Millions of software developers have returned home as a result of the present public health problem with COVID-19. Software development teams that used to convene in conference rooms for daily standup meetings have been changed overnight into virtual teams.

It is common practice in many firms to have teams scattered abroad and working electronically. Other development teams are dealing with the difficulties of abruptly transitioning to a new work environment.

Virtual teams in software development confront four primary challenges, according to research and experience. They’re all laid out here, along with answers to assist you to overcome them.

Maintaining the company culture

It’s an all-encompassing feeling to be a part of a company’s culture. It’s something we’re accustomed to. In general, experience teaches us what the culture will bear in terms of family relationships, accountability patterns, the work-to-play ratio allowed in the workplace, and so on.

Within an organization, culture fosters cohesion, influences motivation, and regulates behavior. All contributors can also interpret upper management directives thanks to the company culture.

These typical signposts start to fall apart when people work from home. It can be difficult to evaluate management communications that emerge quietly in the email inbox in a vacuum. It becomes more difficult for team members to interpret communications that come from afar when the corporate culture is not omnipresent.

How to maintain a culture

Periodic meetings, utilizing platforms like Zoom, where senior managers from outside the team connect directly with the dev team can offset the dangers to business culture when teams go virtual. They also allow management to make changes to the strategy.

These meetings should ideally be skip-level sessions in which you, as management, meet one-on-one with a direct report of another manager, who reports to you.

It also aids teams in having a single version of the truth strategy document saved in the cloud. The plan should be updated on a regular basis and kept wherever the team can view it. It should be reviewed (briefly) before each route plan meeting and referred to at all-hands meetings at the company.

The COVID-19 crisis prohibits all-inclusive retreats or strategy workshops. Virtual getaways are tough to pull off properly, but they have been tried and tested by a number of organizations. Recreational activities are frequently mixed together with sessions on culture and training on new systems.

Make the company culture’s unconscious hints visible. They should be referred to and reinforced on a regular basis. Your company’s culture can follow your employees’ home, but only if it is made explicit and reinforced on a regular basis.

Above all, bringing up business culture at every chance is quite beneficial. Every business communication (announcements for new employees, departures, and reorganizations) gives an excellent opportunity for culture reinforcement.

In-house wikis, Google Docs, and twice-yearly retreats are all useful tools for retaining culture (including virtual).

Keeping focused on the product vision

The problem with losing sight of the product vision is that the software development team will waste cycles by focusing on the wrong issues. The greatest risk is squandering time on non-productive tasks that are unrelated to the product goal.

In the worst-case scenario, a team that loses sight of the product vision may end up delivering the incorrect solution at the conclusion of a lengthy and costly development cycle.

How to maintain focus 

Hold monthly road map reviews to discuss and update alignment with the product vision and the app in development. Examine the product roadmap and release trains to determine where you’ve been, where you want to go, and what your next steps should be.

It helps to have a concise, one-page product vision that represents a single, shared version of reality.

Boundary conditions, an exception management technique, is another option. The development team and higher management agree on the minimal viable product using this process (MVP). The next split it down into three to five project factors, such as project cost, product cost, features, timing, and quality, and develop quantitative metrics for each.

The development team then works without intervention from senior management as long as it appears to be on track to meet its quantitative goals.

If the project starts to veer off course, a simple escalation process kicks in to assist the team in getting back on track. Having a set of goals to strive toward helps the team stay focused on the initial product vision.

Another option for dealing with the problem of losing sight of the big picture is to establish a proxy product owner/product manager on your development team. This person should work in the same time zone as the rest of the team, be able to respond to questions as they arise, and guide the software project toward its objectives.

Wikis, Google Docs, road maps, and other tools can be used to manage the product vision.

Staying true to agile methodologies

When team members are physically separated, how can they maintain the integrity and power of agile methodology? The majority of agile principles assume a collocated team. “The most efficient and successful technique of delivering knowledge to and within a development team is face-to-face discussion,” according to the Agile Manifesto.

Of fact, this can happen via videoconferencing, but the writers clearly meant “face-to-face” to mean in person.

How to maximize remote agile teams

Thankfully, some of the Agile Manifesto’s principles may be applied more easily to virtual teams. Virtual development teams, for example, might benefit from agile principles such as “constant attention to technical excellence and good design promotes agility.”

As teams grow more virtual, be sure you’ve defined and implemented a minimum set of agile events. The meetings required to carry out the Scrum framework, which gives Scrum its regularity and structure, are one definition of an agile event. Choose wisely, otherwise, you risk wasting all of your time on process rather than actual work.

Technology can aid in the domain of remote agile. Backlogs, definitions of “done,” burndown charts, release plans, and retrospectives are all important agile tools. And each of these has a companion app.

The most critical part of remaining agile in virtual teams is to keep the Scrum Master (SM) and product owner responsibilities separate (PO). Additionally, any set of team members who share the same time zone should have SM and PO proxies.

Their job is to come to a halt and answer questions within an hour that could otherwise keep a developer from working for a day. For more serious difficulties, the proxy can contact the true product owner for confirmation of the local instruction. The proxies have priority access to the primary PO and SM and can receive a response the same day (or within 24 hours).

Managing for collaboration day in and day out

Collaborating with others in a collocated context has numerous communication benefits. When one team member is on the phone, possibly conversing with an internal or external customer, team members nearby can hear half of the conversation and infer the other half.

The importance of information communicated in this manner cannot be overstated, and it is nearly impossible to duplicate in a virtual team context.

How to manage collaboration

Finding a virtual counterpart for real-life connection, such as discussing personal weekend plans or even a virtual happy hour, is a typical countermeasure. Virtual teams, on the other hand, can take numerous steps to guarantee that they continue to collaborate successfully even if they are on lockdown.

To begin, make it clear what you’re cooperating on using a release planning document and boundary criteria. Make sure that roles and duties are clearly specified at the start of a project. It’s no longer acceptable for team members to have merely a hazy understanding of who is directly responsible for a certain deliverable. The Circle Dot Chart is a tool that can assist virtual teams in defining and maintaining roles and responsibilities.

In a cloud-based setting, you may also promote transparency for teamwork by having a shared workspace and exchanging intermediate work deliverables.

Above all, have and follow version control systems. When teams are not in the same time zone, version control for all documents and work products is very important.

All team members must not only have a single version of the truth, but they must also understand that it is the most recent, most up-to-date version of your work. It’s critical to keep track of your tools’ permissions. Make one person responsible for the document, and only that person should be able to update it.

Hire and communicate for virtual team success

Virtual teams bring problems about hiring and communication in addition to addressing these four challenges. Because of the time zone and language differences, hiring remote developers is tough. When you’re seeking to scale quickly, specialized hiring agencies can assist you to recruit and select people.

Don’t forget about the onboarding process. Bringing a new hire into headquarters is one thing; bringing someone into the organization who will not see the company office for six months or longer is quite another. Have videos of your onboarding process that can be viewed locally.

You’ll also need to get new hires ready for work. There are scripts that can set up a laptop for immediate productivity, with features like code repositories, development environments, and links to company resources already installed.

Communication and decision-making are frequently significant difficulties for virtual software teams. Daily stand-up meetings, for example, are nearly impossible to hold if the staff is all in the same building. Organizations utilize time-zone optimization as one tool.

They strive to construct teams so that key team members spend at least four hours together. If you can’t get everyone together for a standup, some companies use Slack to conduct asynchronous check-ins. Basecamp has also been used by other companies for standups.

Unprecedented circumstances necessitate unprecedented measures. Many firms’ strategy depends on their not losing steam as a result of occurrences outside their control.

Virtual development teams can keep the best principles of their business cultures, stay focused on their product vision, be flexible, and cooperate effectively with some thinking and innovation. Clarity, method, and the right technology are the keys. Virtual teams may move forward without missing a beat with these in place.

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