Managing Software Projects Across Time Zones (How do they do it?)

New technology and innovations mean that we’re in a golden age when it comes to collaboration. Software and other projects can now be delegated across the world, but making this happen can be a challenge for first-timers and seasoned pros alike. One of the biggest issues is time zones. How exactly do you keep a team in sync when they are likely working at different times? Here are some tips on how to manage this scenario.

Matthew Tabin
Co-founder & CEO

Why Build A Remote Team For Your Software?

In some cases, it may be a question of exactly why anyone would be willing to take on the extra management hassle of a remote team. There are a few key reasons worth discussing here.

A. The right people for the right job: Remote work for areas like software development means that the amount of available team members for a given project has grown exponentially. If you want that top developer or other professional on your side, you don’t want geographic barriers keeping them away.

B. Expense: This is especially important for smaller companies and startups. In some cases, you may be based in a city where the average rate for a given professional is more than you can afford. Outsourcing to a professional who is more affordable can be the difference between your software actually being developed and stalling out in the concept stage.

C. Targeting an audience: In some cases, you may be targeting a geographic area with your app or software, but aren’t necessarily based in said area. In that case, bringing on someone with knowledge of the local populace is simply good business sense. This applies doubly if translation is going to be needed at any point during the process.

D. Time coverage: Having a remote team makes it possible to cover a wider span of hours for live products that may need continuous integration. The same applies for support projects as well.

Addressing The Issues

There are a lot of key reasons why you may want to build a workforce across different time zones. Just because the benefits outweigh challenges doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them.

There are a few key steps you can make to keep a team in step like clockwork, even if they’re not keeping the same hours.

For starters, you want to make sure that you are properly investing in project management tools, like Github or Slack. These are useful even for teams in the same office, but for international software projects, they are essential. Tools like these allow your team members to collaborate in real-time, despite the distance. One of the top examples in terms of popularity is Jira, a suite of cloud-based offerings designed specifically for project management for software teams. From early planning to tracking project progress to reporting after the fact, Jira is a multi-purpose option. In crunch time, a tool like Float is great for real-time scheduling for different tasks.

Equally important is making sure that you have a communication plan. In your conventional software development atmosphere, if there was some sort of bug or a quick question that needed asking, you could just walk to someone’s office and ask them. This isn’t feasible across different time zones, so you need to make sure there is a set time to have open discussions on tasks and issues, as well as a process to escalate them to deal with anything urgent or blockers in a person's work.

There are three main ways you can go about this:

A. Set weekly meetings at a time that’s convenient for everyone to discuss matters of importance.

B. Set smaller-scale meetings every day, such as a daily standup to help go over what everyone’s tasks are.

C. We also find it good for the team to leave a daily text based 1,2,3 (what I did, what I am going to do and if I have any blocker/obstacle) in chat channel for the project manager and the rest of the team to see.

Which one works better (or even a combination of the two) is going to boil down to your team’s needs and preferences. On another note, in some cases, people may need to collaborate on a task, but won’t be available at the same time. Tools like Trello or Jira are useful here, as they allow people to leave their comments, while others can respond to them later. The end result is a sort of asynchronous communication.

The Right Remote Culture

Up until this point, we’ve largely been talking about technical details that help when you’re working on a software project across different time zones. However, it’s not all about the technical aspect of software, but also about the relationships and culture between your development team. Establishing this early on will ensure that your team can still collaborate well, even despite the physical difference and working hours.

Building this properly starts from the top. Your team isn’t going to be able to constantly reach out to leadership or senior developers for directives, so it’s essential that you take the time to properly establish expectations right out of the gate. This may be done with the help of written best practices and standards. Regularly updated objectives and goals are key, as well as acting quickly if you find someone is having trouble meeting them.

Also, just because you may not see your team face-to-face doesn’t mean that they don’t need appreciation. Taking the time to give a brief comment thanking them for their hard work can mean a lot. Making sure to establish this sense of teamwork will remind your developers that they’re not just solo workers completing tasks, but part of a greater project. It can be easy for people to lose sight of that when their nose is to the grindstone.

One good way to establish this is through peer code reviews on committed work. Not only do these serve as a good way to ensure quality is up to standards, but it increases the visibility of what each team member is working on. Finally, there’s an added sense of community from everyone helping each other out.

In order to have a successful time with your software project when your team is spread across different time zones, it’s all about building a proper culture, on top of the technical details. Everyone needs to know exactly what your company is working towards and what best practices are, so they can do the independent jobs remote work demands. Along with this, it’s also important that you are able to have those open and clear lines of communication. This ensures that when you do need to reach out to someone, you can make contact right away.

This mentality applies to your own team as well as any third-party partners that you work with. At 2amigos, we understand this balance well. Composed of an international team ourselves, our knowledge of both relationships and software makes us the perfect solution to turn your software from concept into reality.