Over the past few years, a lot of our work flows have changed. The pandemic caused us to rethink the way we were working and look for new ways to connect and collaborate. Product teams have also had to deal with a lot of shifting staff due to the great resignation and teams expanding and contracting.
Over the past few months we’ve listened to some of our clients who were dealing with major problems in vendor communication between a distributed team, so we thought we would take a moment to outline the most important processes to develop a clear communication structure with your technology teams.
For two decades, Valtira has strived to hire and retain top talent. People who are curious by nature and thrive when asked to solve hard problems or integrating emerging technologies into our customers’ tech stacks.
But having great talent is simply not enough. To successfully drive digital transformation and make the most of your precious technology budget, teams need to be working efficiently and always focused on business goals.
Oftentimes when a project goes off course, it’s not due to a lack of skill set or experience within the development teams, it’s from a breakdown in communication between the development teams, product owners, business leadership or vendor relationships. This can result from things like poorly written user stories, bad estimates, scope creep or leadership not being aware of changes to the project as development progresses among millions of other things.
Here is a list of processes Valtira follows to facilitate clear communication with our clients and that we have learned to be essential when considering any new technology vendor:
1. Clear communication (and not just in the sales process)
We’ve all been through it. You are making a decision of which vendor to use for your next project and the red carpet is rolled out. Every email, text and call is followed up quickly, but then you sign and the project gets kicked off and you never receive that level of quality again.
Avoid this pitfall by committing to maintaining clear communication from the start. Within two weeks of a signed contract we have a kickoff meeting with all the project stakeholders. In the prior estimating phase we develop a list of all the priorities of the build along with a timeline of all resources allocated to a project. Our Project Management team creates a project plan to share at kickoff which introduces the team, sets up meeting cadence and communication expectations, and a timeline with all important dates and milestones included. Our team will revisit that project plan each week to ensure the project is staying on track.
2. Communicate bad news as it comes up, don’t save it for later
Anyone who has been involved in the software development process knows that unexpected problems come up along the way. The worst thing you can do is ignore problems, so that they build up at the end of the project creating chaos during what should be a launch.
Valtira mitigates this risk by creating refined estimates. We generally start estimation of epics with rough t-shirt sizing to give our clients an idea of the magnitude of each functionality addition. Before we put those epics into sprints we have our developers refine the estimates, leaving some time for unexpected issues but not so much that it bloats our estimates. In our Sprint Planning session we bring the estimates forward and talk the client team through them. From there our developers will report on progress in the daily, bi-weekly or weekly status meetings. If an estimate is going off track we flag it for a team review. We need to get to the bottom of why it’s off, how much do we expect it to go off course and how does this impact the budget and timeline.
Going through this process makes sure our clients are not in the dark and the estimation being off doesn’t sneak up on them. Typically we can reduce scope in another area or issue a change request to account for the change in estimation but doing this early allows us to be mindful of the change and keep the project on track. Saving this news to avoid the conversation could mean that the project runs out of budget before launch creating a situation where no one is happy.
3. Have a product owner on both sides
Our most successful clients delegate a product owner internally to collaborate and oversee the project jointly with our product owner. This helps the team on many levels. An internal product owner can have a direct line of sight into what is most important to the company leadership team. They can clearly communicate what features and functionality are of the highest priority to show the leadership team meaningful progress is being made. The internal product owner also has in-depth knowledge of product budgets and estimations and will be able to communicate with the wider leadership team on project progress.
Oftentimes products evolve as an idea moves through the various stages of design and development. If a team loses sight of the initial business goals of the project it can be catastrophic to the whole effort. An internal product owner can mitigate that risk by working with our project management team to identify changes to the schedule early and often.
4. Focus on the partnership, not the project
Many of our clients have been with us for over a decade. We believe the best way to achieve this is by helping our clients make decisions that are right for their business. We don’t push any internal agendas and we are technology agnostic. We try to help advise our clients on the most logical next step, that will create a foundation they can build upon in the future. For example, if we’re making some AWS or Azure infrastructure enhancements and it makes sense to upgrade security features at the same time, our devops team will let our clients know the cost difference and give them the information they need to make an informed long-term decision.
There are also times where our clients choose to take on some technical debt. It sounds scary but this can often be the right decision. When a new idea has not shown its value to the business yet, there are times when an MVP (minimum viable product) can be sufficient in proving out the idea before making it scalable to millions of users.
We work to be our clients trusted advisors, not just for the immediate project but for the long haul.
5. Collaborative budgeting
Creation and approval of budgets can be very disruptive to teams. Gaps created by business processes can disturb the rhythms of projects and reduce a team’s velocity. To get ahead of this our Project Managers work with internal Product Owners to develop phased budgets early on. This allows business leaders to plan spend and for teams to plan resources ahead of time guaranteeing that the team will retain its most valuable team members.
This also allows us to bring the high-level budgeting into the sprint planning process, where the team can determine what epics should be in which phase. Having a clear roadmap allows for everyone to have transparent insight over the project timeline and what features are coming when.
Technology is hard, but bad communication can make the software development process even harder.
Last minute surprises, missed launches and blown budgets can be a thing of the past by employing a proper process.
Want to chat about getting your next project kicked-off right? Reach out to set up a time to chat.