Enabling the Autonomous Web Design and Development Team

John Reeve | June 12th, 2013 | , , , ,

Enabling the autonomous web design and development team

I recently took an extended road trip from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest. Between visiting family and beer tasting, my time was spent working remotely. Armed with a laptop, smart phone, and a few cloud-based apps, it’s easier than ever for web designers and developers to work while on the road.

The only challenge was staying in touch with my design and development team in the midst of our Scrum sprint. Working from a different location during different hours of the day from the team did present some obstacles. However, a little bit of effort and planning made these potential roadblocks trivialities.

A self organizing, autonomous design and development team is as important to the individual as it is to the business. Not only do these teams produce great work, they empower the individuals on the team to work in new ways from new locations. Here are a few of the methods we’ve used to achieve autonomy.

Cross train for cross coverage

Specialization is good and necessary, but it can also be a hindrance. If any one member of the team has too much ownership of any one area of a project, the team can falter in her absence.

The team should regularly engage in cross training so there is enough overlap to cover the unavailability of any one person on the team. We do this by documenting the more straightforward, procedural processes and pairing up to share expertise on the more abstract areas.

The more your team cross trains, the easier it will be to increase coverage for individuals who step away from the day-to-day for short periods of time.

Communicate in every way possible

When a team member goes remote, communication is critical. One way to improve communication is to open it up to all available channels. Use any media at your disposal to keep in touch with your team. On my road trip I found myself using Skype, GoToMeeting, phone calls, text messages and email – sometimes all in one day.

During one particular meeting I found myself drawing out sketches on paper, snapping photos and emailing them from my smart phone. The medium is not nearly as important as the message. The autonomous team must be able to communicate using whatever tools available to convey a clear message.

Give up control

A self organizing team will work more efficiently with less structure. Giving up control tells the team you trust them, while imposing too much control will result in resentment.

Autonomous teams thrive in environments that empower them to make both little and big decisions. If you trust the team to do more on their own, they will reward that trust with results. This is one of the reasons we use Scrum, because it empowers the team to complete larger goals than they might under the direct control of a project manager.

Use online software

In addition to the apps mentioned above for day-to-day communication, online project management apps typically provide a set of tools to help the team achieve autonomy. Find one that will enable your team and use it.

Our own design and development team built and uses Intervals for managing our sprints. Because it is web-based, I can log in any time, from anywhere, to check in with my team. A few clicks and I know exactly where to focus my efforts, what I can do next to best help this autonomous team succeed.

Photo credit: Mark Tyra

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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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