How to effectively work remotely as an enterprise software development team

Mar 18, 2020

Covid-19 has upended our daily lives. For many of us, it has also fundamentally changed the places in which we work. And this has no small impact: where we work dictates how we work.

Even before these significant current events, we knew that to be true. That’s why design firms are continually working on the elusive open-office floor plan that will finally make everyone happy. Think how much of an impact just changing the location of your desk can be on your work environment. That luxury seems like forever ago.

Now, your entire software development organization is working remotely. And for many organizations, the digital transformation they began before all this has resulted in yet another layer in their immediate transition to remote work. The combination of these circumstances begs the question, how do you manage an IT digital transformation while converting to an entirely remote team?

We’ll look at how single sources of truth and open channels of communication are the foundation of remote collaboration and what strategies are available to enterprise software development teams to achieve them.

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Becoming remote-first

Given that 43% of all employees already work remotely at least some of the time, it’s highly likely that many of your team members are already versed in working remotely. That means you have tools in place for collaboration and security, and you already use SaaS applications for many work processes such as Google Docs or Trello. The difference is that now you have to work remotely for the foreseeable future, not just a day here and there.

This transition to total remote work starts by setting yourself up for success in your new workspace. This can be everything from creating dedicated work areas to finding a good background for video calls to setting a consistent schedule. Before you can help your teams continue their digital transformation, you need to be set up for remote work yourself.

Building remote team collaboration

Managing a team remotely is challenging. All of the normal communication methods - meetings, whiteboard sessions, desk chats - are gone. It is the same for distributed development. You will need to change how you think about communication and collaboration. Communication can happen in two ways: asynchronous communication or synchronous. As a leader, you will need to determine which method is appropriate for the subject at hand. Tools like email, Teams, Slack or Loom enable asynchronous communication while video conferencing enables synchronous communication.

In remote work, you should lean toward asynchronous communication when possible. This allows your team to structure their time optimally and minimize context switching between meetings that can hurt productivity. 

On the other hand, synchronous communication is extremely important for developing relationships. This is why video conferencing should always be used when possible. The biggest change when conducting meetings is to allow for time for informal communication in video calls. This may be awkward at first as it's something normal day-to-day communication allows, but it needs to be intentional in remote settings.

You will need to set these new norms for your teams by demonstrating communication best practices and helping set expectations for your team. Most important is to keep open channels of communication as a leader. Connect with your team through formal check-ins as well as informal messaging. This helps you maintain high-touch even in a remote environment so that no one feels isolated. 

Collaboration, at its core, is simply working together to create something new. This requires communication and shared work. Now that you have your communication tools for remote work in place, you need to focus on creating and aligning shared work. This means everyone has to be on the same page to eliminate redundancies and gaps in project execution.

In remote work, this requires a different approach than in co-located situations. For instance, you can’t easily check in with your colleague sitting next to you about what priorities have changed or the current version of a document. Instead, everything must be documented and visible to everyone on the team in real-time. This allows for self-service learning, where every team member can educate themselves on the current status of work. It also ensures that everyone is working in concert and communicating effectively to team members.  Having a source of truth is the foundation for strong, thoughtful collaboration, which is essential to continue your digital transformation remotely. 

Collaborative software development with value stream management

Remotely managing a software development team is particularly challenging. There are many more moving parts that can get lost with the transition to remote work. For example, product managers may lose track of where their features are in the pipeline, and the previously frictionless handoffs between development teams are now more difficult. These and other new complications all result in reactive communication to try and fix a new problem. This is both inefficient and ineffective. 

Software development teams need to think of their new remote environment in terms of collaboration as much as communication. While communication tools remain relatively the same across an enterprise, collaboration tools change. To enable remote collaboration, software development teams need their own single source of truth. Value stream management platforms provide an end-to-end source of truth for software development teams to thrive remotely. 

A value stream is any set of activities that deliver a product or service. Approaching software development from this point of view allows teams to manage work from idea to delivery. This allows for collaboration across teams. Value stream management platforms bring work visibility by integrating tools such as Jira, Jenkins, AWS and ServiceNow throughout the toolchain into a single platform.

Value stream management becomes the foundation for work transparency in software development teams. It provides team members access to self-service learning, ensuring everyone will always be on the same page. This is essential for efficiency, allowing team members to focus on their work and not the status of upstream or downstream activities. Secondly, it provides managers insight into the work of their team without requiring manual documentation and check-ins, again improving efficiency. Lastly, value stream management delivers complete traceability of software development activities, ensuring governance compliance and facilitating auditability.

Value stream management meets your team where they are. It incorporates your current workflow and toolchain to provide end-to-end control of the software development factory. Leveraging the business intelligence and smart dashboards of value stream management platforms, such as Plutora, there is no need to stop your existing digital transformation efforts because of Covid-19. By using value stream management, you can easily track the progress of your entire portfolio and improve overall organizational performance in this new remote-first world.

Learn more about the Plutora platform here

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