Over my past 7 years as a Product Manager, I’ve worked with developers and quality teams in Ukraine, Russia, Pakistan, Tunisia, France, and India, just to name a few.
Together, we’ve fought through projects both large and small, both simple and complex. From this diverse and talented group of individuals, I’ve learned several key lessons (mostly from my mistakes!) on how to build a kickass remote development team.
Please benefit from my hard-fought learning as you work to build your first (or even your tenth) remote development team.
P.S. These lessons hold true regardless of if you’re getting a startup off the ground or augmenting the development capacity of a Fortune 500 company.
The 5 Golden Rules of Remote Development
- Pick the Right Partner (for the long run, even if you start small)
Recently, I’ve been helping a local DC startup called Bullseye to launch a product that helps simplify the complex world of college applications.
Bullseye wanted to build a responsive web app that could support a double-sided marketplace, Stripe payments, and several other key integrations.
The company ultimately sourced 3 development company candidates with various price and experience levels.
While Bullseye could have chosen one of the cheaper or local development options and built either a more flimsy or very high-cost MVP, the team wanted to make sure they both stayed within budget and had the right partner to scale with them.
Given Bullseye’s rapid progress and successful launch this week, I would say they made a great choice :)
P.S. if you’d like to talk more about my experience with Kwanso, book 10 minutes on my calendar
2. Define Goals and Timelines Extremely Well
At the beginning of a software project, it’s very difficult to forecast exact timelines (hence the rise of Agile Development).
But, with a high stakes remote development project, it’s very much worth the upfront effort to plan when demos will happen, when the development company plans to meet specific delivery timelines, and when transfers of code ownership and hosting responsibilities will occur.
Not only will this help you forecast when work will be completed, but it will also help you better understand the entire scope of the relationship and get it down on paper.
Put these deadlines down in your calendar at the beginning of a project and hold your development partner to these dates. Typically, your dev shop will have some flexibility with the size of the team on their side and can adjust to speed up if necessary.
3. Be Specific
When working with a remote dev team, it’s even easier to start diverging on a particular feature. You don’t want to wait until demo day to realize something has gone terribly wrong.
For that reason, it’s even more important for the Product Manager and the team to clearly describe the purpose of the feature, the acceptance criteria (how it will be tested), share high fidelity designs/prototypes, and to review the work continuously before demos.
This should go without saying, but make sure you’re also using one ticketing system and that it’s the accepted source of truth on both sides of the relationship. Believe me, I’ve seen this go wrong too…
Organization is already insanely important for Product Managers, but when working with remote dev teams, it's often the difference between success and failure.
4. Meet Regularly
Similar to #3, it’s incredibly easy for remote developers and Product Managers to diverge rapidly because of boundaries of time and location.
Remote teams should meet several times a week (at least) in standups, demos, and planning sessions. When a critical release is approaching, ramp this up even more to daily or two-a-days to make sure little to nothing is lost in translation or time.
5. Short Video Calls > Slack
Slack has been transformational for the world of startups (and much of corporate America). However, there is much that can be lost over Slack.
Emotion, priority, and back-and-forth problem solving can easily be lost or missed when we’re simply typing messages instead of speaking to and listening to each other.
Save yourself the risk of being misunderstood and jump on a quick Zoom call or Google Hangout when you’re feeling like your remote team isn’t fully grokking what you’re describing over chat.
Trust me, the 5 minutes you take will be more than worth it.
What Have You Learned from Your Remote Development Projects?
I’d love to learn from the lessons you’ve found with remote development projects! Please share with me in the comments or on Twitter: @amitch5903
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