Good development teams don’t appear out of the blue. It is not easy to find remote employees who can manage things on their own and fully devote themselves to work. Especially if colleagues are located in different parts of the world and get to know each other only on the project. How can one believe in the success of a team at the very beginning if 75% of programmers are not sure that they meet the requirements of their projects? In this article, we will talk about ways to create a successful distributed development team.
A distributed team: a chance to catch your “Moneyball”
A distributed team usually includes two or three teams of IT professionals located in different cities, countries, and even continents but working on the same project. These groups communicate with each other via the Internet and use various platforms for planning, design, creation, software testing, and project management.
For a business owner, such a team can become a kind of “Moneyball” from Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. In the story, a baseball team seeks out and hires undervalued players, resulting in astonishing victories and high fees. This is how a company can catch its Moneyball by hiring engineering talent from around the world at convenient prices.
Moreover, the coercive measure during Covid-19 – the transition to remote work – has demonstrated that this is one of the best ways that have a positive effect on employee productivity. A PwC survey showed that 83% of employers say they are successful in switching to remote work, and more than half of professionals (55%) would like to continue working remotely after the pandemic. As it turns out, employees experience less stress at home and have more flexibility in terms of schedule, which increases their productivity.
In addition, cooperation with a distributed team does not deprive you of flexibility. With the right process in place, remote professionals can work with Agile, DevOps, CI/CD, and so on, delivering quality products on time. Dave Mangot, director of Mango Teque, believes that there are no DevOps concepts that conflict with distributed teams. On the contrary, the use of Agile methodologies reduces the risk of transparency issues in remote teams.
One very interesting, albeit old, study by the MIT Sloan Management Review also spoke in favor of the efficiency of distributed teams. The experts analyzed the performance of 80 distributed teams of programmers and found that if management processes are set up correctly, virtual teams can significantly outperform traditional ones.
Hence, there are no barriers to hiring a distributed development team. You just need to choose and organize it correctly.
How to organize a distributed development team?
Sandun Weerasinghe, an Agile developer with 12 years of experience, highlights five keys to the success of distributed teams:
- building relationships between teammates;
- building effective communication;
- finding collaboration tools;
- striving for technical excellence;
- accumulation of experience and knowledge about the product.
Strengthening team relationships
Imagine a group of strangers who have been brought together in a room. You can understand how difficult it is for them to get to know each other and start a dialogue, let alone work together. Some are embarrassed to start a conversation; others are afraid to ask questions or discuss problems and offer ideas. Hence, the productivity of a team and the success of a project may suffer. Therefore, Project Managers are aware of the importance of building trust in distributed teams.
In practice, this can be quite a difficult task. Especially if some of the employees are located, for example, in Europe, and some – in India. However, a PM is capable of holding online meetings of team members on non-work issues, gathering remote specialists via video conferences for brainstorming, knowledge sharing, pair programming, and so on. An effective practice is to create separate chats or conversations for informal communication and friendly chatter.
Selecting multiple communication channels
Lack of trust and poor communication risk spoiling the quality and results of a project. Openness, transparency, and the ability to communicate with each other are the foundation of collaboration in a distributed software development team. Therefore, it is vital to provide colleagues with all sorts of ways to communicate: video and audio conferences, instant messengers, wikis and electronic forums, email, and so on.
Effective communication is impossible without the awareness of each employee of their role in a project. For productive work, a team needs to understand the project goals, objectives, stages, and deadlines. Therefore, Project Managers need to create roadmaps of roles and responsibilities so that developers know who to contact for specific information and with whom to discuss organizational issues.
Finding collaboration tools
Since members of a distributed team can be located at a considerable distance from each other, it is important to provide them with tools for communication, project management, and custom software development.
Typically, programming teams use communication tools such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Slack, and others. Gmail, Microsoft Teams, or corporate email are usually the best choice to send delayed text messages. Members of a distributed team must know the status of their project and be able to track its development. Therefore, project management tools such as Jira, Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Asana, and others will come in handy. TeamCity, Jira, Jenkins, Github, ProGet, and others are suitable for software development.
Constant upgrading of the knowledge and skills of a team
Technical excellence refers to the desire of members of a distributed team to acquire new knowledge. It can be used in working on a project to improve the quality of the code and the product. A Project Manager needs to encourage specialists to use learning platforms to enhance their skills (for example, Coursera, Udemy, Pluralsight, and so on).
Professionals should know best practices: pair programming, test-driven development, refactoring, continuous integration, and delivery. And the fact that the teams are located in different geographical zones does not mean that they cannot create state-of-the-art high-quality software.
Accumulation of experience and knowledge about a product
Typically, a distributed team includes specialists with different backgrounds, so in the process of work, more experienced employees advise less experienced ones. Thus, there is an exchange of knowledge and its accumulation, there is a close connection between the employees of the virtual team. Remote specialists are supported by their colleagues, so they are involved in the work process, willingly participate in the discussion of the issues that have arisen, and are not afraid to express their opinion.
Distributed development and flexibility: challenge accepted
One can mistakenly think that distributed teams are not capable of supporting Agile development methodologies, because they can be located in different time zones, have different cultures and languages, and so on.
However, researchers have found that Agile teams are becoming more distributed every year. According to the same data, 78% of companies support distributed Agile teams by collaborating across geographic boundaries and time zones, as they gain access to more resources, reduce the cost of custom software development, and hire good specialists for less money.
Distributed teams have access to a vast array of collaboration tools that can be easily deployed for Agile development in a virtual environment. Therefore, remote teams can cope with tasks as efficiently as in-house employees. They also quickly respond to changing customer requests and release applications into production promptly.
Remote work means a new level of flexibility: from communication within a team to project launching. A distributed team means less human contact by default. This deficiency can be filled by involving programmers in all stages of a project and collaborative communication so that they understand the business goals and can generate new ideas by delivering software on time.
Should you consider a distributed team for custom software development?
Hiring an entire team located in one place and finding employees distributed around the world are different. In the first case, an IT service provider takes over the search and selection of specialists within one custom software development company, freeing the business owner from these responsibilities. In the second case, it is necessary to carefully select talents located in different time zones for round-the-clock coverage of the project.
However, despite cultural, temporal, and language differences, the benefits of distributed teams almost completely cover them. For business owners, this is a great opportunity to:
- Find specialists with lower rates. As we wrote earlier, the salaries of programmers in different countries can vary significantly. For example, almost twice, if we compare the United States with the countries of Eastern Europe. Therefore, business owners can find a specialist with a high level of knowledge, but at a lower price than in their home country.
- Have a large pool of experts. High competition is observed in international markets, which motivates custom software development companies to improve the level of competencies of employees and constantly train them in new technologies. IT companies are ready to assemble teams of professionals at the request of their customers. Due to this, the latter can find a suitable competent employee in any country.
- Get productive employees. As we mentioned above, a flexible schedule, the ability to work from any convenient place, and greater freedom lead to the fact that specialists experience less stress. They are satisfied with their work, which increases their productivity. By the way, one of the latest studies found that the productivity of employees working at home is 47% higher than that of office workers. So, it is easier to concentrate on work and devote more time to it at home.
To some extent, flexible work, improved performance, and global reach make a distributed team one of the optimal business models, especially during a pandemic. It’s an easy way to build quality software for less money and in the time frame your business needs.
Collaborating with distributed teams to create software is a proven practice that more and more companies are resorting to as it is beneficial, especially during a pandemic. This gives organizations the ability to continue their digital transformation in times of crisis and on tight budgets.
Moreover, companies are no longer skeptical about the productivity of remote teams. Enterprises are ready to entrust the creation of a product to remote employees, thereby playing with the “Moneyball” of Michael Lewis, attracting talent from all over the world to their projects.
Building and managing a successful distributed team isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. If this is your first time doing this type of work, you should let go of corporate conservatism and enable remote workers to reach their potential by giving them the metrics, control, and tools to get the job done wherever they are.