Help Spotlight Software move through the field of 64 and win the Venture Madness!
We are proud to be selected as one of the 64 participants in the Invest Southwest Venture Madness. This innovative competition pits 64 of the region’s most promising startups against each other in an exciting bracket-style, head-to-head competition. In round 1, we are up against a very worthy competitor in Brett Approved and need your help!
Watch our video for the competition below and cast your vote for Spotlight here.
In part 1 last week, Spotlight CEO discussed the benefits a business can see by using a distributed team model. Today, Vincent looks at the issues he ran into while running his nearshore software development company that ultimately led to the creation of Spotlight People & Project Manager.
“Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” Mickey was pissed. Pablo was hired as a full-time dedicated resource for Mickey’s company through my services company.
“Did he send you an email or something, Mickey”, I asked.
“Nope. And we need to deploy the database before tomorrow morning. I tried Skyping him, emailing him, and called his mobile.”
It was 3:30 in the afternoon. “OK, let me try to get in touch with him. I’m sure he’ll make up the hours and we’ll be fine. Pablo’s responsible.”
Pablo really is responsible, and gets his tasks done. He works more than 40 hours per week… but not the usual 9-5. As a remote contractor, he enjoys the benefits of working remotely, which include picking up his kids from school around 3:15 in the afternoon.
I reached Pablo a little after 4:00. “Pablo… I don’t mind if you take off to pick up your kids… but you have to let the client know.”
Pablo seemed panicked. “Vincent, I sent Mickey an email. Here let me forward it to you.”
The email was sent in the earlier part of the afternoon. And lo and behold, it cited that Pablo would be out from 3:00 – 4:15, and that he would deploy the database when he returned. Which is exactly what he did, and the deployment turned out to be a success.
However, we still have the issue of solid communications among distributed teams. Because while I wish this was an isolated instance, it actually happens a lot more than it should. And it wasn’t just my company, it’s an issue that plagues all distributed teams…whether they are an office that telecommutes, an enterprise team spread across a campus, or a company that hires contractors in Mexico, India and China. Distributed teams face the challenge of communication, collaboration and accountability.
We all know where this story’s going, so I’ll cut to the chase. I built Spotlight to enhance communication, collaboration and accountability among my crew of ~25 contractors spread all over Mexico and the United States, and to provide my clients with a way to peer into the daily operations of their project. In other words, Spotlight’s mission was to minimize the “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” phone calls from my clients.
It worked. It worked much better than even I expected. That’s why I spun the product off as its own entity. And with the help of my partner, Dan Schulz, we took the product to even higher aspirations by adding a task-timing feature that blows the competition out of the water.
So… guess whom our most excited customers are today? That’s right… PM’s, scrum masters and other product owners that received similar “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” calls when they ran distributed projects.
Family, pets, laundry, the doorbell…the list can go on and on. Working at home can present its fair share of distractions, if you let them. But there are several things you can do to remain productive while working at home. In fact, mastering the art of balancing your work/life can often make you MORE productive working at home.
Our company has been working entirely on a distributed basis for the last year now. All of our employees have their own way of being productive; whether it’s working at night, tucking away in a coffee shop, or taking breaks during the day. This type of flexibility allows us to find times that are most productive for us and thus, make the entire company operate more effectively.
Using a combination of feedback from some our colleagues working at home and our own experiences, here are 10 to-dos’ that will help you be more productive.
Establish Your Space
If you don’t have your own office space in the house, you need one. Plain and simple. Oftentimes, half the battle of working at home is not being able to get away from interruptions because of no place to go. Having your own office space (with a door) allows you to completely separate the two: you can go to work in the morning and leave in the evening just by walking in and out.
Plus, who doesn’t like to be able to set up their own office?
Not being in the same office sometimes results in those creeping thoughts of wondering if your counterparts are really working. Don’t let those thoughts even start to brew. Being very visible online and communicating frequently with whatever tools you choose lets everyone know you are working and available. We use Spotlight to do this. One look at the dashboard lets you know exactly who is online and what they are working on. Trust is a big part of working at home so always be available when you should be.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of tools out there to help you work productively at home. And a lot of them are free. Skype, Join.Me, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are just a few of the free tools you can use to stay in touch with your team. While there are tons of tools out there, being able to find those that are multi-functional and have many of these features streamlined will make it a whole lot easier to manage.
Freshen Up (Your Location)
While a home office is great, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Take advantage of a local coffee shop or library for an afternoon. The new environment can help you focus and make your office feel fresh again when you get back. Another advantage of the coffee shop is opening the door to impromptu conversations that you wouldn’t get at home. There are always other business people working so you never know when a connection might be made.
The Pomorodo Technique is relatively new and is a way to manage your time effectively. Simply set a timer to 25 minutes, which is called a Pomodoro, and see how many it takes to finish a task. Using this information and following a series of steps (see the video on the website) allows you to set up accurate timetables of your tasks and other activities. It helps eliminate burnout, manage distractions, and create a better work/life balance.
Learning how to self-motivate can take you a long ways when working at home. Since you aren’t always in the presence of other co-workers that can provide this motivation, teaching yourself how to self-motivate can keep you inspired and focused. As an employer who is thinking about using a distributed workforce model, having training sessions from experienced coaches on how to self-motivate may make your employees even more productive.
Multi-tasking with several chores around the house can get you into trouble quickly. It’s very tempting to get a head start on the laundry, run those errands you have, or clean the house. But you may find that these small tasks take up more time than you think and pretty soon you are way behind in work. You may be best off setting aside a time for tasks like this and separating it from the workday.
Goals are important in any work setting, whether you are working at home or in an office setting. But sometimes these goals are harder to achieve while working alone at home. Set daily and weekly goals, then write them down and refer to them frequently. Having set goals or tasks to accomplish each day and week will keep you focused and create a sense of accomplishment when you start crossing them off your list.
Start With a Routine
Don’t fall into that rut of your alarm going off and the only thing you do is walk 10 steps to your office and start working in your pajamas. Develop a routine in the morning almost as if you are going into the office. For example, I wake up and go to the gym, come home and walk the dogs, then get ready for work like I’m actually going into the office. A routine gets you ready to take on the day no matter what pops up (including that impromptu video call from your boss).
Working at home can mean you may not get out of the house for a while. So make sure you create time when you can get out, whether it’s with your family or friends. Look for local Meetup or networking groups in your industry and attend the meetings as a way to make new connections and find business prospects.
Working at home is a much different environment than going into an office, especially if you’ve never done it before. Staying productive can be a challenge for some people at first but by following these tips (among many others), productivity can often be increased. That’s why Spotlight has operated as a distributed workforce for the last year; we’ve found our employees to be much more productive and motivated. Stop in at our next webinar to see exactly how we do it!
What other tips do you have for being productive working at home? What’s worked for you?
It probably won’t be known for several months the exact cause of the collapse, but it would be a pretty safe bet that a communication breakdown is somehow involved. The importance of effective communication and collaboration during an agile development project sometimes just isn’t realized until it breaks down.
It’s even more important in agile development projects with distributed teams. More businesses are implementing this strategy as a cost reduction and to expand their talent search outside the local area. But with this comes the challenge of keeping the distributed team on the same page and collaborating effectively.
This week’s Friday Findings offers a list of books for managing agile development projects with distributed teams. The authors are experienced and seasoned in the process, offering a great resource for your business to effectively use this strategy. On to the findings…
This book covers a 60-minute interview with Ambler where he discusses some great examples of how development teams are adapting agile methods to work in a global team environment. You will learn how to break down communication barriers to improve project team performance.
Eckstein discusses how to address the challenges of agile software teams working together over great distances. Full of several real-world experiences from other practitioners, this book will train you to form customized plans that fit your distributed team’s situation.
Written by three of IBM’s Scrum experts, this guide serves as basis for Scrum practitioners working in a distributed environment. The authors look at several real-world project examples and how to apply key Scrum practices in a distributed environment.
Global software projects are becoming the norm for many businesses that operate in multiple locations to take advantage of talent and cost savings. The question often comes down to whether they should implement agile tactics in their global projects. The authors break down agile implementations for distributed teams into five areas: motivation, transition, management, teams, and the epilogue, which offers future trends and research.
While not directly targeted at distributed teams, collaboration is one of the biggest keys to project success in a distributed environment. Tabaka discusses collaboration and facilitation techniques for agile software project leaders to get their teams interacting through the project lifecycle. More effective collaboration equals higher delivery success.
This book discusses the “Design for Hybrid Agile Adoption” approach in implementing successful agile approaches with distributed teams. Venkatesh covers various tactics in making agile development projects with distributed teams successful such as collaboration techniques, metric analysis, meetings and interactions, and many other factors.
Yassin creates an entire global software project scenario in this book and takes you through the whole thing. He looks at all the possible roadblocks that could be ran into when working on a distributed basis and solutions for those roadblocks. Collaboration techniques are discussed that address time zone, culture, familiarization, and trust issues that pop up in agile software development with distributed teams.
Techniques proven successful at electronics and software company Siemens AG are shared in this book about developing software on a global scale. The authors discuss how Siemens uses a high-level process framework of agile methods that fosters team building and effective team collaboration. Real-world examples of both successful and failed projects offer takeaways of what to do and what not to do for success in leading agile development projects with distributed teams.
In this book, Ebert covers best practices for managing software projects across borders. He discusses his own first-hand experience in executing projects across multiple locations, mitigating risk, and creating a highly effective collaboration environment for distributed agile teams.
Properly managing risk in a global software development project is a key consideration for any business looking for success. Using real-world experiences, this book provides several tools and techniques to manage the risk that arises in agile development projects with distributed teams. Hussey discusses how to gather insight into diverse team personalities in order to achieve trust and effective collaboration between team members, ultimately leading to success.
Every book has one thing in common (at least) and that’s effective team communication and collaboration. Agile software teams on a global scale can’t survive without it. Phone and email are typically not enough and a social network based collaboration platform like Spotlight offers can make a team that much more productive. It keeps everyone on the same page all the way through the project.
Are you an experienced project manager leading distributed teams? Share your experience and techniques to help the rest of us out!
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Daily scrums are the first step in building team trust in Agile software development. They keep development teams communicating and working in sync towards the project goals. Scrums keep projects on track, help identify issues early, and increase overall productivity.
Virtual teams made up of freelancers or contractors are increasingly being utilized to execute software projects for businesses. One team member may be in Mexico while another is in Chicago. With different time zones, little face-to-face interaction, and different schedules, how can a daily scrum possibly be executed? We offer 5 tips for holding daily scrums with virtual teams.
Daily scrums only allow you to get your entire team together for 15 minutes every day. Maximize that time to the fullest with open and quality team communication. Whether you use video or web conferencing, the traditional conference call, or even a group chat, ensure that it’s not 15 minutes of only one person speaking. Silence from team members can mean a number of things so don’t just infer there are no issues if this is the case.
At Spotlight, we have all team members log into a Go To Meeting session daily. They communicate three things:
What tasks did I do yesterday?
What tasks will I do today?
Are there any issues that need addressed?
As a result, developers will end up doing some paired programming on any issues that are brought up during the meeting, further strengthening team trust and camaraderie.
The daily scrum process may be a little different for every business or Scrum Master. Some will include only development team leads and others will include all developers. We have found that including everyone, from QA to Designers to developers, keeps the team operating at the highest efficiency. In a virtual team setting, information is more likely to get lost or forgotten if communication is not optimal. Having the entire project team collaborate in the scrum ensures there are no surprises and keeps the entire team moving forward in unison.
All phases of a software development project are interrelated so one piece can’t operate without the others. Having all members of the team participate in the scrum lets development know when design is ready and so on.
Once you decide on a method of communication and time for the daily scrum, try to keep it consistent every day. Ideally, it will be first thing in the morning so the team can discuss what went on the day before and the tasks they have coming up that day. If any issues are brought to the table, the developers have the rest of the day to find a resolution.
One of the beautiful things about working virtually is the ability to be flexible with schedules. If your developers don’t work the typical 8 to 5 workday, schedule the daily scrum at the beginning of their shift. Our development team typically works from late afternoon well into the night. The daily scrum is scheduled when they get online so they have a full workday’s opportunity to address any concerns.
Keep it short
Keep your daily scrums short, typically around 15 minutes. Developers don’t have time to sit there on the phone or in a web conference listening to a conversation that doesn’t concern them. Virtual daily scrums can get especially time consuming if every team member is taking time to speak in this manner. Clearly communicate the answers to the 3 questions of daily scrums and adjourn so everyone can get to work.
Schedule follow-up meetings
Abbreviated daily scrums lead us to the next tip: schedule follow-up meetings. If team members get into a conversation on an issue or development task during the scrum, have them jump back on the conference call later to discuss further. This allows the rest of the team to go about their daily agenda while the other team members work together on the issue brought up in the scrum.
The Scrum Master can then assist with any specific issues directly if need be or take a question back to the product manager.
Daily scrums keep the communication channels open within virtual Agile software teams to keep the entire team in sync with each other. This helps tasks get completed faster and bugs identified sooner. All of this adds up to faster time to delivery.
Do you have other unique ways of executing scrum meetings in a virtual setting? Leave us a comment with your experience!
Here at Spotlight, we function as a 100% virtual workforce. We often find ourselves wondering, how many other companies do the same?
One company you may have heard of runs one of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world. WordPress.com, run by Automattic, is a completely virtual workforce. They employ over 130 people and everyone works from their desired location. Their strategy has proved to be very successful, as we have also found out at Spotlight.
Scott Berkun recently discussed his experience at WordPress working in a virtual workforce. He outlines several things that he learned, and many are the same things we experience on our team. Here’s a summary of some of his points and how we take advantage of it at Spotlight:
Contrary to some people’s belief, Berkun found that the collaboration tools available for the virtual workforce do not inhibit creativity whatsoever. People work on creative projects online all the time (maybe more so than in-house). Chat rooms, forums, social media, and SaaS apps can foster very engaging project collaboration. WordPress releases new features and updates several times during the day and uses these methods to brainstorm ideas for these updates.
At Spotlight, our designers and developers work with each other using Spotlight to collaborate on their tasks. This makes the process from design to development to implementation seamless. With real-time status updates on task status, they can easily bounce ideas off each other and make suggestions for creative improvements.
Leave it up to the employee
Berkun discusses how companies can empower employees by giving them the option to work virtually. Automattic for example, believes that individuals know what type of environment makes them the most productive. Giving them the freedom to choose this environment will make them feel empowered and self-motivated. This in turn, will increase team productivity and better business results.
Our employees have the freedom to choose how they work. Being an entirely virtual workforce, there really is no option on whether to work at home or not. But flexible work arrangements allow them to work in an environment most productive for them. We have some developers that work from early evening to late night and some that work afternoons. The key is having constant and open communication on current availability, which helps us work together no matter the schedules.
Choose the right tools
Choosing the right communication tools is important in working together efficiently. Berkun describes how Automattic employees hardly use email anymore. They engage with each other via internal blogs, chat rooms, and Skype. If you can master these tools, email will be a tool used for external communication to people outside of the team.
Our team uses Spotlight for our project collaboration tool with some Skype and Go To Meeting mixed in for conference calls. Spotlight offers a Facebook-like status update control, which our employees use to update the tasks they are working on and current availability. This ensures that everyone on the team knows the status of every other team member. Combined with the ability to send private messages and a discussion board, our email usage has decreased dramatically.
Part of the research for this book included a blog article asking how many companies actually are 100% distributed. Some of them you may recognize besides Automattic, such as GitHub, Mozilla, and MySQL. There are probably far more companies than currently on the list, but it illustrates where the future of work is going.
Is your business 100% distributed or have a virtual workforce? Leave us a comment and let us know how it’s going.
A virtual team environment can often cause an already quiet person to sit back and let others do the talking. Not being face to face with other people allows them to disengage even more. This is one of the main reasons virtual team communication is a very difficult thing to optimize.
It’s important to encourage all members of a virtual team to collaborate and input their ideas. Sometimes the best ideas come from the person who doesn’t always interject.
There are several things that managers of virtual teams can do to “break the ice” among team members and ramp up virtual team communication. Oftentimes, all it takes is one meaningful conversation with those that are a bit shy to break them out of their shell.
Nancy Settle-Murphy, CEO and Founder of Guided Insights, along with Rich Trombetta of Innovation Company, outlined 7 tips on bringing team members out of the box in a virtual setting. Idea input from all team members improves the level of overall virtual team communication, eventually leading to increased project success rates.
Our team collaborates on a daily basis via Spotlight to encourage even the most reserved team members to offer their ideas. One tip in the article points out how many people are just more comfortable writing out their ideas than verbally communicating them. The team dashboard in Spotlight offers a centralized place that all team members can see each others ideas and thoughts through typed out Status Updates. We often discuss many of these ideas in live virtual meetings later on.
Being able to portray ideas through the Status Update function helps our virtual team members build off each others ideas as well. Oftentimes, a team member offers an idea that just needs some tweaking or built upon a little further to make it a truly unique solution.
In the world of software development, this is especially important as one idea for an application often leads to a brand new, improved feature as fellow team members build upon it. This is when great virtual team communication and collaboration really pay off.
Positive reinforcement, encouragement, and listening can often get even the most reserved person to let down their guard and contribute their ideas. While it may take a little time, using the 7 tips from Settle-Murphy and Trombetta can expedite the process and improve the overall level of virtual team communication. Combine them with Spotlight and you have very unique environment that can make your virtual project teams very successful.