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Chiran

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Working with Remote Teams: How Trust, Technology, Delegation and Clear Guidelines make it work.

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Many people blame the downfall of Yahoo on Marissa Mayer. Several points can be argued along many lines, from the introduction of Me TOO products like a Netflix type television network to the poor restructuring of Yahoo mail to the several layoffs and company reshuffles.

But many place the blame on the decision she took to shut down the remote working options for the company. She claimed that Yahoo staff needed to be physically together to communicate and feed off each other creatively and to boost productivity.  She said she wanted to make “One Yahoo”. If she had kept this work option open, would Yahoo have been able to stem the hemorrhaging of costs and keep employee satisfaction consistent without making them rebels against the system and brand? Perhaps, but let us look at Remote teams and the benefits and flexibility it allows and how to ensure it works as a system of organisational structure.

remote working shutdown by Yahoo caption

Many blame the downfall of Yahoo on the decision taken to shut down its remote working options….

Remote working teams is not a new concept. It evolved from the work at home experiments that start-ups and tech firms started toying around with to ensure higher employee satisfaction in their jobs, creativity and productivity. While this gave employees greater freedom to work from the office or any place they felt comfortable, it also meant restructuring employee communication systems, information security, tracking time spent and even productivity. These problems trickled down in to the remote team systems as well. Thus, making them prohibitive to easy adoption.

However, as the corporate world evolved and the world kept getting smaller thanks to improved technological infrastructure, remote teams began to become more cost effectively viable. Many companies have adopted a BPO model of remote work outsourcing which has proved successful in maintaining or expanding a business with significant value addition with less domestic cost outlay.

So, you are probably considering remote work systems if you have come this far into the article J. Well, there are 3 ways to go about it, one is the BPO model as mentioned above or the remote department model which we at Gapstars have adopted or the distributed resource model which brings workers together digitally as they work from home in a flexible environment.

Whether you are a budding start up or a well-established company seeking to grow its operations, domestic in house expansion can become prohibitive due to several factors:

  • Competitive business sector
  • Highly skilled customer service requirements
  • Lack of skilled individuals
  • Unfavourable labour laws in home country
  • Demanding employee standards
  • High cost of work space or work equipment

The above and many other factors can make growth restrictive and cause a company to stagnate and eventually die.

With remote teams, this does not have to happen.

remote working content breaker

As the world kept getting smaller thanks to improved technological infrastructure, remote teams became more cost effectively viable.

As mentioned prior in the article, improvements in technological infrastructure have made the globe smaller and communication and tracking easier. This coupled with the advent of workflow management and tracking systems has made remote working far easier than the early days.

Technology improvements have also led to countries like Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia growing into hotbeds for talented, qualified individuals in highly skilled engineering and IT fields. Also, these countries have a lower cost of living than those in the West and have more options for low cost office space and equipment purchase. Not to mention progressive laws for foreign firms to set up shop and increase job opportunities with concessions on tax and company registrations.

All this combined makes remote working teams an extremely compelling option for companies in the West looking to expand without going bankrupt.

How do you keep in touch with a remote team? Well we have apps and tools for that now. Every penny you save in physical assets and infrastructure can be spent in providing robust communication and work management tools so that your work force can connect with each other seamlessly and monitor the projects and tasks.

Notable tools to check out include but are not limited to:

  • For Project Management:
    • Trello
    • Process Street
    • Pipefy
    • Restya
  • For Work communications:
    • Hip Chat
    • Slack
    • Gitter
    • Google hangouts
  • Email and Cloud:
    • Team Drive
    • Sales Force
    • Microsoft Office 365

All the above have either free or trial versions that can be tested to see which fits your flow and processes best. Some are even customisable.

As with any process or organisational structure, remote working does have its challenges. One of the main issues is the fact that most people are used to working in an office environment. So even though they have a wealth of experience and skills in the field, they may not be able to handle working on their own from home or remotely ungoverned. Within the remote department model that Gapstars adopts, this problem is not encountered as staff work out of a centralised remote office with all the same benefits and facilities as the international home office. This way, employees used to a more conventional work process or environment can congregate, work & collaborate as normal. This also does not limit the pool of talent you can hire from as you are giving them the structure and professional environment they require to be productive.

Communication no matter how good the tool is will always face hurdles. Time zone differences, cultural barriers, working styles and local labour laws will all play a factor in the cohesion, flexibility and timeliness of a remote team. Be prepared to have several orientations for new markets, employees and related to ensure a conflict free team of global employees. Establishing contingencies and standard operating procedures to ensure employees are prepared for any event is crucial.

Lastly, as your company will be working on a distributed model, ensure that security and backups are updated daily to ensure that services or work do not get interrupted when there is a failure inconveniencing customers.

Have you been convinced to give remote working a try? Check out the Gapstars community site to see more about our remote working teams and whether it is the right fit for you. Have something to add to the above? Comment or email us direct with your feedback and questions, we would love to hear from you.

Agile Development: Interactions + Collaboration = Success

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Tell me if this approach sounds familiar to you:

A client approaches you or your company for a piece of software to be developed. You have a meeting with the client and maybe even have him fill out a questionnaire to help with understanding his scope and needs. You both agree on a deadline.

Based on the above, you brief your team to start work on the project. The team gathers the necessary data and starts planning the necessary functions and timelines. The work commences.

As time goes by your team hits roadblocks, one or two sections do not gel well with each other, or a piece of code was developed with a bug in it that now needs to be found before you can proceed. The client is informed of the delay and still opts to continue with a delayed start date.

As work continues, the setbacks have caused a domino effect and resulted in the development of the remaining functions and requirements to keep getting pushed back. The client gets frustrated. The development team rush and cut a few corners to help get the project done faster.

This causes further bottle necks in the quality testing department. The quality team themselves must rush which causes them to miss several key errors and changes. In the end when the software is finally delivered to the disgruntled client, it is of poor quality and does not solve the need for the requirement they laid out in the first place. Your development team is burnt out and dissatisfied which may end in many members opting to leave for better work environments.

These are the drawbacks of the traditional Waterfall Method of software development. In the current status quo of the development cycle, the process goes a little something like this:

Waterfall Software Development Approach

Typical Waterfall Approach to Software Development

It is a linear, one way flow type of process which does not leave much room for flexibility. It is also a very cold, process driven system that does not consider the human element behind development. This type of approach is still the defacto system that is in place at most development firms across the globe. It is a process that a development company automatically assumes and settles into. It follows a common path of logic within our minds.

But as software and apps are more prevalent in daily lives, and user-bases continue to grow, this approach to development, continuous updates and improvement will be very difficult to sustain.

Here at Gapstars we embraced Agile software development. A set of values and principles that help develop software faster, with greater adaptability and customer collaboration. Agile Development has been in existence for over 16 years. This approach not only helped Gapstars become more flexible, but it also considers the people who work on the development projects and what would be the best way to communicate quickly to get changes and improvements through the pipeline faster and out to customers. Best of all, customer requirements can still be accepted no matter how far down the development pipeline a project is.

At the turn of the millennium, after the world realised the apocalypse was going to be delayed, a bunch of prominent developers from some of the top software firms met at a lodge and laid out a new manifesto. They decided to call it Agile. What each of them had noticed was that as the access to the internet, and computer infrastructure grew, so did their user-bases and so did what people wanted to do with their computers. To add further concern, was the rise of the smartphone/pda which put computing in the pocket. This meant that the conventional approach to software development was going to be out dated very soon and a new methodology was needed asap.

They also came to notice that the many companies do not put their employees first, and they are the driving force behind innovation, productivity and quality of software.

The 12 Principles of the Manifesto are as follows, the wording has not been changed and is an excerpt from the original Agile Manifesto website that was setup back in 2001 http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.
  • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development.
  • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

As can be seen, the principles do not talk about structured processes or even ways to tackle problems, they are a set of value and beliefs within an organisation, and puts a great deal of emphasis on the human element and the ability to communicate and work together. The goals for each project are incremental, thereby lending themselves to flexibility, and above all, client requirements can be taken in at any stage of the process.

Great you must be thinking, but how can I go about implementing Agile development at my company or even within my team?

Well, change must come from within, start by explaining the merits of the approach to all stakeholders and show them the benefits of the new approach compared to the current one. Also, put emphasis on the human aspect and how it considers team well-being and harmony.

Once everyone comes on board, have a discussion as to why you might need Agile and how it can best help you achieve your goals. There are several methodologies and techniques that can be adapted, combined and customised. With collaboration, you can decide on a workflow process to follow. To know more about team management approaches, look up SCRUM and Kanban. These are 2 of the most common approaches to agile adoption.

Was our introduction into Agile Development insightful? Are you considering it? Have you or are you currently working in an agile environment? Let us know in the comments below.

continuous software delivery

Continuous Delivery: Delivering Success

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In the past, production lines were plagued with quality control issues, under productivity and even logistical blocks. Take for example the motor car. Till very recently, it was acceptable to expect the vehicle to be unreliable and even in certain case have parts of the body and trim fall off the car as you drove it (Leyland anybody?).

But as the car became a more accessible means of transport to people, many thought “Hey, if I am investing considerable sums of money into a transportation mode, I expect it to be reliable at least most of the time and have very little maintenance to do. Oh, and I would very much like to listen to music on the radio and not the sound of it crashing to the floor every time I accelerate.”

continuous software delivery

Production lines were plagued with quality control issues, under productivity and even logistical blocks

Enter the Japanese and the Toyota Motor Corporation. They were the first to embrace a philosophy called Kai (Change) Zen (Good) = Change is Good. This approach led to a revolutionary shift in production and delivery quality by introducing the concept of a quality circle which was run by the employees themselves. Kaizen meant that production related problems could be solved with efficiency, standardisation and team work in a fast and effective manner resulting in a solution within hours or even days. This resulted in a high-quality product reaching customers that was reliable, safe and consistent in its functioning.

Swap a production line for a software development line and we get Continuous Delivery. Many of the principles of Kaizen found their way into Continuous Delivery and the ethos of Development Operations (DevOps).

In the early days of software development, many programs remained unchanged or error free for years. Updates and improvements only came about once a new version was to be rolled out. This meant the development cycle was a slow behemoth that didn’t need to worry about fast paced adaptability.

But, as the internet soon grew into a phenomenon and connected people in amazing ways, so to was the demand for apps, tools and software that could take advantage of it. Suddenly in the late 90s you had mass consumerism flood business through online stores like Amazon and Ebay. Software evolved into apps to be used on smartphones. This meant a user base in the 100s if not millions.

This meant software quality, robustness and security were put to test every hour as opposed to every year. At first development companies found it difficult to cope, until someone discovered certain concepts from the manufacturing industry can be adapted to enhance the speed and efficiency of the development process and bring development and operational teams together and work closely with each other.

Just like standardisation and automation would help Toyota reach amazing heights of quality so too would it benefit software development companies to speed up their processes in attending to customer needs and in ensuring a stable program throughout.

The main benefits of a Continuous Delivery led organisational structure are:

  • Low risk: automation of key processes from quality assurance, testing, bug analysis will help streamline developments and updates into smaller increments that can be launched faster and gradually with less stress. Transparency across operations and development also ensure a seamless flow from identification to rectification and finally launch to the public.
  • Faster time to market: traditional models of development can take weeks or months, Continuous Delivery software delivery lifecycle and the elements within it seeks to streamline and improve efficiency and transparency which will result in less reworking.
  • Higher quality: automation of tasks brings a level of standardisation
  • Lower cost: automation and standardisation leads to lower costs
  • Better products: Thanks to more efficient processes and testing systems, the quality of the product automatically rises and remains consistent as well.
  • Happier Teams: lower burnout, less conflict and more transparency all lead to a more positive work environment.

Continuous Delivery revolves around 4 key sections:

  • Build
  • Deploy
  • Test
  • Release

The above 4 sections are governed by these key principles:

  • Build quality in: reduce mass inspection done in a separate queue, incorporate it into the development cycle and automate as much as possible.
  • Work in small batches: do not wait for a months’ worth of code, take the bugs or elements in small sections and release them incrementally. This makes tackling a problem easier.
  • Computer perform repetitive tasks, people solve problems
  • Relentlessly pursue continuous improvement
  • Everyone is responsible

At Gapstars, our early adoption of a Continuous Delivery based organisational culture has helped us be more agile towards changing customer requirements and ensure a consistent high quality of service and delivery. Even under a Remote Team concept with the main development teams based in Sri Lanka, Continuous Delivery has helped ensure a tight knit and transparent team of people who do not feel overwhelmed or understaffed by the tasks at hand. “Continuous Improvement” just like at Toyota has been a byword in our approach to providing remote IT solutions to our clients.

On a final note, “resistance to change” is the biggest hurdle to overcome when adopting a new culture or work process. The first and biggest change needs to be in the mindset of the management. Humans are naturally creatures of habit, they like order, consistency. Once they have a routine down pat, it is very difficult to change their mind about improving it or changing it. Yes, change can hurt but the benefits will pay off in the long run and your company and workforce will be better for it. If Continuous Delivery is something you believe can help your company improve and adapt faster, then present it to the board, highlight:

  • Proven case studies
  • Estimated improvement numbers
  • Financial savings and values

The above should at least get the management to consider a change and perhaps run a trial.

Interested to learn more about Continuous Delivery and the various elements within it? Comment below and we can include more detailed information in upcoming blog posts. To know more about Gapstars and how you can become a part of the family or partner with us, head to our website.