TribalScale
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TribalScale

Aligning a Distributed Team as a Product Manager

By Deepika Gauba

I’m a product lead of a team with members in 3 time zones, 6 cities, and 2 countries. We work together on 7 products across multiple platforms. Our team is multidisciplinary, delivery focused — Product, UX/UI, QA, and Engineering, with support, operations, and executive stakeholders. Some are co-located, some in different offices, and some work remote. How do we all stay aligned?

Inclusivity and Diversity First

As product managers, we value perspectives from different types of users across our products, so we brought that approach to our team. Each team has a Subject Matter Expert (SME) that is included in the planning and ideation sessions so that we leverage their expertise and their point of view.

1. Disseminating Information and Communication → Transparency

Over-communicate. We’ve worked hard to keep a strict cadence of communication by practicing the following rituals:

Weekly Demos: Every Friday, we hold demos to ensure that everyone shares the work they did; if you didn’t do anything user-facing, Eg: design mocks, then you speak about your learnings from the week for up to 2 minutes.

Weekly Status Emails: Since our teams deliver on a weekly cadence, to wrap up our week, we deliver status emails per project that address the following:

  • Status: Red, Yellow, Or Green
  • Status explanation: 1 line about why it’s red and what would be needed to get to green.
  • What we did: A bullet list of where (and on what) the team spent their time, which is usually broken down by initiative or feature set.
  • What’s next: Same as above (in true agile fashion, this is flexible).
  • Risks: Any potential issues that you foresee affecting the team’s morale, productivity, or releases.
  • Blockers: Risks that weren’t mitigated in time and now have an immediate impact on the product/team.
  • Upcoming milestones: Any releases, new features, integrations, and new team members!
  • Project collateral: Backlog, design files, previews, etc.

This format allows us to provide the entire organization with a bird’s eye view into our week and they’re able to get visibility into the backlog, and address any concerns about the project’s status.

Daily Stand-ups: The team gets together every day at noon EST to ensure PST is in the house to discuss what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and any blockers. We wrap this up in less than 5 minutes.

Pre-Iteration Planning Meetings: Held weekly (or bi-weekly for maintenance projects) with the stakeholder teams to ensure that project-level work is being communicated all the way to the top.

Don’t Skip Retrospectives: My personal favourite meeting. We use postfacto.io to hold remote retros with zoom meetings.

2. Maintaining Work-Life Balance

We understand that just because your team is in a different time zone than you, doesn’t mean that you have to now work 9–9. We value work-life balance and there is a shared understanding that gets re-iterated every now and then about respect for everyone’s time. If the west coast team pings east coast at 9 pm EST those on the east know that they don’t have to respond until the next day. We all work together to leverage each other’s working hours.

3. #toomanymeetings

We adopt the following meeting etiquette to ensure that we maximize our meetings:

  • Send an agenda (if it’s a recurring meeting, review action items).
  • Include a zoom/hangouts invite, and if someone can’t attend, record the meeting.
  • Send a recap email with attendees, items discussed, any decisions made, and action items with their assigned directly responsible individual (DRI).
  • Ideal meeting time is under 60 minutes.
  • Most importantly: If this meeting is not useful for you, leave without causing a distraction — inform the team in chat and bow out.

Small Things, Big Impact

  1. Avoid direct messaging: Post questions, thoughts, and musings related to the project in the team slack channel — every time you send a direct message, you’re leaving the rest of the team out of the loop. In addition, you’re getting robbed a viewpoint from your team members. However, my biggest slack pet peeve: @channel messages — use them sparingly!
  2. Keep records: Related to the above, capture any notes and requirements discussed over slack in your project management or developer document tools for reference.
  3. Video-first meetings: Keep your video enabled throughout the meeting so any remote team members or stakeholders are kept in the loop.
  4. Add your interests and role in your Slack profile: It substitutes for an updated employee directory.
  5. Open calendars: This gives transparency into what people are working on, and if it feels like there is a meeting that you should be part of, ask the organizer to add you!
  6. Stick to your scheduled cadence: Show up to meetings that you accepted, and respect the schedule. If you can’t attend, decline; maybes are unacceptable.

And most importantly, when your team does get together, decompress by going for a social outing or do some sort of team building activity. It helps!

Tools

  • Slack
  • Zoom, Hangouts, Slack Call, or Amazon Chime
  • Google Drive and Docs for those brainstorming sessions
  • Roadmap/organization tool of your choice. We’ve used Roadmunk, Aha, Airtable, and Google sheets — this varies based on team preference
  • Invision and Figma for prototyping and sharing app flows, and low-fi and hi-fi wireframes
  • Helpful

Above all, value your team members and acknowledge their effort regularly. If someone goes above and beyond in their role, ensure that it doesn’t go unnoticed. At the end of the day, your team will be productive and motivated when everyone feels recognized for their work.

Deepika is a Product Manager at TribalScale. She guides clients through their digital roadmap and helps them develop a holistic strategy that takes them all the way through implementation and delivery. She specializes in the media vertical and has helped top brands build digital products that anticipate, and meet consumer needs.

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TribalScale Inc.

TribalScale Inc.

A digital innovation firm with a mission to right the future.