Remote Software Development Amid COVID-19 Outbreak: Key Challenges & Best Practices
Difficult times lead to great opportunities! Remote Software Development is one of those opportunities for businesses and software firms to scale big.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world with turbulence, taking the life toll of thousands. Businesses have come to a standstill, while economic headwinds continue to prevail.
As lockdowns and social distancing has become prevalent across the globe, many companies have succumbed to work-from-home to prevent the wheels of the economy from stalling out. However, for IT companies, a bigger challenge is to pave the way for remote software development.
As per reports, interest in telemedicine- typically low activity rates, has jumped 616 per cent since the COVID-19 outbreak began. While the demand for web conferencing application is up 445% and video platforms up to 327%.
Some would say — software development is a rewarding profession. Give them a computer, cutting-edge tools, steady Internet connectivity, and other necessary resources, and they can build software solutions from anywhere in the world. True. But developing software is not one man’s job; it is teamwork where experts from different fields come together, brainstorm, and collaborate to develop high-performance, robust, and scalable software products.
And when everyone is working from their homes, collaboration and communication seem far-fetched. Not every software developer is accustomed to working remotely — there are several impediments like improper work environment, lack of trust, and procrastination that can impact their productivity at home.
As a team leader or project manager, it is your responsibility to identify and eliminate the bottlenecks by implementing remote software development best practices.
Key Barriers to Remote Software Development
Developing software remotely can be challenging for most developers. It is difficult to simulate the professional work environment at home, given the clutter and chaos that is normal to any house.
There are various impediments that can affect the productivity of your team, directly impacting the quality of the final product and cost of development. Understanding the challenges of remote software development will help address the same in an efficient manner, ensuring your project is up and running.
1. Lack of Resources
Get it straight; despite the remote nature of software development, most IT companies do not equip their people with the right processes and tools required to work from home.
Those who do, have a well-equipped remote team working on software development even amid coronavirus pandemonium. However, most software programmers, coders, and testers who are working from home lack the resources for fast and efficient development.
While computers and internet connectivity at home are not new normal for software developers anymore, there are various other tools and processes that make the final product full-proof.
According to the research by the Standish Group, 10.6% of software development project failure was the because of ‘Lack of Resources’.
These may include some sort of hardware or software installations, online tools, or setting up the entire infrastructure for software coding or testing. So, not having a proper framework is one of the biggest barriers to remote software development.
2. Poor Communication
One of the major impediments to working from home is the lack of proper communication. Most software development companies do not have a strategic communication system in place when it comes to working on a project remotely.
Virtual communication often lacks the professionalism and dedication of face-to-face conversation. Distractions are common when working from home, and this leads to miscommunication or not having a clear understanding of project guidelines and KPIs.
Poor communication at the end of the team leader or project manager can result in loss of control, lack of employee motivation, and not achieving the results as specified. At the same time, over-communication can also hinder the spirit of your team members as they take it as a sign of distrust.
Often, project managers are found to be calling up their remote team every 2 hours to get an update. This clearly indicates a lack of cooperation manual, trust, and transparency in the process. Too many interactions throughout the day can cause your team members to lose focus and motivation.
Therefore, it is crucial to have an effective communication plan in place — not over-doing or under-doing the same, especially for a remote software development project.
3. No Transparency in the Process
Lack of transparency mostly occurs because the project manager fails to set the KPIs straight and clear. This results in ambiguity among the team members. They are unable to understand what is expected of them, why, and by when. This can cause employee dissatisfaction. One team member is often found to be over-burdened with work than others because the entire process lacks the clarity of goals, roles, and responsibilities.
At the end of your team members, trust issues may arise because there is a tendency to skip schedules or procrastinate when working from home. Are they working as scheduled or planning to do everything the last minute only to impact the quality of the final product? Trust is not built in a day, especially when people are working from their homes. Here, effective communication, collaboration, and motivation can help.
4. Lack of Control
Poor control in remote software development is not surprising, especially when you are constantly hit with the news of COVID-19 spreading globally and businesses getting shut down. Under the pressure of getting the project completed on time and at minimal cost, you will get more nervous and start losing trust on your team when things do not get delivered as specified. Furthermore, getting all your team members together on the same platform and, at the same time, can be challenging. Continuous monitoring becomes difficult when working remotely, and this will further make you lose control of the process.
5. Data Insecurity
When your team is working remotely, it is likely you would share ideas, innovations, and data with them as you would do when they work at the office. However, the difference here is the lack of network security and not fulfilling data security standards as laid by your company.
The project manager and team members should be careful in sharing and accessing data in a responsible manner that does not hurt the bottom line of your company or the client’s.
6. Delay in Project Delivery
As discussed earlier, procrastination is one of the biggest loopholes of working remotely. The work environment at home is more laid back, and chaos is common. Amid this, it is difficult for software developers to focus and complete the project on time.
So, these are the typical bottlenecks of remote software development that you can battle off by having an effective strategy in place. In the next section, we will describe on the best practices of remote software development that will help address these challenges in an efficient manner.
Remote Software Development Best Practices
When your team members are all scattered around, it is crucial to have best practices in place. You can keep track of all stages of software development, without getting frustrated or pressurizing your team.
Discussed here are good practices you should implement to streamline the process, build collaboration, reduce costs, and timely deliver the project.
1. Set Goals and KPIs in a Clear, Transparent & Concise Manner
This is one of the most critical stages of remote software development — setting the goals and expectations in a clear and unambiguous manner. Breakdown the bigger goal into smaller tasks that are rational, time-bound, and easy to achieve.
Make sure the roles and responsibilities of your team members do not overlap and are well-understood without any uncertainty.
At this stage, it is crucial to clearly lay down the communication tools and channels, set up work schedules as per availability of the team members, schedule regular meetings, and establish guidelines for monitoring, time tracking, and reporting.
2. Schedule Regular Meetings
For effective communication, it is vital that you conduct regular meetings with your team. Follow Daily Scrum meeting of 15 minutes each day to discuss project achievements and the backlog of the past day, and what should be the plan for the next 24 hours.
Regular, time-boxed meeting eliminates the needs for long-stretched, unwanted meetings at wee hours. Also, it helps build trust and collaboration among the team.
The Scrum meetings should be used to discuss what the team has done in the past 24 hours, factors that have been impeding their productivity or performance, technical questions and problem-solving, and what and how they would achieve the tasks for the next 24 hours.
If the team requires detailed requirements or additional information, provide the same at the earliest to minimize delays.
For virtual meetings and communication in a secure and scalable manner, you can use remote working tools such as Skype, Google Duo, Google Drive, Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, Toggl, etc.
Microsoft has gained 12 million Team, Slack has picked up 7,000 new customers, Cisco Webex has logged 5.5 billion meeting minutes in the first 11 days of March (3.2 million meetings a day), and Zoom has added more members in Q1 than in all of 2019. — Forrester
3. Foster a Mindset of Communication & Collaboration
Working cohesively in a team, that too remotely, can be challenging. Despite the availability of online tools to connect everyone virtually, it lacks the emotions and professionalism of face-to-face conversation.
This ends up in poor communication and misunderstandings, affecting the overall quality of the final product. Therefore, it is a project manager’s role to foster the right attitude for teamwork and communication among its team members.
4. Get Feedback
Any successful project depends on mutual understanding between team members and the project manager. This is more important when everyone is working remotely from their homes.
Remember, it is not a one-man’s job. So you cannot always dictate and expect your people to follow. Allow them to provide feedback, share experiences, and help you identify loopholes in the project. This will make them feel more important, motivating them towards improved productivity.
Also, you can gather valuable insights regarding the software from people who are actually working on it.
Feedback helps you clarify your understanding. It helps you see things in new ways and makes you and your work better.
5. Team Building Activities Can Promote Collaboration
Working remotely from home can be stressful for many. Keep your team members always motivated that will set the right mindset for effective collaboration. Do not ever call them up for project updates; virtually socialize with them whenever possible.
Create digital spaces and celebrate special occasions with your team members. Get your team together to play virtual games like football tournaments, etc. This will help promote better team building and bonding.
A study concluded, Connecting collaboration to the motives of success-minded team members is what unlocks productive teamwork.
6. Use Online Tools
Ditch the clichéd emails and bring all your people together on a single platform by using advanced communication tools online. This way, you can set up meetings with all team members, foster interactions among everyone, track performances, and build effective collaboration. Use only tools that are supported, secure, and scalable, and everyone is comfortable with it.
7. Time Tracking is a Must
Just because it is advised not to pressurize your remote team members does not mean you will lose control of the project. Delay in project delivery can significantly increase your overall development cost and can be detrimental to your business reputation as well.
Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that all tasks are completed on time as scheduled. Make sure your team uses tools like Clockify or Calendar to keep track of the deadlines. This is an important aspect you should discuss in the Daily Scrum meeting. Any backlog must be immediately cleared before moving onto the next day’s tasks.
8. Establish Reporting Guidelines
The reporting procedures must be clearly communicated to and understood by all team members. Provide clear guidelines as to the reporting format, timeframe, and other elements to ensure the software development project is on track, and results can be achieved.
9. Allow Time for Relaxation
Do not be too stringent in your work schedules. Remember, people are working from their homes in the midst of a crisis situation. Therefore, it is imperative that you be humane and allow flexibility to your team members. Set up work schedules they are comfortable with.
Overlapping schedules can help. Allow time to relax. Do not over-pressurize them. It is unprofessional if you continue pestering your team members every second to get an update of the project.
Implementing the above practices will help you keep track of remote software development and achieve timely results without being overly assertive.
It is essential to keep your team motivated, empower them more, foster trust and transparency, and provide a work environment they are comfortable working in.
At the same time, effective communication, time tracking, and reporting can help you have better control of the project.
Originally published at https://radixweb.com on May 5, 2020.