How to collaborate with teams.

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Collaboration is the key to building lasting things, relationships or anything that is meaningful. I am writing this post to share my learnings on collaboration that I have figured out while running my startup. This post is focused on managing cross-functional teams of engineers, designers, operations, human resources, business, vendors etc. I have realized that I can apply the same framework to my personal life as well with some tweaks.

When you are working with different teams there is a constant struggle to get things moving and manage expectations. Still working in large teams is required to build things that matter.
There are few basic pillars which work well when you are managing a cross-functional team of engineers, designers, users and business stakeholders. These are the methods I have learned and are yielding good results for us.

Get the basics right:

1. Build Relationships- Build relationships with team leaders of the cross-functional teams and individual members if possible. You need to build trust with them at individual levels, understand their needs and goals.

2. Share (establish) a common vision- This should be present before you start. If it is not there set it up immediately. You will need the help of all the key stakeholders for creating a vision. This is usually the product vision. It answers the question of why we are building the product.

3. Communication (Flow of information) – Clear communication will be the most important thing in managing a large multicultural and diverse team including your outsourced partners. Information needs to flow freely for people to feel excited about what they are doing.
A clear and right communication plan keeps everyone on the same page. Projects suffer delays and escalation because people (or small teams) within larger teams work in silos. Communication helps in breaking these silos and bringing everyone in the same room.
Some ideas to help with information flow-

  • Circulate regular newsletter stating project goals and performance.
  • Write clear emails.
  • All meetings should be followed by Next steps and MoM mailer to everyone.
  • Product documentation is available for the entire team- like product roadmap, quarter plans, etc.

4. Build shared goals- Once step one and 2 are established you can work with them to build shared goals for your product. These goals can be short-term like quarterly goals and year-long goals. Keep these goals agile as they will be affected by the change in the product vision or if the company decides to pivot.

5. Call out good work- Letting people know that they are valued is crucial. Be specific in praising people for their work and do it often. It keeps the moral high when the going gets tough.

6. Reviews- Do a monthly team review of your- goals, progress and direction. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and there is no ambiguity.

How to manage work with vendors:

Managing outsourcing partners or teams which are not in-house requires a huge amount of detailing form your end. You will need to decide with the team on what modules can be outsourced, call out the dependencies and their resolution and manage risk.
On a day to day basis, we decide modules which have least dependencies are the right candidate for a remote team. We also need to take care of confidentiality and what and how much we can share with the other team (level of transparency). If you cannot share everything about the project and the bigger picture, the remote team at least should know the details about their modules and its impact on the larger system.

What we do

Once we have established the goals with the remote team on a daily basis we maintain an excel sheet clearly mentioning what tasks (stories which cannot be divided further) need to be accomplished and the timelines. The remote team will fill any dependencies they foresee, estimated time and the actual time team takes to do the task, who is assigned to task etc.
This excel is reviewed on alternate days spending not more than 10 minutes unless something critical has come up.
After a project is completed we go through these excel sheets and review our estimates and vendor deliverables. This data helped us in providing better estimations to clients, identifying right vendors and improving overall product delivery.
We developed this method after we faced hiccups in our initial projects when we started the company. The issues were from both ends. I have mentioned the major ones below.

1. As an outsourcing partner, we were not consulted before giving timelines to business.

2. Say ‘No’- We tried to stick to the timelines committed by the client, ideally, we should have pushed back explaining the reasons and negotiated.

3. As a startup, we wanted to do everything. It does not work that way. Set clear expectation of what can be accomplished and what not in the given timelines and any technological constraints. Setting right expectation is the key.

4. Plan properly. Do not assume your team will work on weekends or any other holiday. It may work in some circumstances but is not a long-term strategy. It will spoil your company culture.

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