|(Image source: Getty Images)|
The current climate of the workforce is a rapidly changing one. Companies are grappling with a range of issues from supply chain bottlenecks to reduced consumer demand and, in some areas like medical devices, a strain in manufacturing. One of the most jarring adjustments, though, is the shift to a completely remote workforce.
For the companies that are able, scrambling to support remote teams without losing momentum is a challenge in and of itself – especially for engineers who need to stay aligned throughout the product development process. How do they adapt quickly to this new reality without jeopardizing quality, efficiency, or development timelines? In a recent survey of US workers conducted by project management platform developer Wrike, nearly half of US employees said they don’t believe they can do their jobs as effectively while working from home.
The obstacles that come with remote work are not insignificant, but there are several best practices that can ensure engineers are set up for success.
1.) Go Beyond the Basics: Utilize Multi-faceted Collaboration
When channels of connection are limited to the virtual world, it’s important we over communicate, but do so with focused intent.
To define and design products successfully, communication among teams and stakeholders needs to go beyond basics of collaboration. It’s about more than just a conversation or simple text edit. Instead, it must be structured so it focuses on the product being built. It should include context to inform the conversations and decisions that are being made and provide broad visibility into the development process so change can be managed by each person responsible.
In the remote work dynamic, in-person meetings and face-to-face chats in the hallway no longer suffice when making decisions that impact an entire team and the product development process. While tools like Zoom, Slack, and shared documents remain important in remote work, the communication demands for virtual engineering teams building complex products are more complicated.
Teams that work with structured, live data need to be able to define, review, and validate it at any time to ensure correct information is passed to the right team at the right time. Critical functionality of the product they’re working on could depend on it.
2.) Collaborate with Purpose
In an environment that introduces so much complexity into the product development process, strategic team collaboration offers one of the best ways to address obstacles of the modern product development landscape. Teams need to establish a common definition of success from the start – aligning on what they are building so they don’t waste any time. Whether your team is fully remote and running into roadblocks or just starting to make the shift, clarify expectations upfront.
For instance, what do the terms “define,” “build,” and “test,” mean for your team? What does success look like based on feedback loops such as customer interviews and design reviews? Defining the “why” at the very beginning of any project equips each person to make better decisions. It ensures roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and those involved are empowered to initiate and resolve any issues that may arise.
Moreover, once aligned, don’t make decisions outside of the collaboration processes you’ve set up. If Slack, Jira, and a requirements, risk, and test management platform are your primary forms of communication, do not deviate to shared documents or emails. Often, this will lead to confusion, mistakes, and potential product design failures.
3.) Embrace Downtime
It’s okay to consider delaying the introduction of a product.While undoubtedly engineers want to keep designing, building, and developing products, we’re also in an incredibly unique scenario where taking a pause can ensure better workflows once we’re back in the office.
If production has slowed or halted entirely, consider working on your backlog and taking time to look for an opportunity to up-level your process and tooling. Much like being cooped up in the house has allowed space to tackle projects we keep putting on the backburner, this moment of solace can open your teams to new ideas on how to be more agile in the design process going forward.
Similarly, it’s fair to say consumers right now have little expectation for companies to deliver on new products anytime soon. Unless it’s essential like a medical device or video conferencing tools, or high-demand services, such as streaming entertainment. There’s just too much happening in the world to have a product release date at the forefront of their minds. That doesn’t mean, however, that production should stop completely.
Instead, teams can use this time to refocus their efforts on refining and aligning on requirements and features that have yet to be built. This pause allows engineers to ideate, innovate, and conceptualize around what will ensure this product is built to meet the most up-to-date requirements the moment production picks up again.
The product and system development environment is already quite complex in a normal office setting. Transitioning to a fully remote workforce can be stressful and straining, but it offers engineers an opportunity to optimize their project management in ways we’ve never seen before. Through this, companies and teams will rise up to be more agile, flexible, and innovative than ever.
Clay Moore is the VP of Customer Success at Jama Software, a provider of product development software solutions.