Last night I (Tatyana, Primate’s CEO) did a talk for the Seattle Rails Networking group at the Getty Images headquarters on working with overseas teams to build software. Having built the Primate (primateinc.com) web app exclusively with contract Ruby on Rails developers (as close as Houston and as far as Russia and Pakistan), I’ve learned a thing or two about leading remote teams. Here are the five tips I shared with the group:
(1) Communicate all the time through every means imaginable.
Because working remotely means losing out on ever-important non-verbal communication, communicate more than you would with an in-person team. Skype, write emails, have voice conversations. Writing up tasks and user stories is not enough. Map out the product plan in detail and break up features into tiny pieces, and discuss and document them thoroughly. This will force you to be disciplined and figure out whether the expectations you’re setting for your contractors are even fair. Small, discreet features also allow your contractors to give reasonable time estimates for completion, and you can hold them accountable with a straight face. Use Pivotal Tracker for every task and make wireframes even if the feature is ridiculously small.
(2) Don’t assume that you’re being understood, ever – regardless of how clear you think you’re being.
I separated this point from the one above because it’s so incredibly important. Always invite clarifying questions. If you don’t get any questions, solicit them; be annoying if you have to.
(3) Treat contractors like you would any other team – get input and buy-in.
Always ask the contractor’s opinion. Is what you’re asking for reasonable? Is the plan you’ve laid out the best way to go? Is the deadline you’re setting reasonable? What type of problems is the contractor anticipating? Asking for an opinion doesn’t require you to incorporate the input. At a minimum you’ll get valuable feedback and will make your contractor feel respected. People that feel respected do better work.
(4) Find your contractor’s hidden talents and aspirations.
Contractors have a lot of experience working with a variety of projects. Find out as much as you can about technologies they’ve used, features they’ve built, services they’ve tried. Contractors can teach you a lot and will come up with great ideas if you ask. Find out what the contractor is interested in and would work on if he had it his way – this may dovetail well with what you’re trying to accomplish.
(5) Be humble – being the boss doesn’t make you the expert.
Remember, you hired this person because you think he’ll do a good job. Don’t make unreasonable demands, and save “the customer is always right” for your next Starbucks run. If a task is tedious or annoying, acknowledge it. Act like the contractor is doing you a favor for dealing with your garbage. Thank him profusely.
What tips do you have to share? Comment or tweet me @TatyanaDolgaya.