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How to Manage a Distributed Team for Your Software Development Project

Andrii Horiachko
31 March 2020 • 13 min read
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How to Manage a Distributed Team for Your Software Development Project

Involving and managing a distributed team for your software development project can bring a lot of advantages for your business, though it might be a challenging task. Even considering that it’s a great source of skilled professionals and can reduce your budget significantly, a lot of businesses still have a lot of concerns about having outsourced or outstaffed teams. 

So, in this guide, we’re going to discuss all the benefits of having a distributed or remote team, how to set it up and manage effectively, and of course, what pitfalls to avoid in this process. So, let’s get started by explaining to you what it means by a distributed team.

 

What Are Remote or Distributed Teams

When it comes to software development, the term remote team means that your team is working remotely from your central office. Besides, this team works in other offices that can be located in other countries, for example. Here the main difference between the remote dev team and the in-house team is that they work in different office locations. 

While distributed team definition refers to a group of developers that work from different remote locations. For example, some part of the team might work in an office, while other employees might work remotely from their homes.

The real difference between the three terms is that with a remote team, there is a centralized location that acts as the team’s headquarters, but it’s another office than your main company office. With a distributed team, the physical office might not exist at all. Members of a distributed team might work for years together without ever meeting each other.

 

Why Distributed Teams Become So Popular

But why actually these types of teams appear and become so popular and what they bring for business.

As we have said before, there are pretty substantial reasons why a lot of as small as well as large corporations are switching to having distributed teams. 

Moreover, worldwide statistics prove that:

  • According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of people working remotely has risen by 140% since 2005.
  • Moreover, 69% of millennials would prefer the opportunity to work as part of a distributed team from home instead of other work benefits under CBRE.
  • 86% of employees said that remote work reduces stress from work as under FlexJobs survey
  • Remote team productivity improves up to 66% thanks to being more focused on work and getting fewer distractions. The various studies showed that remote team productivity is much higher than the in-office one. For example, under the Stanford GSB research working from home improves performance by 13%. While American Express study summarized that the remote team was  43 percent more productive than in-house. 

distributed team productivity

  • As follows from the data on remote team productivity: 76% of respondents said the remote work helps much to get away from colleague interruptions.
  • While businesses that have remote teams have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t according to OwlLabs.

Summing up, here is a list of the main benefits for distributed team members of having to work at home according to OwlLabs survey of 2019:

distributed team management

Though, you might say that all that are benefits for workers, but the truth is that all that results in better work results and fewer costs for businesses.



The Benefits of Having a Distributed Team for Your Project

Well, let’s overview what all that benefits of remote work for employees means in reality for businesses:

You Can Hire from Less Competitive Markets

The major reason to consider a distributed team, at least if you are putting it together yourself, is that you can build your development team from markets that are less competitive than those which might be close to you. When there are no physical boundaries to your search parameters, then you have access to talent pools of IT outsourcing destinations in the world. That means that you can hire even more skilled employees while paying them less and hire the whole distributed team much faster.

time to hire remote teamSource: Owllabs

Your Time-to-Market Will be Faster

It has also been established that in many cases, getting your product to market won’t take as long if you use a distributed team. The hiring time is less, the team productivity is higher and the development process is faster, which all results in a faster product release.  Again, this speaks to how content your team members are and the ease with which they can handle the work in the distributed team model.

 

You’ll Get Higher Employee Retention

As we have seen from the stats above distributed team members usually are more satisfied with work that they work in the one company longer than members of the in-house team. Therefore, you’ll be better able to retain them than employees who work at a brick-and-mortar location. As a result, the company has less turnover and spends less on recruiting costs.

remote team retention

Source: Owllabs

Your IT Costs Will be Reduced

It’s also worth mentioned that when you use a distributed team, it usually means that your IT costs will be less. That’s because when you use one, you’ll likely be paying the members individually, rather than paying a single company a flat rate for the project. Usually, you can switch to the less competitive markets, hire your team here and spend less for employees payoffs. Again, you don’t need to spend anything on the office rent and maintenance, equipment and other administrative costs. Even more, working on a distributed team model you can even reduce the taxes you pay for it. 

Besides, it’s not all the benefits you get from having a distributed team, but the main ones. Hence, if these advantages seem to be substantial for your company, let’s cover the cases when a remote team is the best fit for your business model. 

 

When is a Remote Team the Best Match for Your Project and When Not

The first question to ask is whether you feel the need to physically meet with your team members often, occasionally, or never. There are some employers or projects where having face-to-face meetings with team members is critical. If that’s the situation in which you find yourself, then a remote team will probably not be appropriate. But if you hesitate whether you can get your instructions and set the right workflow remotely, a lot of video and collaboration tools can help you with that.

Finally, you’ll need to think about whether the development team members who you’ll need for your project are physically close to you. For various reasons, there are parts of the country, and indeed, of the world, where there is a higher concentration of IT talent than others.

If you’re in a hotbed of developers who you think can handle your project, then you probably don’t need to go remote. If that talent isn’t physically close to you, or you need a specialist with a rare skill set then a remote team might be your only choice.

 

What to Look for When Hiring a Remote Team

If you’re thinking about hiring a remote team, then there are a few things to keep in mind. 

The first is whether you’re going to be using a company that does the hiring for you, or whether you’ll be recruiting the team members yourself. Using a company might cost you some money, but it will save you the time and energy of doing the hiring.

Secondly, make sure that all the team members are familiar with operating as part of a larger whole. It’s fine if your members are used to autonomy, but they’re still going to be working toward the same goal. 

Thirdly, make sure you have the possibility to set up the workflow and remote team management tools.  You should make sure that all of your team members are used to working with the particular methodology you plan on using. 

Of course, besides the technical skills required for your project, you also need to hire employees with the soft skills needed to work as part of a team in spite of it’s remote.

 

Challenges to Managing Geographically Distributed Team 

Of course, with any system for software development you set up, there will be certain inherent challenges. 

  • Differences in time zones for team communication

With the distributed team model, the first challenge is that you’ll have workers across different times zones. While this will probably allow the project to proceed faster, it’s also going to be difficult to have meetings in real-time with all team members at once. You’ll have to figure out some strategies for getting around this issue, like finding the best time in the morning or in the evening or staggered meeting times with different segments of the team.

  • Set up effective remote team collaboration and workflow

Effective remote team collaboration means building one consistent workflow and a system of rapport among the members. The longer your team works together, the more used to each other’s methodologies and expectations they will become. However, a neophyte team working on your project is going to have to get used to each other. That’s one of the reasons you might want to employ an agency that can set up the team rather than you having to do it.

  • Choosing the right distributed team collaboration tools

You’ll need to figure out whatever support platform, technology stacks, etc. are going to be the most useful based on your project goals. What else you need to do is to make sure that the entire team is on board with whatever framework, tools, and programming languages you choose. If they aren’t comfortable or familiar with them, then substituting team members or using a different team entirely might prove necessary. Make sure that you choose the one that has all of the features you need.

  • Cultural differences between team members

If you’re thinking about how to build a culture in a remote team, try to get creative with it. Besides, your team works remotely, you need to set up the workflow, policies, and rules in a way that should be clear for everyone. Try to build a friendly environment within your team. Everyone can talk a little bit about themselves, their background, and their passions or hobbies. Establish some onboarding process to engage a new member in the project smoothly.

 

How to Manage a Distributed Team: Effective Tips

Finally, having our own experience of over 9 years of distributed and remote teams management both for projects of different levels of complexity and industries, we gathered the most actionable tips for you: 

 

  • Trust the People You Hire

You need to be selective about those you hire, for example, you can ask for recommendations, check their working profiles, ask to do test tasks to choose the best candidates. But once you do, you need to trust them to get the job done. Extending some degree of autonomy to them will be necessary. So, each team member should have some responsibilities and you don’t need to check it each time. or try to do the job for someone else. Don’t micromanage.

 

  • Adopt Known Project Management Methodologies

Choose the right software development methodology for your team depending on the project requirement. But what we can recommend is to look at an Agile approach that is probably going to make the most sense for your remote team. Applying, for example, Scrum helps your build transparent communication, enough flexible work that boosts the flexibility and productivity of teams. Stick to build Agile teams with each member's roles and the entire process accordingly. 

agile project management

 

  • Establish Guidelines and Set-Up Work Processes

Document all the work process starting from onboarding, daily activities, task tracking, and reporting. That should be priorities for your efficient teamwork. Hold regular daily and weekly meetings to discuss all the problems the employees might be faced with. 

 

  • Choose the right technology stack for your distributed teamwork

Thanks, we have now a wide range of real-time collaboration, file sharing, to-do lists, calendars, task assignment software, messaging, notification tools, video conferencing apps that make you think that remote team management is much easier than it seemed before. Here is our personal collection of the best ones: 

  • for project management purposes - Trello, Asana, Jira
  • for task tracking, reporting - Jira, Phabricator
  • for communication - Slack, Skype
  • for video conferencing - Meet, Zoom
  • for file sharing & transferring - DropBox, GoogleDrive
  • for meeting scheduling - Google Calendar, Calendly, Doodle
  • for process management - Pipefy, Redmine
  • for design & collaboration - Figma, Invision
  • for development - GitHub, BitBucket
  • for tools connection - Zapier

Here is a quick overview of the two most popular tools for video-conferencing with your remote team and what kinds of companies use them:

 video conferencing platforms

Source: Owllabs

 

  • Task Tracking & Reporting

Make sure to keep careful track of what each team member is doing. A shared dashboard like Jira, along with other collaborations platforms can help your project managers monitor each task status. Also, you can set up some metrics to measure your software development and some personal plan or KPIs for each member. That system can motivate the team members to achieve the goals if they are clearly defines

 

  • Hold Retrospectives

Retrospective meetings will enable you to detect redundancies and any minor errors before they become significant problems. Get feedback and work collectively to solve issues. 

 

  • Make Relevant Information System

Set up your team informational system with GitHub or Redmine, where you can add all needed documentation on projects, integrate it with CMS, plugins and stream activities like commit messages, pull requests from Git. 

 

  • Communicate Often and Get Plenty of Feedback

Establish clear channels of communication as chat, email, meetings. Here we speak about communication on projects as daily and weekly meetups but also about personal communication. Set up some meetup to speak about your business, goals, ideas. Be open to your team and new ideas and gather regular feedback on their satisfaction on work. Use feedback as guidelines for improvement and optimization. 

 

  • Encourage a Unified Development Philosophy

Work at building a united development culture. That means communicating decisions to all team members and minimizing any friction during the onboarding process. Have a clear vision of the goal that everyone understands, and create guidelines for filing effective bug reports as well. 

 

  • Organize Team-Building Events Whenever Possible

Try to figure out what remote team-building activity makes the most sense based on your project and goals. Some remote team icebreakers might include getting-to-know-you games at the start of the project. 

 

Wrapping Up

Well, remote team management is truly challenging, but the benefits it brings for your business can certainly make it worth the resources and efforts you put in first. 

From our Softermii experience, we can say that a well-established workflow, transparent communication, and mutual feedback exchange are the keys to effective distributed team management. Besides, if you still have any questions or are looking to switch to an extended team model, take a look over our development services for that we can set up a dev team for your needs and feel free to contact us to ask any questions. 

Anyway, if you decide to build your distributed team independently or not, following the steps of this guide makes your remote team management strategy not a challenging but a pretty efficient one.

 

 

 

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