers could become problematic and time consuming if you don’t outline your process from the get-go. It is extremely important to properly outline each person/team’s responsibilities and make sure everyone is up to speed.
If a workflow is properly implemented, you could attend to all matters in a more orderly fashion while avoiding lost time and redundancy. Using a portal like Basecamp will help keep all of your communication in one place and allow everyone to be on the same page with responsibilities, tasks and deadlines.
Hesam Meshkat, Guzu
Be Clear On the “What”, But Not the “How”
Every good product manager will provide detailed specifications on what is actually needed in the product. Then, they will give the engineering team the freedom to figure out the best technical implementation. Many product managers will provide overly technical specifications without any details on exactly how the product should work and who the target user is.
A good way to measure your effectiveness is the number of times that clarification is required from the engineering team after the initial product spec is sent. A good spec will require almost no back and forth, while a poor spec will require many revisions and iterations.
Sathvik Tantry, FormSwift
Author: Scott Gerber