Keeping Decentralized Teams on Track

Outsourcing helps developers keep costs down, but working with decentralized teams can be difficult.

Get around these challenges with a combination of technology, targeted communication, and distance-optimized leadership strategies.

Decentralized teams - sometimes called distributed teams - are becoming a mainstay of software development.

They hit the sweet spot between value and quality, allowing companies to combine skilled offshore tech talent with dependable domestic development companies.

Working with decentralized teams comes with some unique challenges, though.

Here’s how to keep developers productive and motivated, no matter how far apart they are.

Choose the right project management and coordination software

Technology can bridge the physical gap between widespread team members. Productivity tools, task trackers, and communication programs create a shared virtual space where everyone has access to information on project status, upcoming milestones, and what is expected of them personally.

Tools only work when they’re used, though. Make software familiarization part of onboarding. Hold periodic refreshers, and have training resources available for employees to reference as needed.

Also, be sure there is a clear help and tech support process in place when the resources aren’t quite enough.

Clearly define goals and stick to them

Lay out the project overview and set specific objectives for each sprint. This should include daily, weekly, and full sprint targets.

Have a solid quality control process in place to make sure quality stays as high as productivity.

With distributed teams, sometimes the “chain of command” gets a little murky. During the earliest stages of a project, lay out the roles of the team as far as authority and regular duties.

Everyone should be able to answer questions like:

  • What are they responsible for?
  • Who do they turn to help if they finish early?
  • Who has authority to make changes and decisions?

Workers becoming overwhelmed or falling behind is another risk. Monitor progress checkpoints and keep an eye on team members who are at risk of missing targets. Offer extra resources when practical.

Remember to be realistic about workloads. Adjust future tasks if it’s necessary, but don’t keep moving the goalposts without a good reason.

Communication is key

When team members don’t see each other every day, things fall between the cracks. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise.

Distance presents a barrier to asking for clarification. Workers have to wait on an email response or find a good time for a live chat or phone call.

If the team is in different time zones (which is common as budget pressures fuel the rise of international outsourcing) then trying to communicate in real time is especially frustrating.

This lag means that too often, problems get big before they are noticed. By that time, they’re more expensive and time-consuming to fix than if they were addressed right away.

Always err on the side of too much communication rather than too little. Have clear lines of communication set up between all team members.

Foster a culture of collaboration and free interaction; don’t criticize or penalize workers for reaching out for help from a team member when they can’t get a fast leadership response.

Don’t overlook the human element

Workers are more productive and motivated when they feel connected to the company, so keep the human element in mind.

Hold regular video chats and phone calls instead of relying entirely on text-based communication. Don’t discourage inter-company friendships or social side-chat as long as work is still getting done

It’s also important to relay praise as well as constructive criticism.

Workers need to hear when they’re doing a good job instead of only getting feedback on mistakes.

Stay in touch - but don’t micromanage

Last - but not least - keep in mind that communication doesn’t mean micromanagement. Stay on top of the team, but don’t get in the way of their productivity.

That is less of a contradiction than it seems when technology is considered. If communication is emphasized and team members are reliably using the task tracker, it’s easy to see where they are at any given moment.

Avoid interrupting a productive day with questions that can be answered by the task tracker or another collaboration tool.

Assign tasks and priorities, but whenever possible let team members decide how to do things. They were hired for a reason; trust their expertise until given a reason not to.

Concepta has over a decade of experience working with decentralized team around the world. Our combination of local and distributed teams lets us offer competitive prices without sacrificing quality. Find out how your company can benefit from our system today!

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