As the coronavirus swept around the globe at the beginning of this year, many countries were forced into lockdown to slow down the spread. With over 15 million cases worldwide and nearly 634 thousand deaths to date, lockdowns became a necessary approach to keeping these numbers lower than the predictions. This meant that those who would usually travel to work now had to find ways to either continue working from home or face being furloughed.
Software development teams, in particular, would have been used to daily face to face meetings and ready access to all the tools they required. They have now had to find ways to adapt to a virtual way of working, basically overnight. Here are some of the challenges they have faced and how they’re overcoming them.
Software developers working in an office environment are at an advantage when it comes to communication. When they work alongside others, there is a natural element to problem-solving and sharing ideas, as they can hear and see what each team member is working on. Even when one person is speaking with an internal or external customer on the phone, it is easy to catch the conversation and suggest any helpful insights to solve the issue. This is an important element of a collocation environment, which is next to impossible to reproduce when a team is working virtually.
However, the challenge of collaboration can be overcome by carefully defining roles and responsibilities at the start of any project. Team leaders have had to look for new tools that enable them to develop release planning documents to help other team members realize and maintain their roles, such as the Circle Dot Chart. This is a chart containing connected circles that identify key individuals and key roles on the vertical axis and key deliverables on the horizontal axis. The lines represent tasks, and the circles are displayed at the intersections of tasks and responsibilities. This helps prevent two people from working on the same task and avoids missed deliverables.
As well as this, some companies are introducing virtual happy hours to encourage their teams to share their personal plans for the weekend, thereby strengthening team bonds.
Hiring new team members and getting them trained up has also become a challenge since face to face interviews are no longer being conducted. Additionally, hiring remote workers means overcoming language barriers and figuring out time zone differences. On top of that, the nationwide lockdowns that have been imposed have caused other businesses to adapt to online services, and so software developers have seen a marked increase in the demand for apps.
If some of the IT team have been furloughed due to family commitments, this means they have to work with a skeleton staff. In order to ensure they still produce apps of the highest quality, software developers have, therefore, had to outsource some tasks, such as QA manual testing, to companies like Global App Testing. Global App Testing has helped software companies save millions in estimated losses due to software fails, which is a major plus in times of economic turmoil.
The challenge of finding talent to onboard has also been outsourced by many companies so that they save both time and resources. It has become extremely difficult to train individuals where stand up meetings are now a thing of the past. Outsourcing to a recruitment company solves this issue.
Company culture is something that was taken for granted in a pre-Covid-19 world, as it’s simply made up of the experience and relationships within a workplace. A healthy company culture regulates behavior, impacts motivation, and creates a sense of cohesion. However, when the whole team is ordered to work from their own homes, this is unfortunately lost. The fact that the only means of communication is via messaging or the occasional video chat means that good intentions are lost, and conversation is left open to interpretation.
To overcome this barrier, senior managers of software development teams have tried to conduct periodic meetings using tools like Zoom to help bring the team back together and give them a chance to discuss any developments or issues. They are also turning to cloud storage to upload recent strategy documents that are updated and reviewed regularly, which can then be downloaded by all team members before any meetings.
Taking a more hands-off approach by working from remote locations can cause some teams to start to lose focus on the product vision. Losing sight of the vision means that the software team will end up going off course and dealing with problems that either could be dealt with later or needn’t have been there in the first place. This causes an excess of wasted time and a reduction in productivity. If this problem isn’t addressed as early as possible, it can cause a company to spend over their budget only to deliver a product that is not up to par.
The solution to this is to hold regular road map reviews, preferably monthly, in order to discuss and update anything that is still under development. Teams have again been using video conferencing software to hold these meetings whereby the developers can look at exactly where they have been, where they are planning to go and what the next steps should be. They will then agree on a minimum viable product, which is then broken down into the different project parameters, such as project cost, product costs, quality, and timing. They are then free to work towards their targets without too much interference from senior management.
Although the coronavirus and the resulting lockdowns have caused some businesses to shut down completely, software developers have been at an advantage in that most of the challenges that come with remote working can be overcome.