Management of Distributed Engineering: Raise Your Game

When posed with a question about their most challenging aspect of their jobs, engineering managers often indicate that it is management that they find most difficult. Establishing and managing a global engineering team can be difficult in any field, however, the IT industry poses additional hurdles, as many businesses have offices in various countries and remote engineers may work from home. Bradley Scott, Vice President of Technology Products at Works, a business that creates remote engineering teams for global technology companies, notes that “managing remote teams is a matter of being open, consistent, and understanding.” He stresses that “the most important thing is to have everyone work together in plain sight.

Work has established a management system and allocated technical resources to promote and reward a collaborative environment. Some of their most innovative concepts include:

Adopt an open-door policy.

As the team leader, it is important to demonstrate effective and open communication. All information given or stored should be accessible to all users at the same time in the same way. Utilizing an online tool such as Trello can be beneficial in keeping track of tasks. In the event that members of the team at headquarters become engaged in a heated debate and start whiteboarding on the wall of the conference room, it is important to encourage input from all team members by immediately emailing a snapshot of the whiteboard to the rest of the team.

Assess and commend teamwork

Metrics such as code quality and commits are important, but it is also important to track metrics related to team morale and communication. To get an accurate gauge of how effectively and promptly information is being shared, it is also necessary to assess “soft skills”, such as how often a developer’s camera is turned off during video conferences. This can be an indicator of disengagement. To ensure transparency and proper understanding, it is important to explain what is being measured and why it is significant. Doing so will prevent any surprises during a performance assessment.

Get the word out to help developers succeed.

A survey of over 500 engineering managers showed that 80% of them found it difficult to find and retain talented programmers. To combat this challenge, organisations should create an environment where programmers can be successful regardless of their geographical location. In office teams, serendipitous moments can help foster creativity and collaboration. For example, a team lead may overhear a developer discussing a new technology in the break room and decide to assign them to a related project. For distributed teams, more intentional planning is necessary to ensure that developers have both official and casual channels to communicate their progress. Tools like Works can be used by project managers to search for developers with the specific skillsets needed for a project.

Assert the efficacy of distributed computing.

Many top-level executives are hesitant to embrace remote teams due to concerns regarding productivity. To ensure that management is able to gain insight into the work being done by developers, it is essential to adopt tools that facilitate transparency and accountability. This can be accomplished by using chat rooms, shared documents, and other forms of online collaboration to demonstrate the global distribution of work, as well as the quantity, origin, and cost of code being committed. Doing so provides upper-level management with a clear view of the progress being made by remote teams.

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