Three lessons from 10+ years of virtual teaming.
By Lily Hicks, Slalom
COVID-19 has made modern ways of working – in the cloud, from any location – a requirement for many of us. Thankfully, this isn’t Slalom’s first rodeo. Or Zoom call. While we can’t tell you the perfect lighting for your home office or what your best side is, we can certainly share some things we’ve learned from over a decade of delivering modern technology and software products virtually, from around the world.
Here are three easy-to-implement takeaways from 10+ years of remote teaming and delivery:
- Stay agile. Frequent results fast-track progress.
- Stay close. To solve a problem, it helps to be close to it.
- Stay curious. Transformation happens with people, not to them. So engage them.
Of course, these aren't the only pieces of a smooth-running digital transformation machine, but each has a definite impact on the outcomes of our projects and the continued success of our clients.
1. Stay agile
When we’re remote from each other, it helps for you and us both to see real results – e.g., working software – early and often. Agile makes that cadence possible.
The quick, iterative sprints of agile have been the best method for us to build a culture of co-creation with our clients – even from our separate offices, and now our separate homes. We create virtual pods made up of your teams and our Builders, and we all come together for virtual standups, sprint planning, demos, retrospectives, and yes: happy hours. This near-constant connection helps us know we’re aligned and accelerate your transformation.
We also know that sprints alone can’t solve a problem. A discovery phase has saved our teams countless hours (and budget). It ensures we all understand exactly what we’re sprinting toward, before we start sprinting – a simple idea, but one we’ve baked into our product engineering methodology because it’s that important. Another necessity: a smooth transition, which is why we end our sprints with a hands-on handoff where your teams cement their hold on the project before we let go.
Leverage agile techniques now more than ever. They help you maintain momentum and strengthen alignment for better outcomes, faster. Bookend your sprints with a crystal-clear discovery phase and a well-planned handoff (when applicable).
2. Stay close
You chose this career so you could travel constantly, right? Didn’t think so. Aside from the fact that flying around the country is exhausting, we think that staying put makes good business sense.
The reason we stationed interdisciplinary, connected teams across North America and the world was so that more of our Builders could be in more of our clients’ time zones, including – probably – yours. We may not share a conference room anytime soon, but our proximity to you still lets us share more hours of dedicated work time. It makes meetings easier to schedule, answers quicker to find, and collaboration more effective.
“Part of building high-performing teams is building trust,” says Stephen Roger, General Manager at Slalom Build. “That means working together and collaborating all day, which is easier when you’re all online at the same time.”
“If you have a question, you can pose it to the whole team and they’re all available to answer it."
When you’re collaborating so closely, you learn a lot about each other, and from each other. We provide our know-how, but we also learn from our customers. We both can take that with us beyond our work together.
– STEPHEN ROGER, GENERAL MANAGER, SLALOM BUILD
If you’re in multiple markets, consider creating regional teams (if you haven’t already) and finding partners close to you. Being in the same time zone can bolster communication and reduce frustration. It helps when your 2 p.m. isn’t their 2 a.m.
3. Stay curious
We love this stuff. We’re digital natives, cloud experts, transformation geeks. But more importantly, we want your teams to understand this stuff. That’s why our methods and knowledge are all open source. You and your teams get the tools, playbook, and training to turn around and use these skills within your own organization.
All you have to do is stay curious. We think our passion helps with this. Like every good teacher, our enthusiasm is contagious at best and intriguing at least. And – like every good teacher – we’re just as ready to learn some from you.
Agile plays a role here, too. With each successive sprint, the work transitions from ‘we do’ to ‘you do.’ We bring in more of your teams and less of ours so that when you reach the finish line, you’re capable of running a modern organization all on your own.
For organizations to grow, people must grow. Promote a culture where learning is celebrated and knowledge is shared, with – and by – your people. You never know where the next great idea will come from. (Hint: It ain’t always from leadership.)
You don’t have to start from scratch
Remote wasn’t built in a day. With more than 10 years of hands-on experience with virtual delivery on your side, it’s possible for you to keep innovating even as your organization adjusts to remote work. We know how to navigate the challenges and benefits of remote work, and now is the time to share what we’ve learned. These are lessons, not trade secrets.
Here’s what we know: Agile can help you innovate faster, collaboration works well with teams in your time zone, and true transformation takes learning – which takes curious minds and enthusiastic teachers. When you focus on these three areas, you set the right course.
Stay agile, stay close, and stay curious. While you’re at it, stay safe.
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