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Project management office: Distributed Teams & Contractors

Distributed team’ is a term that refers to a team where all members are physically located away from each other, operating within different time zones.

Below, we’ll take you through the essential guideline for managing a distributed workforce to ensure work efficiency and greater collaboration between your team.

Guideline

The most significant advantage of slow scaling is that it allows the organization to limit risk and validate assumptions of whether it can meet its goals with its current knowledge and capabilities. Another advantage is that growing teams slowly reduce complexity by limiting the number of people involved and reducing cross-team dependencies when allocated in different places and/or countries.

Large distributed meetings are complicated, and planning is especially so. Effective planning requires the participation of everyone.

Distributed collaboration technology helps (e.g., online meetings (zoom, skype, slack, etc.), virtual whiteboards (Mirro, Lucidcharts, Mindmeister), and cloud-based planning tools (Jira or similar tools)), but they don’t solve the fundamental problem of engaging everyone.

Before having a distributed team involved, regardless if it is a 3rd party service provider/integrator or a remote in-house team, a project manager must consider the following:

  • Learn the possible time difference to avoid miscommunication during the schedule planning;
  • Consider the cultural diversities, mainly if people are located in another country (that includes national holidays, language, tools and services availability, communication barriers, and even religion);
  • Distributed teams usually have their daily agenda ground rules and may be difficult to establish good communication with;
  • Various communication challenges. It includes meetings and integrations, alignment with business objectives, and a sustainable development pace.

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Resolving the challenges

Time zone challenge

Even with significant time zone differences, ensure there are at least two-three hours of overlap every day to keep things in sync. When all team members are available online, use this overlapping time to schedule team meetings or discussions and keep everyone in the loop.

Create a plan of how long team members can take to respond to an email or message. This way, no request or query will go unattended for long, and the employees won’t feel they have to respond to every message immediately. It is similar to how we do the SLA for support.

One of the project manager’s duties is acknowledging the team with time zone differences.

Cultural Challenge

Avoid using any slang or colloquialisms when you communicate with your team members. Avoid using any culture-specific references in your team communication channels that everyone may not be familiar with. Using vague references doesn’t just make it difficult for team members to understand the context of a message, but it can also make them feel left out.

Also, mind the national holidays when creating a roadmap with deliverables.

Tools and Services challenge

While most areas in the world have internet coverage, there is a probability of poor connection due to internet speed limits and certain tools in specific countries (e.g., ZOOM, Github are partially working in China, Slack is not working in Cuba). Thus, one must plan workarounds which are usually extra costs.

Agile charter may contain the project ground rules explicitly tailored for distributed teams instead of just one team in one place.

Sync Challenge

Having someone take on a facilitation role at each location to improve engagement and participation helps to improve overall results. It could be someone to not only represent a team but rather advocate its challenges, primarily the Scrum Master.Those people may form an integration Team similar to what one can see in any scaled agile framework (Nexus, SoS, LeSS).

Communication challenge

To resolve the communication challenge, one must have:

  • a clear workflow and reporting to each other,
  • regular synchronization based on the stakeholder management plan and regular video meetings,
  • set up the development process, including:

-establishing access and sharing credentials,

-creating secure data transfer (VPN),

-code review,

-code integrations,

-merge requests management,

  • establish knowledge sharing across teams,
  • celebrate achievements together.

Ensure you avoid lengthy and pointless meetings that are only a waste of time. One study by Atlassian showed that 91% of all meeting goers daydreamed during meetings, and 39% slept during meetings.

Based on the recommendations, here’s a list of tools that might be useful:

  • Team communication tool: Slack
  • Video conference tool: Zoom
  • Tool for managing complex projects: Jira
  • Tool for managing simpler projects: Trello
  • Tool for online signing: DocuSign
  • App for storing files and documents: MS Office
  • Software development tool: GitLab

Contractors

General contractors often contract parts of their work to specialist contractors, who have the skills needed for other job areas.

Contractors may act as individuals (freelancers) and companies. It imposes another term: subcontractor, a person working for the company that has a contract with.

Step 1: Interview the vendor and determine your needs

Hiring contractors is almost similar to the process of hiring in-house employees. The difference will be noted in the contract; often, these points will be working hours, rate, and the termination period notice. The employee lifecycle that was developed by HR is also applicable.

Step 2: Hire the right contractors

It’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily true because someone claims to be an expert. Because the contractor we hire will represent a company, one should do due diligence before asking them to start the actual job. It’s also essential to get a good idea of their work ethic and ensure contractors’ plans for the job match the project’s expectations.

Step 3: Create a contract to nail down the specifics

Nevertheless, knowing your and/or the company’s obligations is also essential. And this goes beyond the contracted amount of compensation. It is exactly the sweet spot where the devil is in the details.

It is always two-way communication that requires supervision and regular feedback when fulfilling the conditions of the contract. It can be as follows:

  • formal buy-in procedures;
  • sign off of interim deliverables;
  • acceptance of completed work.

Please contact the Financial Department to create the contract for contractors.

Step 4: Manage the contractor and maintain a relationship

After the agreement/contract is signed, it is valuable to have the person responsible on the company’s side manage this type of labor procurement.

Contractors/sub-contractors will be part of the team; thus, they must obey all project procedures, follow the rules (Agile charter), and work cohesively on its objectives. Typically, the operational part is managed by a project manager or other direct supervisors (e.g., Tech Lead):

  • A person goes through the onboarding process;
  • Company’s corporate email is assigned;
  • Time is being reported to the time-tracking system;
  • Contractors may not have the default company’s benefits;
  • On-demand requests and specific tools (hardware, online services, security-related accounts, other sensitive information) must be approved by direct supervisor.

DevCom is a trusted technology partner for many of the world’s leading enterprises, SMEs and technology innovators. Through every stage of the product life cycle, DevCom is a brain-trust dedicated to forward-thinking.

In case you don’t know where to start your project, you can get in touch with us.

Our Blog: https://devcom.com/articles/

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