Apr 07, 2020 | 11 min read

How to Manage a Remote Software Development Team

Pavel Kaplunou, Marketing Communications

Most business leaders are already managing a remote workforce these days. For many this simply signals the transition online. Not all teams are the same though. Tech-based startups and small businesses have been testing out their idea’s minimum viable product by working with remote software development teams since times immemorial. Let’s look at what it is like working with a remote team that is not natively in-house.

Given the state of the economy at the start of the decade, remote work has proven to be more possible than ever. While for many the transition to telecommuting needed some getting used to, for software development companies remote work has been its bread and butter for a long time. The size of the global outsourced services market was valued at $92.5 billion dollars in 2019. 

It is no surprise that a huge chunk of software development gets outsourced, normally offshore or nearshore. There are a number of benefits associated with remote staffing and global talent sourcing that are explored ahead.

Why you might need a remote development team

Software development is, more or less, a blanket term used to describe many different kinds of software engineering. These include web development, mobile application development, API integration, product development and many others. Whatever the task, there is a professional out there capable of completing it. 

Geography, budget, business specifics, company politics — the reasons for external talent hire are diverse and vast. Below is the list of some of the most common reasons businesses turn to software development companies.

Finding talent. To some dismay, great talent is not always available immediately, on-demand. Neither is a great match always guaranteed, even if a candidate is found. Moreover, the candidate’s requirements might not align with the employer and vice versa. 

Language barriers. The most common and often demanded language among international businesses is English. Some countries are more naturally disposed to concentrating fluent speakers, while others jog behind.

Budget management. Income requirements can differ drastically from country to country. Where an employer could hire 3 members of staff from abroad, they often have to hire one nationally. With less positions closed, the expense sheet tends to tally up. 

Expensive experiments. Companies that rely on building acumen through testing need to manage their finances as best they can. Running such experiments can require resources, and not all companies will permit themselves to go above a certain measure. By the time they do, they may no longer have the competitive advantage, nor time to beat others to market.

Time is everything. Not all companies are able to find the people they need on the spot. Reaching out, listing, shortlisting and interviewing candidates can be quite time consuming and, human resources managers and recruiters will agree, frustrating. Especially with ad-hoc changes, times of crisis, or when the need to pivot is urgent. This leads to inadvertent delays and loss of time.

Little back-up. Startups that are forced to operate on a limited budge do not always have the support of large-scale venture capital firms or extensive shareholders. In fact, they may be faced with having to do everything from scratch, setting up their own communication and business processes without prior experience or knowledge of how to do so.

Off-the-shelf solutions don’t quite cut it. The software market is permeated with one-size-fits-all solutions that promise to solve all business problems. While such a sweeping statement may sound promising, mass-market software is almost never as flexible as to match all the needs of any given business. The vertical software market is still quite nascent, and that is why building custom software is never a bad idea.

Benefits of a remote development team

Given the problems above, some of the advantages of hiring a remote development team can still look unclear. Below is an outline of how custom software houses can benefit startups and even enterprises.

Talent on-demand. The community of software developers worldwide is immense. Though many talented programmers eventually get aggregated to forward-thinking hubs, like Palo Alto, many more are sprinkled around the globe. Nearshore or offshore software development companies make it their priority to source talented developers and make them available on-demand.

Same language. Luckily, software engineers around the world rely on a handful of resources, the default language of which also happens to be English. Regardless of geography, software development firms will vet their candidates internally, before giving the client the opportunity to conduct their own interview to make sure they see eye to eye.

Congruent timezone. Many software vendors will commit to an overlap in work hours, to sync up with the client’s own team. The other option is to work asynchronously, when the software vendor’s team goes to work on a set tasklist, while the client’s team rests. This way, work continues on a 24/7 loop with the work done wrapping up when one team snoozes and picking up immediately as the other team wakes. 

Flexible rates. The chances that outsourced developers will come at the same premium as in-house engineers is highly unlikely. Definitely expect variation in rates depending on the programming language or technology required, but rest assured that rates will still be lower and be negotiable. The industry is widely known for offering competent rates.

Quick ramp-up. Because offshore and nearshore software development firms have a quick and efficient recruitment mechanism, vendors will commit to a start deadline. This means development can go into production sooner, rather than later. 

Partnership and equity. Companies that just want to dip their toe into the pool of outsourced development often find reputable and stable partnerships that last. Such client-vendor relations can even develop into stronger partnership bonds. Companies like Smart IT have invested into projects pitched by their trusted clients and likewise, have been approached to embark on joint ventures.

No cookie-cutters. Custom software means truly bespoke solutions made in accordance with the demands and specifications of the client. Even if the client’s idea is not fully-baked or if he has a non-technical background, trustworthy software companies will help with the tech spec and advise a range of options to choose from.

Remote team management tips and best practices

Whether the idea of managing a team hundreds and thousands of miles away is a novel or trite one, there are a few guidelines to abide by to make the most of it nonetheless. Accumulated from all corners of the information technology outsourcing and business process outsourcing industry, here is are the tips and best practices to build your processes around:

Make the most of your tools. If the current crisis at the start of the new decade has shown us anything, it is that the world is ready to shift online. Seeing as how internet technology will only get better, so will the tools that allow us to be productive and efficient, even if we are not close to our colleagues. 

Task management and productivity tools such as Jira, YouTrack, WorkSection, Wrike and many others allow you to track the development progress. Messenger and communication software like Slack, Mattermost, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom top the charts as some of the best for team-wide videoconferencing and messaging software out there. So use it to the maximum.

Pick your team. Most open-minded software development firms will allow the client to vet the team members they pick before getting to work. This guarantees you get the most scrappy and creative members on board. Companies like Smart IT hire people with a background in competitive programming. The kind of people, who are great at figuring an optimal solution with limited resources, operating on a deadline. When you are promised professionals, professionals you get.

Sharing is caring. And by sharing we are referring to everything from feedback, to comments and overall expectations. Fill your team in as much as possible in order to be on the same page at all times. By keeping your team in the loop on business objectives and key milestones, it can be more precise and forthcoming. 

This reflects especially on quotes and estimations, which can be better calculated if backed by background information. Unless a critical concern in terms of disclosure, which is addressed by an NDA in almost all cases, the bigger the picture you can provide to your team, the better they will cope with the tasks at hand.

Define project guidelines and standards. If you want your team to perform up to a certain bar, let them know what that bar is. Build a human-to-human relationship with your remote team and let them know they are no different to your in-house team.

Provide feedback. Always. Your comments and thoughts will be a valued resource for your team, so do not rob them of it. If you have embarked on a software development project, stick with it. This is not a task that can be completed on a whim with minimal involvement. Your team will need your input constantly, and the same goes for your, the client. Making sure that communication is ongoing and regular elevates the chances of meeting deadlines and making everyone involved satisfied.

Too many cooks. At the same time, instill trust in the people you have picked for the job. Your remote workforce is very capable of being autonomous and will employ best practices to make sure you get the best solution possible. But distrust and micromanagement can hinder progress or trip development. Make sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and they will be on top of their game. Just remember, a little trust goes a long way.

Tet-a-tet. However distant your relationship with your remote team is, do widen the gap by excluding the chance to meet face-to-face. Personal meetings at the office or even over a cup of coffee have proven to be a positive boost across all industries. So do save a date on your calendar to meet your team face to face. Establishing a tether of human connection and putting a face to an email or ID, smoothes out rough patches and increases goodwill among all involved.

Dust-off on PM skills. Brush up on project management skills. Make sure you have a PM in-house to get a project manager to oversee the project. Of course, you can fill those shoes personally, but make sure to remind some of the basics of project management. Your efforts should make work productive, and not discourage the team. 

Whatever the case, your vendor partner can also provide a designated PM. This person will be your main point of contact for all things related to development, budgeting, oversight and scheduling. In most cases, a senior developer or team lead will perform this duty well.

Last, but not least, keep it simple and keep it smart. Working with a remote development team does not have to be overly complex or difficult. The more straightforward the process, the better it is for all parties involved.

Statement of work

Parting ways with a remote software developer is as easy as unsubscribing from a digital service. Not only does it save the red tape and paperwork, it also allows to find an immediate substitute, briefed and ready to get to work with the go-ahead. 

If things do not always go according to plan, refer back to the list up top. On a side note, watch out for vendors who manage their developers in-house, as opposed to subcontracting their work. There are numerous online directories with detailed company reviews that can aid your case in picking the best possible vendor.

Picking a software vendor and managing a remote developer team only sounds harrowing in theory, but things are not that bleak once you get to know the team on the other side. Your project’s success relies on your participation as much as it does on the people writing the code. At the end of the day, it is your job to make sure the team you choose is the one that you resonate with. At the core of the most productive teams are human relations.

07 April 2020

WRITTEN BY

Pavel Kaplunou , Marketing Communications

Pavel is Smart IT's Marketing Communication Manager. He oversees content creation and is in charge of the official Smart IT blog. Contact Pavel to learn about potential media and content collaborations. p.kaplunou@smart-it.io

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