Friday, October 15, 2004

Tools : Spelling, Meaning and Pronunciation

When all communication happens through email, documents, chat and phone conversations, it is important to pay attention to spelling, meaning and pronunciation. This becomes more important when the collaboration is across cultures.

A free online resource that I find useful is Merriam-Webster Online. This online service provides online dictionary, thesauras and pronunciation services. I find it very useful especially when I have to find out how a word is pronounced.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My Journal on Distributed Development

For about 8 years, I have written a log about the challenges I face at work and solutions that worked for me. When I reviewed my Journal from my archives, I realized that there was information worth sharing with entrepreneurs running a company on shoestring budgets, managers who want to drive better collaboration and distributed team members who are face these challenges daily. I want to share practical information about tools, people behavior and team organization that will help distributed teams in day-to-day work.

I attend the Berkeley Columbia EMBA program now and run the collaboration site for my class of fellow managers. It has been a good learning experience helping my class with the collaboration. I plan to write about how the business schools of two universities [UC Berkeley and Columbia University, New York] enable collaboration among students and professors. As of 2005 they have a lot of challenges ahead of them.

There are three broad categories. Protocols, People and Tools. Most titles are self explanatory. If you are part of a distributed development operation or team, please add your thoughts and share your insight.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Protocol: Communication + Email

Sometime it is difficult to communicate everything through email. It is necessary to recognize those situations and change the medium of communication to address the problem effectively.

There are times when a particular problem or requirement cannot be communicated clearly through an email. It is good to agree upon [or decide for yourself] the limit of email exchanges you will have before you decide to change the medium of communication to phone or a face to face conversation.

How do you recognize that there is a communication problem?
I have set of limit of 3 email exchanges. If a team or a set of individuals are not able to come to an agreement using 3 email exchanges, then there is a communication problem and it needs to be addressed. I have found that in most cases after 3 email exchanges, communication is very ineffective. If the email exchange is with an individual, normally I call the person to discuss the problem.

If the communication is about people issues, it is best to do it through phone or face to face conversations. Discussing people related issues in an email is not a good idea. Such messages may be interpreted out of context and may decrease trust among teams.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

People : Convey the big picture

I have observed that development teams that understand the big picture do a better quality job compared to teams that understand only the components that they are building. Sometimes my colleagues express their concern about the lack of urgency among remote teams. I recommend to them that they communicate the big picture to remote teams at the beginning of the project. The customer pain we are addressing, the value we bring to customers, how the project will help the customer, total project revenue, impact of this project’s revenue on the current quarter, impact of the current project’s quality on the sale we are about to make etc., are some good examples of big picture information.

A distributed team member who understands the big picture will work towards accomplishing project goals and work around the hurdles. Team members who understand the big picture are less likely to give you excuses instead of deliverables.

Care should be taken to communicate factual and relevant information. I have seen some demand team members hyping up a project and providing very optimistic information about a client when no substantial information exists. That will back fire. So it is important to be enthusistic and at the same time level headed about it.

I read that Disneyland actually overstates the wait times in their rides so that when you get to the ride within 30 minutes instead of the stated 45 minutes, you actually feel good about the 30 minute wait. I won't comment on the appropriateness of that approach. But I believe it is effective. It is always better to share information with cautious optimism rather than promising something and not delivering.

Understanding the financial aspects of a project can help all team members make right design and development decisions. I'll write my observations in that area later.

Why is the big picture more important to remote team members than team members in the headquarters?
Big picture information is important to everyone. However unlike the headquarters team that can piece together the big picture using information gathered through informal networks and hallway conversations, remote teams rely mostly on planned communications to get their information.

People : Have a local leader

I believe that it is important for teams to have local leadership, even if the leader does not provide domain expertise. For example, if you can't find a good engineer to manage an engineering team, find a non-engineer to manage them. It is better than asking all of them to report to a manger who is not in the same location.

The model where a manager in San Diego manages teams in Detroit or Hyderabad will not be effective in the long run. Most teams without an effective local leader will lose focus and perform under par.

Effectively managing a remote direct report takes more skills and effort than managing a direct report who works in the same office. I wonder what people who work for managers who they rarely see think about that organizational model. I would like listen to someone who has that experience.
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