By Patrick Fuller, Principal, Fuller Solutions
Building virtual technology development teams is a critical factor to pulling off many successful IT projects. Rarely does an organization have all of the internal resources it needs. Talent must be recruited, either domestically or internationally.
At Fuller, we complete most of our IT projects leveraging talent from around the country, and sometimes augmenting with nearshore or offshore resources. From our experience, the following 5 components are foundational to building successful virtual technology teams.
While there are different theories about how to screen for talent, we start with someone’s personality and work ethic, followed by their skill set. Naturally, someone needs to have the baseline skills for the job, but if they don’t have the right personality or possess a poor work ethic, no amount of skills can compensate. When someone has the right personality and work ethic, but lacks some of the needed skills, we have found it’s worth helping that person ramp up their skills through training and mentoring.
We have also found that hiring individuals with a level of seniority who have prior remote work experience is helpful. Ensuring the individual has a quiet place to work is also important.
Creating a shared culture among teams that work remotely is much harder than it is for onsite teams. A strong project lead is required. This person should conduct daily IT project checkpoint meetings, which build teamwork and culture. Along with daily meetings, weekly phone calls with each team member are a good way to build rapport and a sense of connection.
Finally, we celebrate the success of an IT development project. Team members will likely work together again. Bringing the team together to complete final work and celebrate builds camaraderie that will carry over to the next project in the pipeline. For U.S.-based teams, we like to bring everyone together in-person toward the project’s end. The team will work side-by-side for a few days on final work, followed by a release and celebratory dinner. If teams are offshore, we have utilized Webcam to simulate the in-person experience as much as possible.
Articulating a shared vision of the project at the beginning and at each iteration helps to create a foundation for good communication. At the end of the project, conducting a demonstration helps to create closure. Setting expectations early and often is also essential.
Deadlines met on time or early, tasks completed bug-free and other “along the way” accomplishments should be recognized through either a team email on during daily checkpoints when the full team is present.
As mentioned above, daily checkpoints and weekly phone calls build culture, but they also foster communication to review progress and address any challenges that arise. Bringing the team together in-person quarterly (if the team is a permanent ongoing team) and for the release and celebration (for both permanent and temporary teams) goes a long way toward building effective communication.
The role of technology cannot be understated when it comes to virtual technology teams. The following tools are required:
- 24/7 Internet access
- Virtual meeting technology
- Virtual messaging such as Microsoft Lync
- Cloud services such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services that offer a code repository; development environment; quality assurance environment; and centralized repository for user stories, documentation, bug tracking.
It is important that the team is well trained on how to use the technology and has 24/7 access to it. Hard-to-use systems, lack of access or non-scalable or non-replicable environments will hinder success.
One of the reasons why we hire for personality and work ethic first, as mentioned above, is that without it, accountability for one’s work is unlikely. Through providing the right culture, communication and technology, the environment for accountability can easily be created. However, if the team member does not have a strong work ethic or is not the right fit for the team, they will contribute more problems than solutions to the IT project.
The Fuller team has many years of experience building virtual IT development technology teams and delivering successful IT projects. We have learned a lot along the way. We’d love to hear about your IT projects and would welcome the chance to work together.