Tuesday, 29th September 2020

Business as usual: keeping software up to scratch wherever your team is

The world is currently in the midst of the unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to one of the biggest mass lockdowns in living memory, and to keep as many people safe from the virus as possible, many businesses have turned to remote working to enable staff to stay at home. However, remote working suits some job roles better than others. In the software development world, teams need to be in constant contact to coordinate their work, and project leads need to have full visibility of what everyone is working on. By Jeff Keyes, VP of Product at Plutora.

For many organisations, the digital transformation they began before this has resulted in yet another layer in their immediate transition to remote work. The combination of these circumstances makes IT leaders stop and think: how can we manage an IT digital transformation while converting to an entirely remote team?

Back to basics

With over 1.5 million employees in the UK already working from home before the coronavirus pandemic, there may be some in your business that are already comfortable with how best to get their work done to a high standard while out of the office. There will likely already be some tools and applications in place to support this. The difference is that now everyone has to work remotely for the foreseeable future, not just a day here and there.

This transition to total remote work starts with the most basic – but still crucial – environment changes, such as creating dedicated work areas to finding a good background for video calls to setting a consistent schedule. This should be done at every level of the business. Before you can help your teams continue their digital transformation, you need to be set up for remote work yourself.

Get your team talking

Once everyone is set up at home and has the workspace they need to do their job well, teams need to establish methods to communicate while they’re apart. All of the normal communication methods – meetings, whiteboard sessions, desk chats – are gone. It is the same for distributed development. You will need to change how you think about communication and collaboration. Communication can happen in two ways: asynchronous or synchronous. Tools like email, Microsoft Teams, Slack or Loom enable asynchronous communication, while video conferencing enables synchronous communication. As a leader, you will need to determine which method is appropriate for the subject in hand.

For the most part, you should lean toward asynchronous communication if possible when remote working. This allows your team to structure their time optimally and minimise context switching between meetings that can hurt productivity. However, synchronous communication is vital for developing relationships, which is particularly important with everyone isolated from each other. Therefore video conferencing should be used for meetings when possible. The biggest change when conducting meetings is to allow for time for informal communication in video calls. This may be awkward at first as it’s something everyday communication allows, but it needs to be intentional in remote settings.

Collaboration, at its core, is simply working together to create something new. This requires communication and shared work. With communication tools for remote work in place, you then need to focus on creating and aligning shared work. This means everyone has to be on the same page to eliminate redundancies and gaps in project execution.

Unsurprisingly, this requires a different approach when people are in different locations. For instance, you can’t easily check in with your colleague sitting next to you about what priorities have changed or the current version of a document. Instead, everything must be documented and visible to everyone on the team in real-time. This enables every team member to educate themselves on the current status of work, and ensures everyone is working in harmony and communicating effectively with others.

Using value streams for successful collaboration

In software development, there are even more aspects to consider that make the transition to remote working even more challenging. For example, product managers may lose track of where their features are in the pipeline, and the previously frictionless handoffs between development teams are now more difficult. This and other unexpected complications all result in reactive communication to try and fix a new problem, taking time and focus away from other tasks.

Software development teams should start thinking of their new remote environment in terms of collaboration as much as communication. While communication tools will be fairly consistent across an enterprise, collaboration tools will likely vary. To enable remote collaboration, software development teams need their own single source of truth. Value Stream Management (VSM) platforms provide an end-to-end source of truth for software development teams to thrive remotely.

Put simply, a value stream is any set of activities that deliver a product or service. By considering these when approaching software development, it allows teams to manage their work from idea to delivery, and allows for full collaboration. VSM platforms even bring work visibility by integrating tools such as Jira, Jenkins, AWS and ServiceNow throughout the toolchain into a single platform.

Once established, VSM becomes the foundation for work transparency in software development teams in the following ways:

  1. By enabling access to self-service learning, everyone will always be on the same page, and team members can focus on their work and not the status of upstream or downstream activities.
  2. It shares insight with managers on the work of their team without the need for manual documentation and check-ins, maximising efficiency.
  3. VSM provides complete traceability of software development activities, ensuring governance compliance and facilitating auditability.

As the world continues trying to make sense of this new reality and coping with COVID-19, businesses must do what they can to minimise the disruption to their newly remote workers. With everything else going on, work can be one of the only stabilities in people’s lives if they are able to continue. Getting the right communication channels open, keeping your teams working together in harmony, and implementing tactics to ensure everyone is on the same page are crucial to keeping businesses going. Using VSM also ensures that digital transformation can continue despite the lack of an office, as employees are better placed to continue to improve work habits and processes, meaning work is more efficient now and also when we all – hopefully – return to our workplaces in the coming months.

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