When first approached to write an article on agile product development I spent a lot of time scratching my head. Most of us do agile, and most of us are doing a pretty good job of prioritising our backlog. I started to panic that we’d become really predictable as a product team!

After panic (and a Freddo), it then dawned on me that there was something that was unique about how we build products and something that other product folk might find useful, and that’s the fact that our entire development team work remotely across the world.

So my aim with this article is to share with you the opportunities and challenges presented by our approach with the hope that you might find something useful for your own product development.

The Opportunities

Let’s start with the opportunities a remote product development team can bring…

Limitless Talent

After making the decision to move to a remote product development team, our talent pool went from a 30-mile radius of Manchester in the UK to a large slice of the world. Everyone knows how difficult it is to recruit good developers, especially with the current skills shortage, so why restrict yourself to one town or country? It may sound a bit cliché but why not let the “world be your oyster” and scoop up the best talent from around the world?

Scale Your Team Fast

We’ve all been there, you’ve come up with a great idea for a product but it then takes at least six months to hire the right people that can make it happen. With a remote approach to development, this isn’t always the case. Without geographical restrictions, you can hire good people quickly, and as result will get your idea to market and start generating revenue faster.

Flexible Working

We have a very low churn of developers in our product teams, and I don’t think that is just because we offer a great place to work. Feedback we’ve had from the team is often around the flexibility that remote working has brought to their lives, for example, parents can do the morning school run, dog owners can go for a lunchtime stroll and the fitness bods (which we have quite a number of!) can go for as many runs as they like. With this approach comes autonomy and a mutual respect that results in great product development.

Multicultural

On the face of it, having a multicultural team could be perceived as a challenge, but I see it as an opportunity. I love that I get to speak with people from different cultures and with a different outlook on life on daily basis. I never thought I would spend my days regularly talking to people from Germany, Bulgaria and Brazil (to name a few). Having a multicultural team makes work more interesting, and also enhances the quality of the products that we deliver.

Focus

Most developers don’t like distractions due to the complexity of their work. They need to concentrate for long periods of time without having background noise. We have found that working remotely enables this as teams don’t get interrupted or have the distractions of a busy office environment, resulting in them being more productive and getting the necessary work done.

The Challenges

Working with remote product development teams has it challenges, here is how we have tried to overcome them…

Product Vision

it’s important that your team understand the vision of your product and the direction that you are heading

As all good product leaders know, it’s important that your team understand the vision of your product and the direction that you are heading. Compared to when working with onsite teams this has proved to be more challenging when working remotely. To address this problem we have recently implemented monthly roadmap reviews with the whole team using Google Hangouts, this allows the team to see on a regular basis what they might be working on next. It also allows them to input any ideas that they might have for the product.

Company Culture

At Cloud Technology Solutions our culture is everything and with a remote team scattered around the world, this can be hard to maintain. As a result, we have regular company calls led by our CEO via Google Hangouts. This means that everyone feels connected to the overall vision of the company, as well as feeling part of the team.

Although it can be an expensive exercise, we also get the whole company meet up in person twice a year, and for our team, even though we speak everyday face-to-face, get-togethers are always a great way to cement a relationship.

Collaboration

When your team are all sat around a bank of desks together collaboration is much easier and becomes a natural way of work. We haven’t found the perfect answer to this problem but we have found that the cloud-based technology that we use, such as G Suite, enables our team to collaborate on documents in real time.

Staying Agile

Agile methodologies such as SCRUM or Kanban lend themselves to an onsite environment. Daily standups, physical Kanban boards, collaboration and team autonomy are the cornerstone of Agile product development, and it is easy to let these slip if you are working remotely as it can feel like more effort. My advice is to follow the methodology you would normally use, regardless of where the team is located, whilst utilising as many cloud collaboration tools such as G Suite or Office 365.

What To Remember

Although not always ideal, remote working can be the answer to your development teams needs. Here are five key takeaways:

  1. Unlimited talent pool. You can hire the most talented developers from anywhere in the world, and can build your team faster.
  2. Improved productivity. It is known that those who have flexibility perform better than those who don’t due to autonomy and mutual respect.
  3. Team meetings. Regular face-to-face meetings will encourage your team to work together like they would in an office environment, without the distractions!
  4. Be on the same journey. Keep your development team on the same product vision with meetings and roadmap reviews.
  5. Utilise cloud collaboration tools. Staying agile is key to keeping remote workers collaborating and feeling part of the team and the company.