Across the ocean

Do you hear me, I’m talking to you
Across the water across the deep blue ocean
Under the open sky, oh my, baby I’m trying

Lucky by Jason Mraz


Here I start a series of short articles about cross pacific program management. Getting things done when your team is spread across continents, countries, cities is a challenge and you should be prepared.

These notes are based on my workings at htc. Building BlinkFeed. Managing project teams and partners located in Seattle, San Francisco, France, Switzerland, and Taipei.

In the upcoming weeks I will talk about getting things done, tools, artifacts, tips and tricks, process, procedures and chores running a geographically challenged project.

To get things done quickly across the ocean you need to reduce the communication issues, Take a look at your project, understand which risk category it is. Pick and choose the amount and size of your documentation, go for simple english and remember people will misunderstand you. A lot.

As a starting point I would like to briefly talk about 4 levels of risk, which are actually applicable to any project and not just geographically challenged.

4 levels of risk

I split all software projects into 4 major risk categories. Which I picked up a while ago from a Russian author.

  1. Loss of comfort
  2. Loss of money
  3. Loss of health
  4. Loss of life

It is all about what is going to happen in case of emergency, undiscovered bug, vulnerability, hacker attack or system outage. Best case nothing is going to happen, worst case it is humans life at stake. Each category will require it is different level of procedures and process complexity. As well it will result in completely different attitude to security and tools available for system operators.

If in the first category you can get away without any documentation in fourth category you should have documentation and proper audit log with verifications and approvals.

We can surely make up the case that any project may end up in loss of life scenario, but lets be realistic and not go there. If Netflix doesn’t work, it is ok. I don’t encourage you to tell your boss there is no need in test team and bugs are ok. Just keep things in perspective.

Unfortunately, I’ve been working only on software project from the first category and didn’t have to worry about hardware. Please keep it in mind or don’t.