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?
There has been lots of talk lately about the future of the traditional work environment and how it is shifting. Online work is the wave of the future and the rise in the number of freelancers, remote workers, and distributed teams are evident of that. So as 2013 moves into the Fall and the year wraps up (how fast did that go?), we take a look at some of the articles recently highlighting this trend.
The new world of online work takes a different management mindset than in the past. Jason Corsello of Cornerstone OnDemand discusses this management mindset needed for the global work environment.
oDesk CEO Gary Swart covers the future of work, especially online work, in many of his articles on LinkedIn. Read his opinion about the future of work in part 1 and part 2 of the series.
Startup and small businesses often face the challenge of a skills gap in their immediate geographic region for hiring. See how many of these businesses are turning to freelancers online to close this skills gap.
Elance recently created this infographic illustrating the trends in online work from their latest global online employment report.
Andy Jordan of Roffensian Management Consulting and contributor on projectmanagement.com, discusses how the increase in online work and distributed teams has brought change to project management styles.
This article shares some stats about the current trends in online work and 5 advantages of having a distributed team. Did you know that 83% of workers spend at least a part of a workday at home?
Shane Snow, CCO of Contently, shares his thoughts on why half of us may be freelancers with these 6 reasons.
Another article from Forbes discusses 5 reasons why workplace flexibility is smart for finding the best talent available.
Yet one more article on Forbes about the recent announcement of the Internet.org initiative that aims to make the Internet available to the entire world. Gary Swart talks about how that will affect online work.
The future of work is already here and the number of businesses employing online employees will only continue to grow. Being a 100% distributed company ourselves has allowed us to experience many of the benefits talked about in these articles. And we took many of those experiences working on a distributed basis and baked them right into Spotlight People & Project Manager.
Has your business jumped on this trend of hiring online workers? How’s your experience so far?
Entrepreneurs know that squeezing every ounce of value out of the resources committed to a project for the business is vital to survive. Time and money are at a premium for an early-stage business. Which means at some point in time, you will probably manage a software project that involves outsourced or contracted developers, if you haven’t already. This management approach will be the key to the successful outsourcing of a project.
Freelancers and outsourced developers can increase the overall profitability of a software project greatly. You can find quality talent outside of your local area at an often much cheaper rate. These developers and designers can be brought on for one project at a time, which cuts out the overhead of hiring an internal team.
But it can also crash and burn rather quickly if managed the wrong way.
Hiring software developers as part of your project team in this manner presents its fair share of challenges. Not only do you have to find a fit in with your current team, but also manage them a bit differently to get the maximum production. Following these best management practices can ensure the profitability of your project and end with a successful outsourcing experience.
Be Clear and Concise
Misunderstood requirements at the beginning of a project can sink it quickly. While the requirements created may make sense to you as the project manager, it may not make sense to the hired development team. And sometimes, they won’t tell you if it doesn’t make sense.
Ensure requirements are clear and concise when presenting them to the team. Outsourced development teams will follow these requirements exactly as they are written. The key is to provide them the depth and information needed to build exactly what you envision. Don’t assume they will take a vague requirement and run with it.
As the project progresses, requirements will surely change, bugs will come up, and new business rules will emerge. Provide the depth and details in these scenarios as well. Outsourced development teams will be great at coding. Just make sure they are coding it according to your plan.
Establish Communication Channels
Lay the ground rules for the communication channels and schedule from the beginning. More frequent communication will be needed simply because of time, cultural, and work habit differences. When the development team is half way around the world, it’s important to know what task every team member is working on and when they are working on it.
As the manager of the team, this frequent communication can come in the form of setting daily standup meetings (yes they still work virtually), requiring periodic status updates from team members, and using instant chat. Providing several communication tools and creating a meeting schedule your team can expect will keep them in sync with you and each other.
Learning how to communicate with your team in addition to when helps prevent details from getting lost in translation. This comes with simply getting to know your developers. Seeing how they work, interact, and engage with the team will give you an idea of how to best communicate project requirements to them (see above).
Oftentimes, successful outsourcing can be tied directly to quality communication.
Recognize a Team Leader
When working with an outsourced software team, usually one of the developers will emerge as sort of a team leader. Try to identify this team lead quickly and use them as the primary point of contact for the development side of the project. This person can often be present in meetings involving other project stakeholders to report on the development status and clear up any issues.
This person can also provide honest feedback on the motivations and attitudes of other team members. It’s hard enough to manage a team across the globe and figuring out when there are issues with motivation is even tougher. A development team leader can communicate this information to you as they understand how the other team members work and when there may be a problem.
Keeping the development team motivated and focused will play a major part in successful outsourcing. While sometimes hard to identify across borders, a team lead can provide this insight.
Eye the Schedule
Staying on schedule is one of the primary responsibilities of a project manager. A schedule can be better maintained by breaking the software project down into sprints and tasks (also known as agile). This gives the outsourced team specific tasks to work on instead of having to figure out what to do next. With a tool like Spotlight PPM, you can break your projects down in this manner and easily see the status of each task in the task manager. This helps you determine the efficiency of the entire project and if your on track to deliver by the deadline.
If you are unsure what the status is of a task or when it will be complete, ask the team member until you get a clear understanding. Communication affects everything in an outsourced project and the schedule is no exception. Ensure there is frequent communication on sprint and task schedules so you can report back the progress.
When you are in the office, it’s pretty easy to see when your project team is there working. But not so much with an outsourced development team. It’s much more difficult to ensure your team is being accountable for their work from a different country and time zone. But there are ways to drive home this accountability to your outsourced team.
As mentioned above, breaking down the project into sprints and tasks helps keep team members accountable. When you have very specific tasks in the backlog for team members to work on, there isn’t that period of wondering what to do next. Team members pick a task and when completed, move on to the next task. You can easily monitor if they are being accountable for their tasks by simply checking the status and completion date.
At Spotlight, we use a tactic called daily progress reports at the end of each day. Each team member submits a short, free-form report of the tasks they accomplished that day, what they are working on tomorrow, and if they had any issues. This keeps them accountable for their work and demonstrates their accomplishments for the day.
Successful outsourcing is a result of proper management of the development team. Many of these developers are very talented and work hard. But without the guidance and clear communication of exactly what you are looking for in the project, you probably won’t get what you envisioned. Effectively managing the team using these techniques among others will ensure you a successful outsourcing experience.
What other tips and techniques would you suggest for managing an outsourced team? Share your experience with a comment!
Every Friday, Spotlight will publish a blog article with links to articles and news relevant to managing remote project teams, the overall globalization of the world’s workforce, and some entrepreneurship mixed in. We hope you find some quality information and maybe even learn a thing or two to get a discussion started with your colleagues.
Happy Friday! Today we cover how measure the success of virtual teams, teamwork in general, and properly hiring an outsourced team. For the 49ers and Ravens fans out there, some reasons why your team will win the Super Bowl.
We are also looking for beta users to try out our new release of Spotlight People & Project Manager. If you work with a virtual team or hire freelancers to do any web and development work, you may find communication is not easy. Leave us a comment or contact any one of our management team members if interested.