How to smoothly communicate when managing an offshore development team
Ineffectively organized communications directly affect the timing and quality of software development. Together with location distribution and insufficient management, communication leads the list of the most frequent reasons distributed teams are ineffective. Relentless communication ensures that deadlines are met and that the production environment is up and running day to day. As a technical leader, a CTO should lead by example, so the communication style you choose plays an important role in project success. Let’s look at the bottlenecks in communication that prevent efficient development of an offshore team.
Maintain a shared information space
The main problem with team members distributed over the world is that they often don’t have enough context during communication and feel isolated from a team’s common information space. As a result, they don’t feel enough confidence in what they do, or they need to make corrections in their work because of miscommunication.
Several pillars make for updated and available information space for all offshore teams:
- Day-to-day, efficient communication and meetings
- A shared project knowledge base that stores information about work cases and important solutions; can be used in the onboarding stage and later by middle and senior engineers
- Discipline and rules that regulate the communication process, keeping it efficient and minimally sufficient
Let’s take a closer look at each of the described core components.
Having all the necessary participants present at a meeting is difficult when your team is distributed over different locations in different countries and time zones. Usually, the time intersection for team members is very short, and it’s crucial to have conversations that are meaningful and informative.
For the efficiency of such communication, teams should follow special rules, which are the foundation of processes that define the success of a distributed team.
For example, one such rule can be the compulsory presence of team members at meetings in shared hours. You can set the minimum shared time for team members connected to one task, for example, two hours each day. If one participant is absent at the meeting, he or she influences the efficiency of the whole team and prevents other members from a holistic view of the project situation. In such situations, you as a team leader and manager should be tough on failed attendance and lack of commitment.
Regarding collaboration and communication tools, Rich Romano, CTO at FIDx, says the following:
“I believe in drawing pictures, diagrams, and conveying information through things that are easily consumable. It’s important to give people artifacts versus just talk about things and say, ‘Go do it.’”
It’s also useful to have a standard for using communication tools. CTOs from FinTech companies often report they use JIRA, Zoom, and Slack daily. For sharing some visual information, they choose Draw.io editor, and they turn to Github Issues to collaborate on code. Choosing a default communication medium ensures all participants become proficient in using it and that they require minimal time to have it configured and stable.
The knowledge base
The shared base of the company’s and project knowledge is yet another place where communication is more valuable and efficient when maintaining the shared knowledge space.
When it is violated, discrepancies in tasks, priorities, and results arise, leading to confusion, loss of team spirit, and demotivation. And insufficient project documentation can create time losses that could have been spent on developing new features. The information you store in this knowledge base should be useful for those who will join the team later, and it should be as short as possible.
Therefore, you should follow standard project knowledge base filling rules when adding information. For example, such rules can be bans on creating duplicate topics or publications, keeping to the common style guide when creating a publication, and pasting code as text or sharing a link to Github. These rules may also include the content approval process by more senior participants or project managers.
The members of the FinTech CTO Club report that Confluence is one of the most used and convenient tools for creating and sharing knowledge across engineering teams.
You may hear that it’s better to over-communicate things than to under-communicate, especially when a part of your team is offshore. Shane Higginbotham, product manager at Blaze Portfolio, noted that every time you jump into quick communication with a developer, they lose up to 30 minutes of productive work. It’s good when everyone knows everything and communicates well—unless unnecessary or insufficient interruptions reduce developers’ productivity. It’s best to know when to communicate and when to leave them alone to do their best.
Teams spend a great amount of time that could be used on developing new features, improving the code, and maintaining the relentless operation on inefficient communications and occasional interruptions. Report and ask for information in a way that does not require the other side to ask for additional information. This way, you ensure that you don’t interrupt your coworkers twice.
The other problem is a general team chat or watercooler messages. Having communications with colleagues on personal topics or just having some jibber-jabber is important for offshore teams, sometimes even more than offline teams. However, this can disrupt work and shorten the productive time of your developers.
If you want to stay efficient when communicating in chats, you should foster the culture of efficient messaging within the company. The main idea is to always keep to the point, avoid uncertain expressions or greetings without the inquiry, and so on. You won’t exclude the ad-hoc communications fully, but at least it will help you ensure your developers are interrupted only when it’s needed.