DataArt Busts Top 4 Myths About Managing Distributed Teams
DataArt Busts Top 4 Myths About Managing Distributed Teams
A global shift in the corporate world towards distributed working started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the software development realm, distributed teams have become increasingly critical to project success. DataArt has 20+ years of experience working on software projects with distributed teams, and managing them successfully, so we’d like to offer our advice to those companies that are now forced to operate in a distributed mode.
In this post, DataArt experts will bust the major myths frequently voiced by executives who think managing a distributed team is a challenge.
Moreover, we offer advice and support to any organization struggling with a sudden shift to remote work. At no cost, we are happy to share our know-how and offer access to our experts on communication and computing infrastructure, software development processes, team management and other elements of massive-scale distributed team operation.
Myth 1: “I can’t gather a distributed team in a conference room. How can I manage their work and coordinate it?”
Counter-question: how do you coordinate the work of your centralized team? If all team members do not sit on the same floor of the same building, the team is already distributed. Even in a close office space, sometimes no work gets done - and this is not a question of controlling people right at their desks.
Transparency and trust are integral for any team, irrespective of the distance between its members. As Greg Abbot , Head of Travel & Hospitality Practice at DataArt puts it:
“The foundation of any distributed team is trust. When you start an engagement and work in a distributed team, you’re usually granted trust. We at DataArt always default to almost over-transparency.”
To track the distributed team’s progress and coordinate its efforts, managers can adopt any agile methodology (Scrum, Kanban, Lean SD), and use tools for online reporting (Jira, Trello, Asana, Monday), as well as time-tracking tools (Avaza, Clockify, Freedcamp). Management practices should ensure that each team member, irrespective of location, understands their scope of work and meets deadlines.
Myth busted! Regardless of geographical distance, a team will be effective only if it shares a common goal and full transparency, and is empowered by a proven management framework.
Myth 2: “It’ll take ages for operational decision-making. We can’t afford this.”
Decision-making in any team, distributed or otherwise, condenses to regular and productive communication. Myriads of online communication tools, like Google Meet, Skype, WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting (and many more), are suitable for regular or ad hoc group and one-on-one calls. Most offer chat, video-calls and screen-sharing options to make meetings more productive and meaningful. The team simply needs to agree on a unified user-friendly suite of tools and stick to it whenever they need to talk.
Peter Vaihansky, Senior Vice President of Finance Practice at DataArt, shares a few tips on Scrum team calls:
“It is important not to interpret silence as agreement. Scrums call for active participation in decision-making by all team members, and it is ever more critical to have an experienced facilitator drive Scrum meetings and ensure that everyone gets a chance and is actively encouraged to voice their concerns, ask questions and acknowledge decisions.”
Online project chat, usually accessible on mobile devices, is another important means of communication. It allows teammates - regardless of the physical distance between them - to remain on top of the latest updates and promptly make operational decisions.
Myth busted! Though your local team may sometimes be too large to fit around a table, a distributed team is never too large for an online conference room. Regular team calls and discussions in project chat channels allow for smooth and timely decision-making.
Myth 3: “In distributed teams, some decisions may be made randomly, and incorrectly. We will waste time fixing these.”
Continuous planning and continuous feedback are the core tenets of agile development methodology, and can be adapted for both centralized and distributed teams. The methodology offers a comprehensive framework to track any decision from the point it was made to its implementation, through continuous planning, continuous testing, and continuous integration. For instance, in Scrum, daily stand-ups, sprint planning and grooming, sprint reviews and retrospectives ensure the whole team takes part in decision-making and implementation.
Ekaterina Shalapanova, Delivery Manager at DataArt, shares her views on Scrum:
“In the late 90s, when Scrum just started to gain momentum, most computers had limited capacity and could accommodate only an email client and ICQ (Jabber, IRC, etc.). This explained why most teams back then worked locally. These days, thanks to modern technologies, Scrum is easily adapted for distributed teams.”
Myth busted! Agile development neutralizes random decisions and optimizes the time spent verifying a wrong hypothesis, which is an essential part of any team collaboration - whether centralized or distributed.
Myth 4: “Integration of all distributed members/teams would take too much time and money.”
Initial integration or onboarding of a new team member - whether on-site or remote - is naturally associated with some complications. To ease the pain and save overheads, managers should develop a templated onboarding plan, with general information about the company, its long-term objectives, projects, and new employee’s role-specific information, all divided into digestible chunks. The plan should have clear milestones and a time-table for the newbie to integrate into the new environment as smoothly as possible. An online copy of the plan would prove helpful for any team member who joins a team, regardless of location.
Andrey Ivanov, Vice President of Finance Practice at DataArt states:
“We acknowledge the fact that team member rotation is inevitable, especially over long projects, so effective onboarding is the simplest way to alleviate this pain. At DataArt, we have a comprehensive multi-dimensional framework for integration and onboarding, empowered by Open edX platform. It has proved very effective over the years”,
Myth busted! A reusable onboarding plan, prepared beforehand, saves cost, effort and time spent on integrating new members, no matter whether they join a centralized or a remote team.
With many years of experience in developing software solutions with distributed teams, DataArt dispels most myths that state managing these teams is challenging. The most common fears executives have about distributed teams concern productivity: will distant colleagues be able to collaborate with the local team? Will they achieve a mutual goal? But in reality, distributed teams, when equipped with the right management and communication tools, can prove even more effective than centralized ones.
If you still have doubts or need practical tips, contact us now. We currently offer advice and free-of-charge support to any organization struggling with a sudden shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’d be glad to help!