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Four ways to improve the performance of your remote software team

(Image credit: Image Credit: Thefarmsoho.com)

The process of software development requires careful consideration of its every aspect. In a way, it’s a circus-like balancing act where your mission is to allow your team to efficiently make software clients will love.

This is especially true if you are handling a remote team. The nature of remote work doesn’t appeal in the same way to every team member. Some find it freeing to be unbound by the constraints of a traditional office, while others prefer the physical presence of fellow colleagues. In both cases, it’s on you to deliver the expected performance levels and even go a step further. For that, you’ll need to do the following:

1. Communicate proactively

Effective communication is a cornerstone of every team project, but perhaps none more so than in software development due to all the little nuances that come with it. Actively listening to better understand the ongoing progress is a good thing but in order to raise the bar above the status quo, you must prevent miscommunication.

When managing a software team, you’re not managing the end product but the contentment and productivity of your developers. Check in on your team on a regular basis with genuine interest and effort through meetings and simple catch-ups to establish mutually respectful boundaries, and ultimately - relationships.

In today’s age, communication can be facilitated in a myriad of ways, from using Slack, Skype, Wrike, and the likes for simple chats to catch-up calls and video conferences. When possible, employ face-to-face meetings because nothing beats that level of impression.

It’s okay to be formulaic and engage with informal chats as this will encourage team members to be proactive as well. They will approach you with questions and/or problems (project-related or personal) that otherwise might have been swept under the rug. Such an outcome will always be labelled as positive, particularly when you understand it can affect the project one way or another: product backlog, estimates, requirements clarification, and more.

2. Use clear language to keep everyone on the same page

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of language, especially if we’re talking about English as the universal language. For example, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has a strong legacy of technical aptitude which translates well into a highly educated and skilled modern workforce. On top of that, English proficiency is ranging from moderate to high in the majority of CEE countries, with greater proficiency found among tech professionals due to the nature of the work.

Still, the reality is that while software teams are likely to be fluent enough in English, they will still command it as a second language. There are more than enough cultural differences that, fueled with ambiguous words and phrases, can be easily misinterpreted. Expectations and circumstances change so it’s always better to provide clear explanations and specific meanings in the project documentation and ongoing communication. You should always communicate ideas in clear, unmistakable language and leave nothing open for interpretation.

My advice is to ensure continuous feedback after issuing instructions. For that, you’ll need to establish a feedback culture, where people are encouraged (maybe even pushed) to assess what they are doing throughout the entire project so that all stakeholders are on the same page.

3. Instil clarity

Speaking of being on the same page, clarity will be your number one priority in achieving it. I know this sounds like a cliché but for every project to deliver on its promise, everybody needs to understand one another, as well as what’s expected of them.

Making requests with measurable goals like defined time or outcome is a sure-fire way of ensuring this. Hence, exact deadlines, milestones, and objectives are must-dos. This is where the feedback loop kicks in: follow-ups from your team will allow you to define a precise outline of work while also allowing you to voice any concerns or reservations you might have.

Clarity is crucial because as I’ve mentioned before, expectations and circumstances change. Dealing with unforeseen factors and consequences is a lot easier when you have an established modus operandi that can absorb a potential margin of change easier. It also helps manage those newfound expectations by setting a clear and realistic foundation for you to build upon. That way, your team can maintain optimal performance while you pinpoint possible areas for improvement.

4. Use sprints to avoid burnouts and maximise productivity

Contrary to what I’ve just written in the subheading, pressuring a software team to constantly come up big at a fast rate in the quest for increased performance has all the makings of a burnout. The end result will likely be poorly written code replete with bugs, a host of development problems, and generally one very expensive development process - certainly more expensive than initially projected.

Luckily, a sprint refers to a short, timeboxed iteration of a set amount of work. It’s a continuous development cycle where the planned amount of work has to be completed in the designated time and made ready for review. Sprints are routinely used in project management methodologies like agile which facilitate a test-driven environment. Such a scenario not only encourages your team to write better code and minimise debugging but also to do some upfront thinking on critical technical issues before a solution is implemented.

From a managerial perspective, working in sprints allows you to measure the team’s performance and implement changes as you see fit.

Conclusion

Holding your outsourced IT team to the same standards as mandated in the project documentation largely depends on smooth and effective communication. While working with remote software teams has its pitfalls and challenges you need to be aware of, it also offers more connectivity and flexibility thanks to developments in the sphere of digitisation and cloud computing. Such working arrangements immensely benefit both managers and employers, regardless of whether they are outsourced, freelancers, or full-time workers.

To get the best out of this practice, all the participants need to be competent in using the latest relevant technological advancements. This primarily refers to video conferencing, cloud-based servers and data transfer technologies that together form an infrastructure making remote work possible and efficient.

Also, don’t forget that happy developers produce high-quality code, so managing software teams should allow for a healthy work-life balance. Sticking to the recommendations outlined above will set you on the right path to removing the barriers standing in the way of progress.

Robert Strzelecki, CEO & Co-founder, Softwarehut