Open collaboration with external development partners
I don’t know about you, but I’m spoiled. I get to work with incredibly talented product developers in small multidisciplinary teams at Made by Many. Over time, we’ve developed a specific way of working together which is fast, collaborative and efficient. We’re in each others pockets throughout the process and it’s a blast. Sometimes I take for granted how productive this way of working is. Inevitably though, we sometimes need to work with external development partners. It’s a brilliant option to have, but undoubtedly comes with new challenges.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with some top-notch developers and development agencies during my time at Made by Many, but it’s easy to forget the effort involved to foster the same sense of collaboration with third parties. It’s unreasonable to assume that people from a different company, with alternative cultures and methodologies should be able to slot into your preferred way of doing things. Or Vice Versa.
Having learned and re-learned this lesson a few times, I wanted to offer some advice to make partnering with external developers work more smoothly. Here are my tips:
Get everyone up to speed
When it comes to implementation and taking a product to market, if we aren’t taking on the build ourselves, technology partners are jumping on board midway through a project. This holds a whole host of problems. It means that this new team weren’t there when hypotheses were being tested, propositions were being developed or when product decisions were being made. They have a gaping hole in their collective knowledge of the specific business and customer reasons as to why the project has taken a certain direction.
Never underestimate the value in taking them through the work and your process up until this point (it also means you should be documenting this to a certain degree too!). This de-brief ultimately works in everyones favour and brings the development team into the fold. I’ve found they become more invested in a project when they understand the journey we have been on to get to this point. It illustrates the goals and steps we all need to take together to turn the product into reality.
An essential part of transparency and keeping everyone in the loop are daily stand-ups. The same way that product teams at Made by Many do in person, working with external development partners should be the same. On previous projects we would always have morning stand-ups remotely over Skype or Gooogle Hangouts. This open dialogue every day means that everyone is on the same page and is aware of the challenges the team is facing, including any blockers for the day ahead. This transparent nature goes beyond the core product team. We encourage clients to join these stand-ups too.
Constant dialogue is essential, and when the team isn’t all located in the same place we often have a Skype chat room open continuously in the background (most likely replaced by a Slack channel now). However, this always open line of communication means that there are no rules or boundaries as to when someone can message you, inevitably interrupting your work flow. Personally this irks me. I work better with dedicated chunks of time to really sink my teeth into things.
I’ve found that time-boxing my availability on Skype for an hour after stand-up and an hour at the end of the day allowed me to really get my head down and be productive during the day. I don’t enforce this rule all the time, but it helps create some boundaries around communication. It added focus to the time when I was available, making better use of everyones time. Anything truly urgent can be dealt with through email though.
No matter how much time you spend on Slack, Skype or Hangouts; face-to-face communication can’t be beat. Co-locating — whether It’s setting up camp in the development teams office or all of us moving to the clients space is essential for creating truly holistic product development. Even if it’s just for half days in each others offices — it works wonders for collaboration and productivity.
Yes it means stepping out of your comfort zone and getting to know a new team in a new environment. But it’s the best way to avoid waste and truly fosters a collective understanding and drive that leads to better products.
Whether development is in-house or external, it’s a careful balancing act of trade-offs to be made towards creating a successful product. Often holistic product development works best when it’s all done by one company under the same roof. But when that isn’t possible, these methods have helped me to avoid the notion of throwing things over the fence, of us and them. Which in the end benefits everyone.