How to Manage Distributed Engineering Teams
Distributed teams aren’t a new concept. Weathered by the pandemic, it’s only become increasingly popular over the past few years, and it looks like the question of building distributed engineering teams will remain central for many companies in 2023 and beyond.
As a company that offers a distributed team model, we want to highlight some practices that help our clients run such teams with utmost efficiency. Let’s dive in!
Distributed development teams: Communication and oversight
When team members are scattered around the world, your task as a leader is to set up an effective communication process in which you would know what your team members are doing, how they communicate with each other, and if there are any problems.
Solid communication amongst distributed engineering teams can’t happen without regular emails, chats, and video calls. The goal of setting up various communication channels is to allow each team member to share their progress, exchange knowledge, and generally stay on the same page with coworkers and management.
Finding the most effective communication and collaboration tools and finetuning them to meet the concrete needs of your distributed development squads is an essential task. Our distributed engineering teams at nCube have the following items in their toolbox:
- G Hangouts
Monitoring the progress is another important aspect of managing distributed engineering teams. Highly motivated and productive teams consistently fulfill their tasks timely, report problems in due time, and communicate regularly. If all distributed development teams would be like this on their own, the art of management would become obsolete. In reality, no matter how motivated and driven your team members are, you cannot downplay the role of supervision.
Best communication practices for distributed engineering teams
- Involve all team members
In distributed development, it’s essential to maintain contact with your team members and communicate with your team regularly. With that in mind, schedule and hold regular meet-ups, including daily stand-ups and face-to-face meetings. Keep your lines of communication open to give team members as much access to you as possible, so they don’t feel abandoned.
- Prepare and test out tools
Before your distributed engineering team dives into their day-to-day routine, it’s best to check the readiness of each team member for distributed development. Ask your team to test their remote connections and tools beforehand to ensure their workflow is unpaired after you begin.
When building an engineering team through a vendor like nCube, you’ll work with engineers who have been a part of a distributed development environment before. If needed, we help our clients establish communication processes and take care of IT infrastructure for your team.
Here’s what we focus on to ensure stable work for your distributed teams:
- Availability of a laptop or personal computer with all the amenities such as additional screens, earphones, a microphone, and a webcam;
- All candidates we provide have experience in distributed development;
- We help gain access to remote communication tools, with full-fledged subscriptions.
After testing out the tools, ask your team to note all the blockers they may encounter and hold a retrospective to gauge how your team is coping.
- Set clear expectations
To get off to a good start, discuss your expectations with your distributed development team and ask your team members to express their expectations from coworkers and managers as well.
It’s also important to assign certain types of communication to different communication channels. For example, you can use email for detailed communication, whereas Slack or Skype is a good fit for getting quick responses and updates. Some questions should only be addressed by voice or even face to face, so make sure your distributed development team understands your expectations.
Productivity in distributed teams
Sometimes companies are reluctant to build an engineering team remotely because they have little to no faith in the efficiency of this approach.
In fact, a common concern among tech leaders considering distributed engineering teams is: “I won’t know what my offshore development team is doing.”
Our distributed development model allows clients and their tech leaders direct access to software developers. We believe that your involvement in distributed development is absolutely necessary. As a leader, it’s you who should own the processes and check in on the progress and direction in which the project is moving. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that you will benefit from communicating with and managing your distributed development team directly.
Productivity goes hand in hand with dedication. We at nCube work only with developers who will stay dedicated to your goals and work for you and only for you full-time, as in 5 days a week, 40 hours per week, 8 hours per day. That’s the essence of our approach.
Additionally, within our distributed development model, you’ll be able to establish a reporting system, which will enable you to receive daily/weekly/monthly reports on team members’ achievements. This way, you will retain full control over your distributed development team.
The motivation of distributed development teams
- Build close relationships
More than anything else, distributed development is about forging solid relationships with the team. Showing that you support and appreciate their work, helping them achieve their goals, and not just reducing your management effort to pure oversight is essential.
We at nCube believe that investing in relationships with your team is always worthwhile. Having direct access to your distributed development teams within our approach enables you to instill the right kind of atmosphere (and attitude) based on mutual understanding and trust, which will definitely pay off in the long run.
- Create connection
It’s vital that people on the team are connected with their managers. You can use the following methods in this regard:
- Communicate the vision of the future project or company and how it will reflect on the role played by your distributed engineering team;
- Regularly inform your distributed team about how the project or company is doing. It is always interesting to know what is happening with the rest of the company and what role they play in it.
- Remind your team members that they are more than just an autonomous unit of your operations but are actually valuable assets to your company.
- Communicate all decisions to your team personally.
Your distributed engineering team risks wasting a lot of time if they miss an important update or change of direction on time. Instead of informing them about important decisions via email or chat, it’s more effective to communicate those in person.
Best practices for distributed team management
The best way to set up your team for success is by implementing commonly accepted project management methods, which will help you set up your workflow properly, take control over the distributed development process, and ensure a predictable outcome and transparency. So, you can use one of the following project management methods:
Agile. Agile distributed development teams develop software using an iterative approach, which is reflected in the following principles:
- People and interaction are more important than processes and tools;
- A working product is more important than documentation;
- Cooperation is more important than the contract;
- Flexibility is more important than sticking to the original plan.
The family of Agile project management methodologies includes Scrum and Kanban.
Scrum is a method that allows small, cross-functional, distributed development teams to achieve results quicker.
The goal of Scrum is to improve communication and teamwork while boosting the speed of development. Scrum is suitable for distributed development, where the list of tasks is quite extensive and should be prioritized for a period of 2 weeks.
Kanban is also used to speed up development. Besides that, it focuses on the quality of the outcome by increasing the visibility of the work in progress and putting a lid on multitasking.
For enhanced visibility, Kanban uses Kanban-board, a workflow visualization method, as the main way to limit the tasks to be done over a concrete period of time. This methodology is suitable for dynamic projects with volatile tasks and priorities.
Lean development assumes optimization, aiming to achieve “more with less.”
The Lean method is a project management method with a focus on efficiency. It suggests that you can do “more with less” by eliminating three dysfunctions also known as 3M:
- Muda – an activity that is aimed at removing a process or task that does not bring value.
- Mura – costs that appear as a result of a deviation from the standard process.
- Muri – evenly distributing tasks so as not to overburden members of distributed engineering teams.
Waterfall is about planning an entire project and executing it step-by-step.
The Waterfall method assumes that the works are planned at the beginning of the project and then executed by distributed engineering teams in a strict sequence according to the initial plan, within one long cycle. It doesn’t assume any flexibility to change the work plan before it is completed.
That being said, with nCube the choice is always yours when it comes to managing your distributed development team. On our side, we’ll source candidates who have experience in the methodology of your choice, whether you’re a proponent of Agile, Waterfall, Lean, or your own method.
Common challenges of managing distributed teams
With nearly 40% of software engineers preferring to work only remotely, learning how to manage a distributed team is key. With that in mind, we’ve put together common challenges of distributed team management, which can help you enhance your management approach. Let’s dive in!
- Communication. Difficulty in communication is one of the biggest challenges faced by distributed teams: Over 86% of respondents reported they are struggling with it. Managing a distributed team rarely means you can talk to your team members on the spot and resolve issues the moment they appear. Thus, communication can appear to be a bit sluggish unless you establish proper communication processes.
- Creating a sense of belonging. Employees, even when working remotely, crave acceptance and appreciation. It rarely appears on the spot. Creating a sense of belonging when you manage a distributed team requires deliberate effort and energy. It is crucial to get this right, considering that a strong sense of belonging enhances job performance.
- Ensuring productivity and accountability. When you manage a distributed team, it becomes difficult to monitor their work progress, ensure effective completion of tasks, and meet deadlines. However, there are numerous methods to ensure that your team remains on track, from appropriate tools to strategies we highlighted in this article.
Distributed team model: Wrap up
It’s no surprise that building an engineering team remotely suits many businesses, mainly because they don’t need to pay for overhead costs and the pool of technology talent is more extensive than the local. If you choose nCube as your vendor of a distributed engineering team, we guarantee complete support when it comes to its management:
- We will help you set up an effective communication process where you’ll have access to every member of your distributed development team;
- We provide all the needed IT infrastructure and tools for distributed development;
- Your distributed team will work only for you, 5 days a week as if it were your in-house unit;
- You’ll only meet those candidates who have relevant experience in your domain and have passed our internal screening, so you waste no time during the recruitment stage.
We’ve been in operation for more than 15 years now, so we’ve seen lots of businesses thrive using our approach. Let’s connect and see if building an engineering team remotely is a good solution for you and how we at nCube can help with it.