This is why optimization and efficiency are keywords for project delivery. After many attempts of finding the right way to communicate with the project teams — other than using Slack and submitting ourselves to the risk of a disengaged conversation we decided to test another practice that, up until now, seems to be the winner. We admit it, we were encouraged to test it also because our peers at Code for Australia have been doing this for quite a while, and it seems to do wonders in their community as well.
Every month, for two days, our operations and tech staff sit down comfortably in their chairs and make sure their headphones are plugged in. We currently have 18 active project teams and we hold a 45-minute call with each of them, all in the form of an extended SCRUM meeting, trying to figure out what progress has been made, what are the plans for the following month and what are the blockages that make work difficult. We also take advantage of the meetings to constantly get feedback on the overall interaction with the NGO and their experience as volunteers here.
We used to schedule meetings every now and then, with no set frequency, with no clearly defined goals, therefore, the hassle of discussing for days on end about what is the best time for a call (is it this evening, is 10 pm too late, can you make it before seven, what timezone are you on?) would slow down the project way too much and frustrate everyone involved. Knowing that in four weeks, you need to have internet connectivity for one hour on a Saturday is not a great effort. You book it way ahead in your calendar and you make sure you don’t miss it.
You cannot put pressure on volunteer work. Deadlines are not our thing, and we always mention that to anyone who asks how do we manage to deliver projects with no timeline. We do have a timeline, we just don’t promise delivery like a company would. Once they have the MVP clear in mind, every team plans for the next steps, estimates workloads and sets deliverables and KPIs. However, we must take into account how many hours can any member of the team punch in.
In an NGO you have to come to terms with the fact that the unexpected is living with you under the same roof, and you need to plan for the worst every time. Sometimes your UX designer is working late at his job, another day your Tech Lead needs to stay at home with the kids, other days, you just don’t feel like it. And that’s ok. But the project needs to stay on track. Having a fixed day every month when you have to sit down and analyze how your work is developing brings in an extra twitch to your motivation to make sure you make progress every 30 days.
…and solve them as soon as possible. At the same time, it is a great opportunity to learn from the volunteers about necessary improvements. Also, how to tailor to the work style of every project team, all without losing sight of the standard workflow we have in place.
Let’s face it, Slack is a jewel when it comes to remote team management, however, holding a debate, developing a strategy, testing assumptions and planning software development in writing, really need a real-time connection pretty often. Also, it’s nice to put a face on a slack ID and actually spend some quality time with the people who decided to join the same team, sharing the same motivation and desire to change things for the better. We sure know that many friendships have been born in our community.