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Leadership Across Time Zones

Remote
Roadmap
Agile / Scrum

5 December, 2018

Sandhya Jaideep discusses managing remotely and shares recommendations for planning, communication, and progress tracking.

Problem

Working with remote team members is not something unique in this modern day and age. In my current company we work in two countries across three different time zones. Of course working and leading remotely comes with its own set of challenges. How do you communicate? How do you create structure? How do you plan for what people are working on? How do you ensure timely responses? And many other questions. Here are some tips and methods that I recommend for managing a remote team.

Actions taken

Start with a long-term roadmap. For example, we have a major release once a quarter but we run sprints every two weeks. We might plan out the release, but every two weeks we are planning the next sprint. So even though we do more sprint planning we have a quarterly plan that is our roadmap.

When splitting responsibilities among the teams I prefer to have most of the people on a single scrum team co-located. This ensures that people who need to be working closely together every day are actually closer to each other. Every bi-weekly sprint is planned locally and this works because we have the quarterly release roadmap. We know what needs to get done and after that the responsibilities go to the scrum team and each scrum team is organized around various parts of the project. So when we are planning for the next major release each team knows what they are responsible for and can commit to delivering their feature in the next release. If you have the opportunity or can start adding resources, I recommend empowering your team through co-location. Having said that, in this global environment, co-location is not always an option.

For communication across time zones we are on a scrum model and use Jira. We use Jira to creates stories, track bugs, plans sprints, and manage the flow of tasks within the team. It's a great way to track the progress of a project and works well with different structured teams. This is something you may want to consider investing in.

In addition to using Jira to track progress, I would also say have your scrum teams start planning sprints so that it's easier for you as a manager to keep track of the velocity of your team. You can look at whether they are committing too much and not delivering enough, or maybe notice if they start a sprint without a solid plan and then don't pull in high priority items. In any case, plan, observe, and adjust. Furthermore, to help make sure you know where the progress is, you can take your quarterly planning cycle and split it into segments. Give your teams milestones that they are expected to hit in addition to the sprints. This helps the team know that even if they're running slow on sprints that they still have other things that remain to be done. This level of planning ahead of time, whether you're on scrum or not, will allow you to figure out if you're actually heading in the right direction.

Lessons learned

  • Sometimes it may feel like the issues you are facing are personal but if you talk to other managers you understand that they're having the same problems. It's a subset of issues that you face all the time.
  • Maintain communication whether it be through Jira, email, or a tool like slack. Let people know that they can contact you and keep the communication channel open.
  • People tend to pull in easier items because they know how to fix them. This might look like progress to team members, but as a manager you should recognize that at the end of the day the critical items are still not done.
  • Engage early and start planning ahead of time so that everyone has a chance to give their input.
  • Many people are used to being assigned work. It is your responsibility to assign that work and to track their progress. Know that if you have remote teams across time zones, it may take up a lot of your time.

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