Making internationally remote projects work
December 2, 2020  

Supplied by entelect2013 Administrator from entelect2013
Working alongside remote teams requires a shift in mindset, process and flexibility. Here are three recommendations based on our experience of operating offshore delivery teams.

 

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Working alongside remote teams requires a shift in mindset, process and flexibility. Here are three recommendations based on our experience of operating offshore delivery teams.

 

Rethink culture

It is difficult to maintain a sense of singular purpose and team across remote boundaries, let alone across continents. Team culture should therefore be adapted accordingly.

 

1. Build a one-team mindset

  • Fostering trust, inclusion, team-based accountability and cultural affinity should be a core focus for leaders in offshoring engagements that value high-performance.
  • Leaders should model the mindset and behaviours of a unified team. This means demonstrating respect, fairness, and treating all participants involved in a delivery as a singular team, with shared goals and priorities.
  • Hold everyone to a common performance standard, and ensure that accountability is held at a team-level for the success or failure of goals and commitments.
  • Eliminate favouritism, disrespectful behaviour, cultural biases, and 'us and them' attitudes.
  • Involve both sides of the border in planning, estimations, decision making and social interactions where possible.

 

2. Assign team ambassadors

  • Make the one-team mindset somebody's core responsibility, on both sides.
  • Relationship building activities are the bedrock of trust, respect and a highly collaborative work environment.
  • This is a full-time job that requires two willing parties to own the following responsibilities:
    • To own and manage the delivery and expectations on both sides.
    • To act as ambassadors for their teams and people to the other side, to ensure that cross-border trust, alignment and affinity is cared for throughout the engagement.

 

3. Encourage many-to-many relationships

  • Let problem-solvers on both sides talk directly with those who can help on the other side. Don’t let hierarchy or process prevent people from building natural, synchronous and useful relationships that help them get their work done.
  • Allow for communication to flow openly between team members across shores and avoid strict communication protocols that filter everything through a single person.
  • Make sure the teams understand what communication tools are available to them, and when they are appropriate.
  • Prioritise face-time between teams regularly. This requires sacrifices on both sides due to time-zone differences and busy calendars, but it is necessary to maintain alignment and to prevent drifting expectations.

 

4. Be explicit in your ways of working

  • Standards, processes and tools need to be discussed and agreed upon clearly by everyone using them.
  • If this mindset is shared by your onshore and offshore teams, you generate buy-in, compliance, and eliminate misunderstanding.
  • A singular team, means a singular method of operation unless otherwise prescribed.
  • At the start of a new offshoring engagement, expect to take a bit of pain to onboard a new delivery team into your ways of working.
  • Spend time defining, sharing and campaigning for your ways of working on an ongoing basis. This can be driven by the team-ambassadors on both sides.

 

Design workflow for asynchronicity

Operating software teams remotely and across conflicting time zones requires us to adapt our delivery processes and commit time differently to getting it right in an asynchronous setup.

 

1. Plan and deliver differently

  • You cannot make decisions as quickly or easily as when you have everyone co-located in the same time zone. That does not mean that you cannot be agile and change direction, it means you just need more discipline to adhere to your sprint plan.
  • Plan features so that dependencies are minimised where possible. Alternatively, you can do this by creating modularised work packages that can be tackled independently.
  • Turnaround times on questions can be a major obstacle, and so you need to manage technical questions and resolution as a matter of process. A useful way to do this is to use your issue tracking system to create tickets for questions and manage accountability as with any other task.
  • Make decisions transparent and available. Teams on both sides of an offshore engagement will benefit from recording their conversations and making them available to the other team to go through when they come online. The story and context behind decision making is important for offshore team members to grasp, and apply correctly in their work.

 

2. Meet and interact differently

  • If possible, set daily stand-up and stand-down meetings with the teams at the beginning and end of each work day. The goal of the meeting should be handover or alignment of work done and work to be done for that day. This should also be used as an opportunity to discuss and eliminate impediments.
  • If you can’t find an overlap to hold joint stand-ups, you may have to rely on a fully asynchronous communication approach like email, persistent chat or recorded video/audio for operational activities.
  • Prepare to have late night or early morning demos. Real-time conversation is critical for your offshore team to get feedback and gauge sentiment.
  • Maintain a standby duty roster, where someone from the off-duty team will be available to field calls, escalations or matters of urgency on both sides if needed.

 

Getting the right start

Leaders on both sides of a remote engagement need to pay heightened attention in the initial weeks to ensure things are working well, and adapt away from things that aren't.

 

1. Actively solicit feedback in the early stages

  • Ask for granular status reporting on projects. This will arm you with delivery performance data and help you to understand any underlying process or collaboration issues, as well as to inform your remedial actions more precisely. In addition to this, it will help to drive productive and spontaneous conversations between team members about process, culture and collaboration issues that are impeding delivery.
  • Keep your finger on the pulse of sentiment with tactical face-time. Set up check-in sessions with team-members on both sides of the engagement. This will allow you to understand how well your culture campaign is working, and will inform any cultural remediation actions that may be necessary.

 

2. Lead with candid conversation

  • Share progress and issues, threats and wins openly in the team. This will create alignment on delivery and culture issues between teams, team ambassadors and executive sponsors, especially in the early stages of each engagement. Don't be afraid to hold difficult conversations in an open-format. This approach will allow you to reach an optimum state quickly.
  • Create a safe space for honest and constructive conversation about what is working and what isn’t for teams on both sides, by rewarding and encouraging those who do so publicly.

 

3. Crystallise context
Useful tools for maintaining transparency and alignment in offshoring engagements:

  • A project canvas can be a valuable tool to keep the team aligned and build a common understanding of the project that they are endeavouring to deliver together. The goal of a project canvas exercise is for the execution team to clearly and collaboratively define the project goals, success criteria, milestones, stakeholders, constraints and risks. This, along with the business canvas becomes a living public document available for any team member to revisit and consider in their daily decision making process.
  • A business canvas is a tool for creating understanding about how your business works and can help drive better decision making in project teams. The goal of the business canvas is for the product owners or executive sponsors to introduce the execution team to the fundamentals of their business - revenue streams, customer segments, value proposition, objectives, partners and sales channels. This context creates an affinity and common-understanding of the business dynamics outside of the immediate project.
  • A team charter is a document that describes core principles for how teams interact and work with each other, and can be useful for driving collaboration and the goals of the work that is underway. Team charters are public assets that can be displayed on walls, desks at home and in the office, or virtual backgrounds. They are most effective when created collaboratively with all team members on both sides of the engagement.

 

 


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