Remote Project Management for Development Teams

pm

Do You Need Project Management for a Remote Development Teams

Why hire PM for a offshore/nearshore team? How can a business benefit from it? What is the role of remote project manager?

It’s harder to answer why remote dedicated teams shouldn’t hire a project manager. If clients don’t mind communicating with each developer separately and with a whole team, motivating them, solving issues with development and design as well as managing administrative tasks (buy licenses, provide access to development services, tools, and analytics), then they don’t need a Project Manager indeed. Some clients eagerly take PM’s responsibilities.

But it means that they are busy with managerial tasks instead of focusing on business strategy.

Besides, business owners don’t necessarily know various methodologies and project management tools, so it will take them some time to understand how it works.

So, a company needs to find a project manager to:

  • create development structure, control project development and achieving goals;
  • foresee and prevent risks;
  • define the necessary resources for the given project (if stated in the contract);
  • prevent project failure, missed deadlines, and no notice resignations;
  • establish and facilitate communication between clients and dedicated teams;
  • encourage and motivate colleagues.

These are only the main responsibilities that require a certain PM skill set. The rest depends on client demands or project peculiarities.
For example, project manager can take responsibilities of account manager. In some companies it means sending reports and invoices to clients or setting good relations between parties and client support.

Speaking about advantages of project management for a remote team, the key one is saved time and successfully enrolled software development project. If customers hire a project manager for their offshore development team, they get more time to develop business and expand network. And they won’t miss anything because project manager is responsible for accumulating information regarding project stages and overall development progress.

You can hire a project manager for a remote team at any stage but it’s highly recommended to start cooperation before project launch. Why so?

Firstly, project manager should familiarize with the idea and key business goals. If client hasn’t created official project specification with a business analyst, PM can cope with this task by setting milestones, defining needed resources and potential threats.

Secondly, project manager should become an acknowledged team leader for developers. They should entrust their PM a direct communication with a client, setting rules and risk management. But when the team is shaped and it has already got its unofficial leaders, introducing a new “boss” might be hard.

Why Hire Project Manager?

remote team work

to control team performance

You can’t do without productivity estimation if you want to monitor performance.
Project managers use such methods as interview, face-to-face meetings, informal meetings and tracking task statuses and results. All of them can be applied to in-house and offshore developers.

Both in-house and offshore development teams headed by a PM choose methodology and decompose tasks in order to divide responsibilities equally.

Developers workflow consists of individual tasks and teamwork and communication (live, chats or emails). They track time in project management system, report their progress and add comments about bugs and other issues. All these processes allow a PM to get the idea of team performance.

to measure team satisfaction

The best way to measure satisfaction is either an interview or questionnaire. In any case, start with mere talk.

Despite team hierarchy, project managers and developers should establish friendly relations. By doing this, PM can kill two birds with one stone – create calm atmosphere inside of the company and get honest information from developers.

Establishing trustful relations helps team members to share their problems and complaints with a PM. And when they see improvements, team satisfaction increases significantly.

to deal with negative feedback
If a client gives a negative feedback, the first thing to do is to clear up the reasons. Since project manager is a mediator between client and developers, he/she needs to talk with both parties to get the idea.

Often negative emotions are caused by misunderstandings or inconsistent requirements. It’s a communication issue, so PM can solve it by means of talks and detailed explanations.

Meet the team to find out what is going on. Discuss the causes and all possible ways out. Project manager also defines how much time the team will need to improve the situation. When PM gets all the necessary information, he/she approaches clients with the solutions and approximate timing.

However, negative feedback is better than silence. Sometimes clients pretend that everything is ok while in fact they are disappointed by the development team.

Let’s consider two cases:

  • Silence on the client’s side might mean lack of trust. Poor communication between client and project manager can lead to negative results. Communicate more if you want to establish better relations. Clients need to share their opinions, feedback as well as know about the project progress and offshore team performance.
  • Client can stop the project without giving reasons but it doesn’t mean that a PM is to blame. Preventing situations like this is almost impossible. If the parties have good relations, project manager will notice changes in a client’s behavior, foresee the risks and make up a solution.

to choose the right project management methodology

sticky note

Every project is unique, so project manager’s choice is based on its peculiarities and clients’ requirements. If a customer wants to see the result regularly, make changes and release product versions, agile project management methodologies will fit best. Nowadays all methodologies overlap and one can hardly find a “pure one” as it was described in a textbook. That’s why project managers use a combination of methodologies – SCRUM, KANBAN, XP, Lead, RUP, etc.

Flexible project management methodology is the best approach to software, app development and game dev. But if you work on a high-accuracy software in the domains where updates are not that frequent (e.g., medical or aviation software), classic Waterfall, Spiral or V-model can be applied.

to ensure smooth cooperation between in-house and offshore development teams
The most efficient and natural way to establish friendly relations between team members is a conversation. Team buildings, corporate events, conferences, business trips – choose any convenient reason to meet. The main idea is to make people communicate more.

But mind that communication will be smooth enough only after in-house and offshore developers will pass all stages of team formation.

Project Management Tips for Startups

For some people “startup” equals to “unstable situation”. But the truth is that risks and constant changes are an integral part of any business, be it large or small. On the other hand, rapid processes and challenges are widespread in a startup environment. Entrepreneurs should take this fact into account before launch and release. What does it mean?

First,classic Waterfall model will hardly ever fit a startup. Flexible project management methodologies will be more useful because almost every startup makes changes in the course of the development stage. Team and managers should adapt to the changes quickly, so both people and methods should be more flexible in startups.

Second, some startups lack precise concept, vision, and goals. It influences all internal procedures including task setting and decomposition. Thus, PM or business analyst should clarify the idea and objectives together with the client and define key milestones.

Third, startup founders are passionate about their products. They want to make all their best ideas real. And surprisingly, there is a dark side of excessive passion – perfectionism. They are constantly improving their product instead of launching it. Project manager cannot talk clients out of their ideas, but they can discuss it together and prepare the team for the next steps.

Top Project Management Tools for Dedicated Teams

Efficiency as a correlation between efforts and result is still considered to be the best indicator of employee performance. But now the majority of large corporations accept the fact that every person has his/her own “efficient part of the day”, set of values and motivating factors. And one more change: employers can do without relocation and hire full-time developers in other cities or even countries.

IT industry is always an early adopter of novelties, and in this case it’s not an exception. Only five years ago working from home was quite uncommon, but now developers are used to working remotely or having flexible hours. Such opportunity motivates them and makes the others envy 😉

Distributed team work simplifies lives of developers, designers, QA engineers, but on the other hand, it increases managers’ workload. Why so? How to avoid pitfalls in managing offshore teams? What are the most popular PM tools for agile project management? See the answers below!

Cultural differences – obstacle or advantage for managing a remote team?

culture remote teams

The main difficulty in managing offshore teams is lack of communication methods. If you work at distance, you cannot stand in front of a developer and demand finishing tasks on time. Actually you don’t need to, if your development team is responsible and motivated.

Project managers communicate both with client’s side developers and dedicated employees. They live in different cultural environment and time zones. There are night owls and early birds among them. Some of people tune themselves to work by scrolling down their Facebook feed. Lots of peculiarities, but what is important for a PM is efficiency. You can achieve the best results by using certain tools.

Project management and consistent communication

project management tools

Forming, storming, norming, and performing are four team formation stages that are similar for in-house and dedicated teams. But the latter ones pass them through slower; and consistent daily communication should become an integral part of dedicated offshore team management if you want to facilitate the process.
How to engage developers into teamwork and make sure they won’t miss a deadline?
Project manager has to establish open and straightforward communication within the team.

Daily meetings
Texting won’t replace face-to-face communication. Short online conferences will provide answers to three main questions for a PM:

  • What did every team member do yesterday?
  • What were the difficulties?
  • What will they do next?

If there are a few teams in different time zones, you should make up a solution that will satisfy everyone. The best way is to have the first call in the morning and talk with the rest of the team in the evening to adjust to their time. Such calls must be regular as a project manager should monitor and control the overall process.

There are lots of apps that allow video or audio conferences for a few people. Some of the most popular PM tools for communication are:

  • Skype;
  • Google Hangouts;
  • Go To Meeting;
  • Join.me.

And one more tip, average call shouldn’t take more than 15 min (2-3 min per person). It’s not the case when you need to discuss personal life or exciting events. The main idea is to check performance, define difficulties and solutions.

PM feels when developers are confident about what they do or if they are hesitant and leave something unsaid.

If you find out that one of your developers has any problems, set up a face-to-face call not to steal the time of a whole team and embarrass a person in trouble. Project manager should address him/her directly, give a piece of advice or work out a solution together; that’s the most effective way of communication in this case.

Moreover, when people talk about a problem, they are more likely to find the solutions in the course of discussion.

Convenient chats
Chat is a perfect tool for daily communication if you don’t want to spend your time on long calls. What’s more, lots of developers prefer texting to calls. Even colleagues who work in the same building create chats not to walk around the office.

With the growing number of communication apps, organizing a communication platform for offshore dedicated development teams won’t be a problem. Check out these apps and messengers:

  • Slack;
  • Skype;
  • Telegram;
  • Whatsapp;
  • HipChat.

Emails are mainly used to address top managers but they aren’t very popular among fellow colleagues.

Keep it simple whenever it’s possible. If you’ve got the feeling that the app is simple to use, give it a try. Give your team an opportunity to discuss the project and its progress. It will encourage teamwork and help a project manager to monitor team performance.

Task management systems
Task management systems

Discuss concept and project goals, break them into stages and subtasks (there are lots of methods, and your team can use any), prioritize them, foresee the risks and the ways to avoid or minimize them, and divide duties among the team members.

If you want to make it all effectively, keep track of all the abovementioned tasks.
In-house teams can use colorful sticky notes for task decomposition, but this method won’t work for offshore/nearshore development teams.
It’s important to choose the right task management system for an offshore development team. Some of them are suitable only for small projects or system support:

  • Trello;
  • Asana;
  • WorkSection.

Others were created to manage big projects or a few projects simultaneously. With the help of such tool, one can define and divide tasks, check task duration and completion status, report bugs, store project documentation, etc. Among the best project management apps there are:

  • Jira;
  • MS Project;
  • Confluence.

Project manager for a remote team should make sure that every team member knows how to use the task management system, at least its most popular functions.

But setting tasks and dividing them is the priority number one for a project manager. This team member is responsible for:

– task description (although PM decomposes tasks together with the team);
– timely task commision;
– setting achievable and SMART tasks.

The more precise the task description and result are, the lower is the chance of missed deadline or serious mistakes in development. That’s why project managers should control task statuses and timing.

Documentation
One more responsibility of a project manager is documentation. And there is nothing better than Google Docs which is not a project management app but a tool that facilitates cooperation between in-house and distributed development teams.

The service allows making any corrections tracking changes. And the biggest advantage – you don’t need to download the document and upload it in task management system; a link is enough. Create tables, diagrams, graphs, presentations, etc. One can store graphic, audio and video files in the cloud. Alternatively, you can use DropBox.

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Don’t want to be trivial but every project is unique – it has its goals, results, leaders, and team. Project managers should take into account all project peculiarities and features to choose the right project management apps.

But mind that tools give only 50% of the result. The rest 50% depends on personal qualities of team members, their skill set and motivation.

Svitlana Rumyantseva
Project Manager
Svitlana is a PM with legal education and PhD degree in political science. She has experience in managing in-house and offshore/nearshore software development teams including freelancers. She is sure that smooth communication and motivation is the basis of efficient teamwork and successful projects. Svitlana is passionate about networking, achieving great results and acquiring new knowledge.