How to Ensure Seamless Collaboration with Distributed Teams How can teams with an ocean and several timezones between them achieve success? The key is effective communication and real-time collaboration. Brian Buchkosky Director of Client Experience For project owners partnering with an Agile offshore development team, effective communication and real-time collaboration are critical to success. With an ocean — and significant time zone differences — separating clients from their development, design, and project management teams, it’s not always easy to accomplish that success. The key is maximizing how much overlap in working hours there is on either side of that ocean. Typically, the more overlap teams can have with their clients, the better results they’ll achieve. While certain geographies around the world make this more achievable — a seven or eight hour time difference is generally easier to adapt to than eleven or twelve — it still requires some finesse and adjustment to work seamlessly. Highly effective habits of Agile distributed teams Why businesses need remote Agile teams & questions to ask before starting. An overlap in working hours allows face-to-face communication between clients, technical teams, and project managers to occur. This keeps everyone on the same page and ensures that the project can efficiently move forward. In order to maximize that face time, we’ve adopted an adjusted work schedule in our Bulgarian offices. Our staff there works from 12–8 p.m. local time, which is 4 a.m.–12 p.m. CST. The first half of the workday is dedicated to heads-down work time while the second half overlaps with the beginning of our Minneapolis office’s workday. Utilizing this workflow allows for faster product scalability and a more agile, collaborative mindset. Additionally, it adds immense value to our clients’ bottom-line, squeezing project costs while opening the door to a wide talent pool that is not readily available elsewhere. And, as long as we’re on the topic of technical talent… let’s address the stereotype in the room. There’s an all too common misconception that just because a piece of software was developed outside the U.S., that it’s somehow of lower quality. This is unequivocally false. As long as proper processes are in place to ensure that collaboration, communication, and quality control are occurring, great software can be designed and developed anywhere in the world. Where quality begins to fall apart is when those processes are missing or not adhered to. Additionally, countries with mature technical education programs in math and science generally have a leg up on other locations. When all of those processes are aligned, clients working with distributed teams don’t experience any trade-off in quality. In fact, they often quickly realize that our overlapping work hours allow for just as much collaboration as working with an onshore team. As Joseph Rueter, Chief Systems Officer for FOSS Swim School, puts it: “With a split team, you might think that you run into some hurdles and challenges dealing with timezones and language but the pace of development is not hindered at all by distance. It’s accelerated.” Time Overlap Made Easy The overlap in working hours between our global offices allows us to provide 12 working hours a day— that’s half the day for those keeping track at home! Eight of those hours offer direct communication and collaboration with our clients while the other four are dedicated to heads down, focused work time. Breaking down our daily efforts into two work segments is the key to successfully managing the back-and-forth communication with our clients. The first half of the day for our Bulgarian teams generally allows them to focus and work in uninterrupted development time. As they work, they compile any questions or updates that arise. Then, during the overlap with our Minneapolis office, they’re able to address those questions and updates directly with clients and our U.S. project teams in real-time during daily standups. Across the pond here in the U.S, our team has the opposite schedule. From 8 a.m. to noon CST, we’re busy in the aforementioned daily standups. When our Bulgarian colleagues head home for the night at 8 p.m. their time/noon our time, it’s time for those of us in Minneapolis to have dedicated work time. Our U.S.–based project managers and account teams spend their afternoon hours proactively ensuring clients’ needs are met. Any issues or questions that arise on the client-side are documented to be discussed in the following day’s standup. Full-Scale Client Immersion Within The Team Conducting daily standups (also referred to as scrum meetings) helps build reliability and transparency. More than that, it allows us to be accountable and promptly available for face-to-face communication, real-time interaction and on-the-spot feedback. We like to think of it as an invitation for our clients to have face time with the team and step in with meaningful suggestions. So, how does a tech company conduct these daily standups with our technical teams? With technology of course! We utilize shared collaboration tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack to keep our meetings running smoothly and efficiently. While simply conducting a conference call would suffice in communicating needs and concerns, adding in video conferencing gives the meetings a much more personal feel. The ability to have a daily face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the ocean makes that ocean feel like a puddle. Establishing a personal connection amongst the team goes a long way towards instilling trust and comfort for every project stakeholder. Additionally, since the tools mentioned above allow screen sharing, team members are able to show one another what they’re talking about rather than have to try and explain a complex problem. To keep track of a project’s road map, progress, budget, and timeline, we utilize tools like Jira, Google Sheets, and Trello as both can easily be shared with clients to keep them in the loop. For our design team, Invision is indispensable for sharing design files for clients to review. None of these tools are proprietary or top secret by any means. They’re all readily available to anyone who wishes to use them. As with any tool, though, it’s all about how you use them. The best chef’s knife and skillet in the world can’t create a world-class meal unless a skilled, experienced cook is at the helm. The same is true for software development. The ways in which distributed teams utilize these collaboration tools really add that special sauce to a project’s success. Efficiency And Convenience For Both Clients And Developers Close client involvement with our Bulgarian team serves to seamlessly integrate clients into the organization’s routine and culture. What adds even more value is that the Bulgarian market is tech-competitive, as there’s a strong cultural tradition in mathematics and technologies. Our clients don’t just experience the Bulgarian teams’ adjusted working hours from afar in meetings though. Many experience them firsthand when visiting our Bulgarian offices. They’re able to see a little more of the city they’re visiting, enjoy a relaxed morning, and head to the office in minimal traffic. MentorMate’s Bulgarian team members experience those same benefits with the addition of being able to run errands in the a.m., spend more time with their families, and get a workout in without feeling rushed. As noted during our 12 to 8 p.m. work hours in Bulgaria, maintaining a good work-life balance is directly correlated with yielding progressively better results and thriving in a more productive work environment. Offshore or Noshore? To spearhead the collaboration between distributed teams and project stakeholders, we invest heavily in being transparent and timely in our correspondence. This eliminates client or team burnout through ineffective communication. We also trust our development teams to be self-driven and largely autonomous. This autonomy increases how invested our team members are in a project’s success. When people are more invested, they’re generally more likely to bring new ideas to the table and make suggestions is something isn’t working and needs some tweaking. All of that yields a better end product as a result. At the end of the day, our teams in Bulgaria are anything but a mere offshore team. Through everything we’ve discussed in this post, we feel like we’ve significantly blurred the line between offshore and onshore. As we continuously fine-tune our processes at their most granular level, that line will only further blur until it ultimately disappears. We’ve written about the idea of noshore in the past and the way we see it, it’s no longer a far-off, abstract, future concept. It’s here — and it’s changing how we work for the better. Tags Agile Software ProcessDevelopmentStaff AugmentationSupport Share Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Agile Software Development Why businesses need remote Agile teams & questions to ask before starting. Download Share Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Sign up for our monthly newsletter. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.