12 Steps to Effectively Manage Co Located IT Teams
In order to effectively manage co located teams, the ways in which you work together are crucial. It takes some careful, insightful forethought. Some simple but important steps can be taken to make sure that you build a successful IT distributed team. Here are my recommendations, based on 20+ years in the business.
12 Steps to Effectively Manage Co Located IT Teams
Managing expectation is vital to creating a good working relationship. If expectations are too high or too low, this will soon lead to issues and disappointment on both sides. Realistic goals and plans should be put in place that are achievable. This can only be done by communicating what you believe can be done and asking for feedback, then adjusting as needed.
Setting goals, tasks, deliverables, and proper management controls are key to managing expectation as well as risk and success. These goals should not just be about the 5 or 10 meter targets but also about the overall corporate strategy. It is important that everyone understands the role they play and the importance of their contributions to the overall big picture. People need a purpose. By communicating it, your distributed team as well as your on-site team will become more efficient by understanding what their true objectives are.
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Dedicate a technical team lead or project manager.
Leaders are important--and a team lead is crucial. Their role should be to explain the business priorities and motivations for each project or task and help give technical direction, establish coding standards and practices. They should also be dedicated to helping solve difficult technical challenges, review code and to train and mentor the team members.
Leadership is essential to steer the ship and keep the crew's morale high and avoid rocky shores. Very often we tend to forget how important middle managers are. In recent years, companies have become more flat and lean. This trend makes the role played by middle managers even more important. What used to be the role of senior executives has been delegated downward. Critical decision making and leadership is now lower on the totem pole and rests in the hands of technical leads, project managers and team leaders. Make sure to invest in these leaders since the core of your business is in their hands.
You can't blame others if you didn't put it in writing.
If something is critical and important then put it in writing and share it. This avoids confusion and ensures that what is intended to be done is understood, decisions are clear and ownership is assigned. This is not only a good practice for remote developers but for your local team members as well.
Simply designed documents, meeting notes, and other forms of documentation will help you make sure that information is shared, priorities are set and that the information is easily accessible to all team members.
Inform all your team members.
Educate them about the project(s) at hand and the reasons behind it. Explaining what business benefits the project will bring and to whom (stakeholders) and how and when to deliver it. Making every member of the team understand their role in the project and what they bring goes a long way to create a sense of ownership and responsibility. Getting the big picture helps developers see the impact of small details on the overall project and helps them stay focused on the goals of the project. This also can help them come up with ideas and features not thought of previously.
Convey that you’re a team in both words and actions.
Make sure that all your team members work as a single delivery cohesive team. It’s critically important that you remove the perception of an onsite-offsite divide. All team members need to be perceived as one project team, distributed in different locations. In conversations, avoid referring to the offsite team members as “you, them, the other guys”. Always refer to the entire team as “we,” as in, “Do we need to work on task A or B this week and let's talk how we prioritize?” vs. “Do you guys (offsite) want the main team (onsite) to work on A or on B?” Make sure that all communication creates a sense of unity and makes no distinction between team members.
It's okay to be Captain Obvious!
Sometimes being Captain Obvious is a good thing. When dealing with remote developers and teams, err on the side of over-communication - “more is more.” Sometimes what is obvious to you may not be for others; so it's okay to repeat yourself and share information.
Due to corporate culture and/or cultural differences, things might not be as clear as they might seem. Leave nothing unsaid and be aware that what you perceive as being obvious is not always the case. So don't be afraid to put on the captain's hat and be obvious.
Address problems directly and quickly.
A lack of communication is usually at the root of most problems in any organization. All good partnership can weather setbacks as long as both parties are proactive in communicating both good and bad news.
Communication should be direct, transparent, and frank to avoid confusion and mistrust, and to help foster a foundation for a long-lasting relationship. We do everything we can to nurture the relationship with our clients and create clear and unfiltered communication channels. We have created escalation plans that clearly state how problems should be communicated and brought to attention. Document issues and how they are resolved, and analyse bottle necks to avoid or reduce future occurrences.
Email is great, but it can’t do everything.
How many times have you seen an email chain that reads like War & Peace? Email, while the best thing since sliced bread, can get cluttered and cumbersome. This can lead to confusion, missing details due to long threads, lack of organization, and things just getting overlooked when buried deep in a thread.
Try using ticketing systems or project management software.
These are better than email for tracking details of projects and communications. Another good reason to use a ticketing or project management system is that it allows you to create metrics, see patterns and view potential bottlenecks that could slow down projects. I am not saying not to use email, but just be mindful that other systems are better suited to record and track details, dates, times, tasks, issues, and key points that could also be used to organize and analyze what's important to your organization.
This also applies to chat systems like Slack. While they are great for having conversations, sharing, and collaborating, they are no substitutes for project management software. I know some of you are going to say that's blasphemy and that Slack is the Tesla of internal corporate communication. It's a great tool and serves its purpose. The problem is that at the end, Slack is just another long thread-- just better presented and laid out than email.
My philosophy is simple. If people are putting up cat memes on it, it’s probably not a project management software substitute!
Everyone needs to share and use the right tools.
It's important that everyone is on the same page or Slack channel. The same tools should be available to all your team members: on-site, off-site, freelancer, offshore or nearshore team. It doesn't matter where anyone is, if everyone is using the same tools. Yes it might be obvious but you would be surprised how many companies use different tools for different teams.
Working with past and current partners we have used a whole host of tools such as Harvest, InVision, Slack, Jira, Trello, Google Drive, Dropbox, just to name a few. If you are using something proprietary then I would urge you to spend the time to train your co located team in order for all to communicate on the same wavelength.
Having all team members using the same tools goes a long way to set standards and to keep communication flowing. We love Slack. Create channels for team members to share information and to get them talking and bonding. Most importantly, always have fun. A joke or two, a funny meme here and there always makes the day a little more enjoyable.
Tools are useless without the right methodology.
Selecting the appropriate software development methodology is one of the biggest single things that you could do to assure success. You have to have the right methodology that works not only for your organization but with your distributed team. We tend to use Agile/Scrum software development process since it is a good methodology for risk minimization and to better manage documentation. You don't have to reinvent the wheel when working with co located teams, but you might have to make some minor tweaks to make sure that everyone can work together and is on board with the same work methods.
Face/Video/1-1/call time are still important.
Make sure to take the time to have one-on-ones or team-on-team times using video conferencing or phone. Meetings are still a great way to stay abreast of what is going on and setting priorities, no matter if the work is onsite or in a remote location. Video conferencing or phone calls allow team members to familiarize themselves with each other and eliminate some of the confusion or frustration that can be sensed on a video conference or phone call but might be missed on an email or chat session. It's also a great way to get to know your people and built rapport. Email is great, but seeing and hearing is believing and helps to develop stronger personal relationships.
If my article wasn't obvious enough, I am a big believer in communication. So let me put on my Captain Obvious hat one more time and say that if you want to successfully manage co located teams, then you have to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more!