Content Marketing Specialist, teasing everyone into taking cute pictures for Instagram. Discovering the tech world bit by bit, and writing it all down on the agency's blog. Enthusiastic about everything visual. And sweets and dogs.
We’ve fulfilled the role of the remote development team a lot in the almost 4 years since we’ve been in the business of developing iOS and Android mobile apps. 75% of our clients work with us remote, while they’re located in another country, even another continent.
Entrepreneurs contact us from all over the world to discuss their mobile app ideas. Most of our clients are from the United States and the United Kingdom. We’re well aware of the situation: it feels very risky to leave such a big part of one’s business in the hands of a remote team, people located miles away.
It would be wise to consider both the cons and the pros of working with a remote team. Let’s have a look:
Cons of working with remote teams
- Management issues could easily arise if there’s not a product manager on the project to manage the remote development team and make sure deadlines are met. This issue is easily resolved if you’re working with a software development company.
- Availability of the remote team can also be clarified in the contract you have with them. It’s well known that the work on a mobile product isn’t finished with the app’s first release in the app store; there might be bugs, crashes, or new features you’ll need someone to work on.
- Communicating with a remote team will definitely be a lot more via online channels than face-to-face. Also, you’ll want to consider the time differences between your location and theirs. Which can also be a good thing: imagine waking up to all of the finished tasks the remote team has worked on while you’ve been sleeping.
- Still on the matter of time: searching for the perfect remote software development team can be time-consuming. Besides looking them up online, you might also want to pay them a visit at their headquarters, get a better feel of their culture, get to know the people you’d be working with (which is definitely recommended). On the other hand, not doing a thorough research on the product development partner is a big no-no, no matter location.
Pros of working with remote teams
As you can tell, all of the cons listed above can be resolved one way or the other, depending on the agreement you have with the remote team. And there definitely is a plus side to working with a remote development team, as opposed to having an in-house development team.
- First and foremost you’ll be lowering your production costs, and if you’re a startup you’ll want to lower your costs whenever possible. Working with a remote development team means you won’t be paying early wages, taxes, insurance, or any office maintenance, but just an hourly rate or fixed service fee agreed upon in the beginning.
- You’ll broaden your horizons talent wise: you have the entire world to pick your remote team from.
- Working with a remote team can also be a door opener to new markets. Who better to know a market thousands of miles away than the people living there? Always be on the lookout for new business opportunities.
There’s only so much research you can do on a mobile app development agency. You can see who these people are, what their culture is based on, and what their values are. You should definitely check out their portfolio, make sure you understand their capabilities and have a look at reviews of past clients.
In the end, it’s really only up to you if you’re willing to give working with a remote development team a try.
And if you do, there are some guidelines you’ll want to follow to ensure that your collaboration with your remote mobile app development partner is as good as it gets.
Transparency is the best policy
In early 2017 we conducted interviews with some of our current and past clients about the time they had to choose a mobile app development agency to develop their mobile app. Trust, turns out, is the most challenging factor when deciding which mobile development partner to go with, especially when we’re talking remote teams.
Ever since, we worked even more as we did before on installing a sense of trust for our clients, as early on as possible.
But it does take two to tango.
If you’re demanding transparency from your app development partner, then you have to be just as transparent in return. Think about it. It’s a win-win situation: you’ll know exactly how the project is progressing, while the mobile app development team will know exactly when and what is expected of them.
For every new mobile project we take up, we work up a document containing all of the info we have on the client’s product and business. This way, all of the requirements are clear for both us and the client, while we can always get back to this document to clarify things in the future.
A product specifications document consists of, but is not limited to:
- Project overview
- Project objectives
- Technology used for the project
- Project architecture
- User flows
- User stories (which include acceptance criteria for every user story)
Make sure a document like this exists from the very beginning of your collaboration with the remote team. You’ll be more relaxed knowing everyone is clear on the work that needs to be done.
Remote Teams & the Scrum Framework
You need a good understanding of the timeframes in which every feature of your mobile product will be implemented in order to correlate this with the business plan you have around your mobile app. Also, it’s important to the team as well; they need to know what is expected of them, and when.
Within the scrum framework you’ve got the product owner/product manager who assembles a document called the product backlog, which essentially is a prioritized wish list. During sprint planning, the cross-functional team pulls a first chunk of tasks that make sense together, and decide how to best complete them. The team then goes on to resolve their tasks within the actual sprint phase, while they also meet for what is called a daily scrum to keep each other posted on their progress. At the end of the sprint, the team’s work should be potentially shippable (for potential customer use, for example). The two last phases of the scrum process are the sprint review and the sprint retrospective, where the team draws knowledge from the way the product turned out, respectively the way the working process went along.
Here at tapptitude, our app development process is based on the agile software development methodology. The agile development process proved to be effective in more than one way:
- We take it one step at a time: we break the product development work into small increments which enables us to better focus on every feature of the mobile app
- Cross-functional teams work with a set of clear goals in mind, in all functions: planning, analysis, design, coding, unit testing, and acceptance testing
- Every iteration results in a working product that the client can work with and make further iterations if necessary
- Overall risk is minimized and the product can adapt to changes quickly; so can the team
- Face-to-face communication may not always be possible, but we use every daily scrum to the fullest and talk it all out amonst ourselves, or with the client as well
- Daily scrums also make for a tight feedback loop; by reporting our progress to each other and discussing impediments that come up (when they come up), we make sure to keep things moving forward in an efficient manner
Working with the scrum framework, it’ll be easier for you and the team to observe key timings and deadlines, as well as keep mid-term and long-term goals in mind.
Managing Remote Teams
A lot of our clients have a product manager on their team, but we find it’s best if we have a product manager of our own on every mobile project. Although we certainly encourage our app developers and designers to personally conduct discussions with the client, a product manager to bridge the relationship between the app development team and the client is a good asset.
A good product manager will be clear on the “what”, but not the “how”.
The product manager needs to perfectly understand
- what problem the mobile app is meant to solve – i.e. what features it requires,
- who it’s meant to solve this problem for – i.e. what user experience the product is meant to achieve and for whom,
- and, last but not least, what the business goals of the client are.
It’s a product manager’s job to listen carefully to the client, so that they can provide detailed info to the app development team on the specifications needed in the product.
But the secret to having everyone on the team truly interested and involved in the project, is to give them the freedom to figure out the best solutions, technical or otherwise, for the product.
Outlining the workflow from the beginning is extremely important: every person or team needs to know exactly what their responsibilities are, and they all need to be up to speed with each other’s progress.
A product manager will:
- Replace the client when talking to the remote team: they have all the info on the product, its end-user, and the business as well, so they’ll be able to answer the product development team’s questions
- Replace the remote team when talking to the client: they’ll keep you posted on the progress the team is making, and impediments they might be coming across
- Organize tasks and make sure deadlines are met
- Be a strategist: they’ll have their own input on what makes sense for the product and the business, and what doesn’t.
A few tools that should help in the process of working with a remote team:
- Trello – task management
- Jira – task management for more complex, long-term projects with a bigger team involved
- Slack – communication tool
- Skype – also a communication tool
In case you’ll be working with an agency like ours – a mobile app development agency, also add these two tools to your list as code repositories:
Communicate openly with the Remote Team
You and the remote mobile development team of your choice are in this together – don’t forget it.
You came up with the idea and they’re the ones turning that idea into a real-life mobile product. They want this to work out well just as much as you do.
Get to know these people. No one says to learn everything there is to know about them. But having even the smallest bit of a personal relationship with them will benefit everyone involved. Your chats will be more relaxed, and talking openly will be easier.
Trust me, you want the remote team you’re working with to be open with you. You want them to put in the time and effort to really think their tasks through, to advise you when necessary. Their know-how is a big part of the reason you hired them in the first place. Wouldn’t it be a waste for all that knowledge to stay behind a barrier of miscommunication?
Be open about your project. Tell the remote developers you’ve partnered up with the entire story of how you got to your idea. Tell them what makes your mobile app special, help them understand the unique value proposition of this mobile product. Get them interested in the project and they’ll translate all this info into an engaging mobile app, which is exactly what you want. Besides, they’ll be a lot more productive too if you get their creative juices flowing.
The Lean Canvas of your business would come in handy now. The Lean Canvas, proposed by Ash Maurya in his book Running Lean, is a business model hypothesis testing and validation tool. It’s also a simple, yet powerful tool, which can be used by the remote team to get a lot of valuable info about your product and your business, at a single glance.
Replace management with leadership
When you tell the story of your mobile app, don’t forget to mention the end-user. Better yet, dedicate an entire chapter to the end-user.
In the years that we’ve been activating as a mobile app development agency, we’ve come to the belief that the outset of any product should be the solution to a specific problem. And problems don’t just grow on trees; problems are linked to people with specific traits. And it’s those people who have the answers to A LOT of your business and product questions.
Both you, and the remote development team you’ve partnered up with, have to be well aware of those people, a.k.a. your target audience: their age, their location, their gender, their personal life, their careers, their wants, their needs, their list of things they can’t stand, and the list can go on forever. It’s up to you to know which aspects influence the outcome of your business, and to set your remote developers on the right path.
As we’ve said before, it’s really important to set clear goals for every member involved in the development of the mobile product. It’s in everyone’s best interest to establish alignment early on.
But leading a remote development team doesn’t mean micro-managing the hell out of those people. Your collaboration with a remote team will be a lot more successful if you lead those people by inspiring them. Be there to answer their questions, be it product or business wise, be open about the strengths and weaknesses of the project; be clear about your expectations and your vision. Be like an open book, but also give your remote co-workers space to come up with solutions.
Want to meet the people who build mobile apps with attitude?