August 25, 2015

The Thousand-Mile Boss

Having a boss who’s on the other side of the globe, with can be quite a challenge. Some may think that it’s great not having him or her looking over your shoulder every now and then, but within that gap comes a few extra steps that you’ll need to take in order to maintain productivity in your projects.

I’ve handled several mobile development projects whose product development (features, specifications, user experience etc.) all come from my boss in Washington DC, USA. Since my team and I reside and work in the Philippines, communication was not that easy.

Time-difference. The time difference alone is a big obstacle. 11:00 AM in the Philippines is 11:00 PM in Washington DC. More often than not, I’ll receive replies to my e-mails the next working day. This means that until then, all questions, clarifications and the like are left unanswered. To make sure that the team doesn’t end up getting blocked during development, I had to be very pre-emptive and thorough. Before a team member even starts working on a task, all possible questions and issues to be encountered should be sent in advance. This way, the team member can continue working on something else and by the time he/she arrives to that particular task, the possible questions or issues have already been discussed and addressed.

Of course, not all of issues were brought up early. Some issues only arise as the team started working on their tasks. To minimize the back-and-forth exchange of e-mails, I had to be very meticulous with the content. If for example, we found a possible bug while implementing a certain algorithm in the program, not only should I mention and describe the bug, I should also include several cases and scenarios with that bug to paint a clearer picture for my boss. Aside from that, I had to include possible solutions to the problem in advance. This way, there would be no exchanges of “What if this?” or “What if that?” which would take several days. It’s kind of like sending my questions and at the same time answering them. So I’m basically just waiting for a decision, which is typically one reply away.

Really Detailed Reporting. Not being here to see everything in person, it’s difficult to be confident in the way projects progress. Even with Asana, a task management and monitoring tool, we had to send daily reports on the tasks that we’ve worked on for the day via e-mail. We also held scrums in the morning and in the evening of every day to discuss the statuses of all the projects. Every week, Burndown Charts were sent as well. The chart included the percentage of completion for each task as well as the remaining work to be done (by the hour). With this, he can see how fast or how slow the team is moving forward as well as the bottlenecks for each project.

Maintaining a long-distance working relationship is heavily dependent on communication skills. By being able to discuss problems/issues in an efficient manner, my boss and I saved us tons of time in development. And by making sure that he is well-informed with our progress, he was able to trust us to do our jobs properly and in a timely manner, without having to micromanage us.
 

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