Using product principles, communication, and flexibility, Theorem teams adapt to a new (remote) world.
By: Troy Thompson
At Theorem, continuous learning has always been a key component of who we are. A commitment to adapting is essential to an organization’s ongoing success. And nothing has brought this idea out into higher relief than the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve all had to redesign the way we work in recent months, often transforming successful in-office teams into equally successful remote ones. For example, one of our own product teams, PRIME, has quickly shifted focus and delivery modes to respond to the needs of our clients, peers, and partners who’re all suddenly remote.
In our experience, there are three keys to rethinking products and processes in a COVID-19 world: principles, communication, and flexible content. These keys have helped us stay focused, share knowledge across teams, transform PRIME from an in-person workshop to an e-learning workshop.
Of course, we’re only human, which means we’ve also made some mistakes along the way. But it’s our firm belief that entirely remote teams can do great work. Here’s how we get that work done — and how you can, as well.
Principles for an “Unordinary” World
Even as a fully remote company, Theorem still does a lot of in-person work — such as PRIME, a series of workshops we developed for organizations to improve their technology delivery capability. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the rules of the game for us, not to mention for every other organization out there.
During times of rapid change and stress, we often ignore, forget, or undervalue the principles of lean and design thinking. But it turns out these principles are one of the keys to adapting to the new, unordinary world in which we currently find ourselves trying to work and thrive.
As we get complacent with our teams, processes, and products, we tend to forget the basic principles behind them. These principles, however, are also powerful tools for making quick product changes under challenging circumstances.
One example of this has been in our focus on lightweight artifacts. These test artifacts, such as a new PRIME e-learning course, aren’t designed with perfection in mind. Rather, they’re utilitarian. With a test artifact, we just want to make sure what we’re designing will meet the basic needs of our end-users; then, as we go forward, we can build larger and larger artifacts.
Using this time-sensitive efficiency, we can spend five or six hours building something we can use to test our assumptions and validate our needs. Compare that with spending five or six days building out an entire e-learning course — only to realize at the end that it doesn’t deliver the outcomes that the participants need.
Compensating through Communication
It might seem obvious, but it bears emphasizing: Communication is another key to adapting to a new world of remote working, both at Theorem and in other organizations and industries.
Consider the old world. You had a project team, a design team, and an engineering team all on the same floor of a big office building. With no walls and hot desks, there was a lot of ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment interaction between teams. If you wanted to discuss something, all you had to do was walk over to someone’s desk. This was one of the major benefits of in-office culture: proximity.
With remote working, that proximity is more difficult to come by. Every team is now dispersed and the temptation to ignore or skip critical moments of communication is easy to justify with flimsy excuses involving new technology, poor webcams, or a lack of time. Remote teams that are still delivering outcomes are more focused and disciplined on consistent communication among individuals and teams.
At Theorem, we’ve overcome these challenges with clear communication that compensates for the distances between us. One way to do this is by holding rapid (virtual) standup meetings. Typically used among agile development teams, this meeting structure is, above all, quick and brief. Everyone on a particular team says what they worked on yesterday, what they’re working on today, and highlights any roadblocks they anticipate.
So, while you might think that during emergency situations there’s no time for basic procedures like all-hands team meetings, a rapid standup is an easy way to mitigate the need for constant communication with the remote working world in which we now find ourselves.
Pivoting at a Moment’s Notice
We introduced PRIME as a training and capability enhancement module for a Fortune 500 company. Originally, we facilitated the workshop over the course of 15 weeks on-site at the company’s headquarters. Up through late March and early April, our idea of PRIME was an in-person workshop that enjoyed an extended timeline and plenty of interaction.
Now, however, we’ve had to shift PRIME into an e-learning opportunity, and that rapid shift is an example of the flexibility necessary to adapt to a COVID-19 world.
The need to pivot at a moment’s notice is something we at Theorem face as well. What’s helped us is that we’ve always been a remote organization with strong principles. Combine this with all the recent work we’ve done on PRIME, and we’re in a unique position to train and coach clients and organizations on how to adapt to the remote normal we find ourselves living in today.
Quick Tips for Uncertain Times
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our team is still effective and continues to deliver solid outcomes and products like PRIME. As we work through stress and uncertainty, here are some things we keep reminding ourselves of:
- Revisit and talk about the basic beliefs on which your company rests.
- Don’t assume everyone in your company will react to stress and change in the same way.
- Spend time setting new norms and emphasizing existing norms that should stay in place.
At Theorem, technology delivery isn’t just an outcome for our clients — it’s an outcome for us. And as we’ve learned over the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong design principles, clear communication, and agile thinking allow new (or existing) remote teams the opportunity to keep delivering strong outcomes for their organizations and customers.
Need to improve your team’s technology delivery capabilities? Send us a note: email@example.com