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Oct 10

In today’s widely connected world and where the most sought after skill sets, key to project success, are often distributed across the globe, it is often necessary to operate with distributed development teams. As well as the increased opportunity of a team comprising of handpicked highly skilled engineers, there are also many challenges to both manage and overcome. I have personal first hand experience of teams working in a distributed model across several continents and have learnt many effective ways of helping such teams thrive.

Time zones
Working across multiple time zones mean that the window of opportunity for real time collaboration are often limited. It is not uncommon to have project teams operating in several time zones that span a 24 hour clock! The issues that result from working across time zones are many. However, the most impactful are often the limited time windows in which teams can meet (albeit virtually), the handoff off work in hand between teams and the end of each working day and the inability to resolve pressing issues where a key dependent residing in another time zone being offline (thereby impacting a teams overall velocity).

Communication
Whilst not always inevitable that a high level of communication issues and/or breakdown may occur, my experience has shown that this has to be carefully coordinated such that all team members, irrespective of location are engaged in the same manner that is more likely with a co-located team. After all it’s not difficulty in a single location to tap someone on the shoulder for a brief discussion or even call an impromptu meeting.

Collaboration
Both in terms of software development itself and also in problem solving. Nothing quite beats a co-located group of smart individuals hunkered away in a meeting room with only a whiteboard and a pen!


So how can we improve the efficiency and productivity of distributed teams?

My experience has shown that clear and understood process along with quality tools are the two key elements for success here.

Process
Regular meeting cadence that is wherever possible sensitive to the timezone of all teams. This may not always be possible, or more often than not means that key meetings need to be well planned in advance and are often only possible in small overlapping time zones.

Flexibility
Rather than enforcing rigid working practices upon a development team, enable them to create working practices that help the team. For example, if it takes a team on average 1 hour to travel to an office then on key meeting dates suggest they work from home and increase the time zone overlap with other teams.

Toolsets
Good quality tools can really improve communication and collaboration. Examples include web-based hosting service for version control, a shared Wiki space, cloud based project management tools, cloud based shared document spaces, instant messenger tools, and shared virtual whiteboards. There are many more to speak of, but my personal experience is even those listed here have an incredible impact upon the productivity of a team.

Our project Management process utilises many of the core fundamentals of well defined and clear process, focuses on promoting ease of communication and increased levels of productivity using the very latest collaborative tools. Here, we scratch only there surface but we’d love to hear from you so that we can discuss how we can better enable your business and project goals.