Just like countless other business functions, cloud delivery has now shifted entirely to remote working for now and perhaps longer term. Canonical has been a remote-first company for some time, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share some of the best practices we’ve learned along the way.
Effective communication between customers, engineers, and project managers is the most critical element of successful cloud delivery. This has always been the case, but it is doubly important in the absence of regular, face-to-face contact.
For remote teams, instant messaging is an invaluable tool. Internally, we use instant messaging both to keep in touch with one another and to coordinate on projects. However, it’s important to keep these two purposes separate. Maintaining one social channel and one business-focused channel prevents casual conversation from disrupting work.
For communication with customers, the use of email is the standard tool. Indeed, official design decisions should not be made lightly and need to be documented. In order to avoid delays and have everyone stick to action points, we make sure to chase up through phone or message, but always need to communicate through email. This helps ensure that both parties stay up-to-date on a project’s status and that we have written confirmations.
Documented, time zone-agnostic processes
Canonical’s Project Management team was well prepared for the full-scale shift to remote working because we already had a comprehensive Standard Operating Guide in place. The SOG lays out step-by-step instructions for each of our internal processes, so even if a team member has never performed a task before, they can see exactly what they need to do without having to consult a colleague.
When designing operational guidelines for a global, remote team, the key is to ensure that processes are consistent, centrally documented, and – most importantly – asynchronous. This means that team members should be able to collaborate across time zones without imposing delays on one another. Time zone-agnostic processes can be achieved using real-time systems for project management, and shared, cloud-based documents rather than local files.
Team sprints, which enable teams to collaborate, review and complete work in a short period of time, are a core component of agile project management, compressing weeks or months of work into just a few days. Given the intense and collaborative nature of sprints, they typically take place in person – but remote sprints are now a very real possibility.
Virtual sprints offer a considerably different experience to their traditional counterparts, and they can be highly effective. While an on-site sprint contains a certain aspect of relationship building, a virtual sprint is all about tangible results. Teams can be more focused on the work, and will often achieve outcomes that would not be possible in an office environment.
Mini team sprints are particularly well-suited to remote teams. Pulling together multiple people for an entire week can be challenging – especially if the sprint involves customer employees – but it’s much easier to schedule four hours of intense collaboration on a hyper-specific objective. And remote working enables the team to focus on that objective with minimal distraction.
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