Remote Development — Tips for Managing Projects

Bas has an excellent list of tips for managing projects that include remote development teams (here).  The list itself is useful, but I particularly like how he built it.  Bas leveraged the comments from another post (here) to create this meta-tipsheet.  Below are a few of the ideas that we use quite a bit at SAP:

4. If possible, visit your offshore team during the development phase and make an effort to blend in.
5. Identify a leader you are going to be communicating with regularly and make him responsible for all updates and reports so there is no miscommunication.

SAP has an exchange program with our global delivery and global development groups based in remote locations (especially India). Also, we’ve developed a strong, independent PMO in our global delivery organization in SAP Consulting. They’re mature enough to be regular contributors of remote delivery content for our ASAP methodology (overview page here, NOTE: requires registration to service.sap.com).

7. Whichever way you choose for your communication, always support verbal communication with written correspondence.
10. The bigger the better is the rule when getting projects made offshore.

#7 applies to most projects, but never forget it for remote teams.  Tip #10 is very perceptive, as it notes “small projects are usually going to get you distracted workers who will be looking for their next assignment even while they work for you.”  Also, being “stingy” with work by doling it out piecemeal usually only attracts second-tier resources or desperate firms.

Do we need to work factory hours?

I don’t think so.  Perhaps this attitude stems from the fact that both my mom and my in-laws are from farm families — the idea of 8 to 5 doesn’t apply to my County Kerry or Haskell County kin.  A couple of provocative articles on the Harvard Business site explore the blurring between work and life (Do We Need Weekends? is here, Don’t Leave Your Personal Life at Home is here).

Connectivity is a bug-bear for many.  In particular, a lot of colleagues ask me about whether I like my Blackberry (I do).  The most common objection I then hear is that I’ve tethered myself to the office.  To which I say: “Do you prefer being chained to your desk”?  The ability to time shift is precious to me, well worth the cost of having to shift calls or business into “non-working” hours.

Also, I do not subscribe to the idea that the potential to be “always on” equals being “always on.”  There are of course the “ringer off” and caller ID features.  And every e-mail does not need an immediate response.  A lot of the complaints about the Crackberry would be solved by a quick Franklin-Covey time management course.  Or, heaven forbid, we might realize that every mail we’re copied on doesn’t need our contribution to the thread.

Finally, while I’m not customer-facing today, that was when I especially loved having a tether rather than a chain.  I recall one upgrade weekend where I had to be on-site, but I was able to have my wife join me for the weekend.  In the “good old days” pre-mobile or Blackberry, I would have had to stay on site on in my hotel almost the entire time.  No dinner and a movie, no personal time, etc.

Virtual workers should interview themselves first…

Sara’s post at Pajama Professional about asking yourself tough questions before starting a home business (here) made me think about the challenges of telecommuting and virtual work.  I had been tagged for an interview about the topic — I didn’t make the cut — and my team is almost entirely virtual.  The topic is always on my mind when considering current and future staffing decisions.

Anyhow, Sara’s list inspired some riffs of my own, which highlight some pitfalls of virtual employment.  One should ask these when considering remote work arrangements.  These may even make their way into my own annoying open-ended interview questions!

  • Many colleagues find virtual work challenging, why will you be successful where other candidate would not be?  Sure, this is a chance to to highlight strengths and experience, but it should also ask prompt these questions: What most attracts you to this position? What sounds least attractive?
  • Why do you want to work in an environment where your won’t be able to socialize with many your colleagues and stakeholders?  This question is one I haven’t asked, but will going forward.  Stakeholder management and communications are paramount, at least in my firm, so how will a colleague how doesn’t apparently value work relationships fare?
  • How would you rate your managerial skills? Why?  Sara’s comments below are spot on (a few bracketed mods by me): Continue reading
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