The sudden onset of the pandemic brought radical changes to many aspects of our lives. Routines, habits, ways of interacting with the outside world, all of these and more were unexpectedly transformed. Although the pandemic resulted in many negative and tragic consequences, some of the resulting changes to the way we worked opened up new perspectives and opportunities for individuals and for businesses.
According to Gartner, business spending on digital products and services is expected to increase by an average of 8-9% in 2021; almost twice as much as the previous year. Conservative industries and companies that previously did not even consider large-scale digitalization and transitioning to an online environment are now looking for solutions that will enable them to provide comfortable remote work for their employees while improving their internal and external provision of services.
The global demand for digital transformation services significantly exceeds the available supply. Businesses that decide to pursue digitalization can face a number of challenges, one of which is the lack of sufficient engineering resources in their geographic location. Boris Sabotovich, our leading project expert and the Director of Technology Solutions at EPAM Anywhere Business, in his interview reveals the importance of hiring a remote development team. This kind of cooperation model may be the best answer to the problem of shortage of specialists, because remote work has already proven its effectiveness.
A team formed using freelance platforms. A popular source for recruiting and hiring remote teams are the many available freelance platforms. Using these platforms to build a team may appear to be cost-efficient, but it can be costly in terms of time - both in the short and long term. All the stages of the hiring process for each team member, and the management of the team, will fall on the client's shoulders.
Another challenge is that the freelancer ratings provided by the various platforms are sometimes not an indicator of the quality of the freelancer’s work, but of the "adequacy" of the contractor: compliance with agreements, normal communication, and ability to look for compromises. Those characteristics certainly are not bad, but serious projects require far more than basic communication skills; they demand experience and expertise.
Creating a remote team using freelance platforms can be like looking for a needle in a haystack - the task requires considerable time and effort, with no guarantee of a good result. This option can be useful, but you may not want to trust your most important projects to a freelance platform.
Your own offshore team. This approach can be very effective because it allows the client to select exceptional talents from labor markets in different countries. This can be a particularly useful approach if the client either knows the chosen labor market well, or has a reliable partner with this knowledge. This approach allows for a more thorough selection process and, if the system is set up correctly, for the rapid elimination of irrelevant candidates at the early stages of the process.
Potential pitfalls include the need for a thorough knowledge of the labor markets in the target countries, as well as their legal, financial, and fiscal peculiarities. Another issue to be considered, whether using freelance platforms or searching for candidates offshore, is how you will create a unified corporate, project, and engineering culture in the remote team, and translate the client's core values. All of this also requires the investment of a lot of time. Unless, of course, you plan to attract such a team at least on a medium-term basis.
Hiring a team from leading IT service companies. This can be one of the best choices if the client needs to hire a remote team on short notice, since this approach does not suffer from the disadvantages associated with the two discussed above. These companies often have highly qualified engineers, capable of working cohesively, who possess the necessary enterprise-level domain expertise, including niche expertise. The client does not need to invest time and money on recruiting and hiring team members, creating the preferred project culture, and training specialists. EPAM Anywhere Business, for example, offers the expertise of more than 40,000 IT specialists who have proven experience with large-scale digital transformation projects for leading global brands.
This approach offers a "turnkey" team that is ready to join a project at any stage. The most significant disadvantage of this option is its cost.
Having selected the optimal approach for creating a remote team for a specific project, the next decision is its composition.
Often, the client is well aware of the needs of their project and knows what positions they need to cover. In our experience, however, unexpected difficulties can arise. These can sometimes be avoided by doing a little "homework" and adjusting your approach.
Provide a detailed description of the positions you are looking to fill. Make a list of the primary and secondary skills that are crucial for your project. Focus on the really important knowledge and experience categories. Put aside specialists who have too broad a profile or who are not a good fit for the needs of the project. If you are going to work with monolith architecture on AWS, for example, then you don't need to spend time considering someone who knows Azure, microservices, etc.
Don't chase "mythical unicorns". The prospect of having a developer with the widest set of skills on the project sounds great, but don’t be distracted by skills that are not necessary; focus specifically on what the project needs. A clear definition of primary and secondary skills will help you identify the best possible selection of candidates.
Director, Technology Solutions, EPAM Anywhere Business
Clearly describe the criteria for each level of engineer – explaining the skills and competencies you mean when you refer to Middle, Senior, and Lead positions. Often the division between these positions is fluid. The skills that a Senior developer possesses may be perceived as relevant for a Lead position, for example, but a lack of clarity in your criteria can be detrimental to the project.
Lead: a specialist who spends about 60% of the workload on coding. The rest of their time is spent managing a small team of two or three people, and participating in resolution of complex problems
Senior: a specialist who is able to write code completely independently, and can be a problem solver and act proactively
Middle: a specialist who can write code well, but needs support from their colleagues from time to time
Following these suggestions is especially important for a client building a team of their own, offshore or with the help of a freelance platform. The suggestions will also help to improve the quality of the request communicated to a service company that provides engineers on a project basis.
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There is no doubt that financial rewards are an important motivator for teams and specialists. Without working to achieve employee engagement, and building the right project culture, however, you may not be able to optimize your results. This applies to creating a remote team as well.
We recommend following the Agile methodology in many cases (especially with high uncertainties): clearly outline the goals of your project for the team; describe the stakeholder needs it meets; and identify the Product Owner and explain why they need this project. Regular demo - stand-ups should be used to show intermediate results. This will help establish the cultural component, unite the team, and demonstrate the importance of their efforts. People generally want to work on something that matters. The significance of the project and its goals should be communicated to your remote team as well.
A proper level of client involvement will allow them to keep a finger on the pulse of the team's work, prevent possible problems, and timely react to resolve any issues that arise. EPAM has a set of tools called Delivery Central, which enables a client to analyze the processes in the team, and provides a system of two-way feedback between specialists and management. This contributes to the creation of teams that share the motivation, culture, and ideology of the project. Don’t forget about informal online meetings, they can be important to help maintain team spirit.
Director, Technology Solutions, EPAM Anywhere Business
There are no magic indicators of remote team performance. The key performance indicators are the same as those you would use when working with in-house teams, things like project velocity and burndown charts, which compare planned vs. actual time spent.
It is also important to keep track of technical debt, the amount of code not covered by basic testing. The accumulation of this code results in an increased probability of errors and can lead to significant refactoring and additional financial costs.
Particular attention should be paid to automating processes on the project, setting up CI/CD. You should automate everything that can be automated (limited by common sense), including coverage of autotestings. Successful automation should be done selectively, and at the most important sections. The time required to create the automated process must not exceed the time required to create a test for a new feature. Don’t overlook the potential benefit of testing in advance, agreeing on what the result should be, and then writing code to accomplish it.
Finally, you should be documenting your code. Documentation will save valuable time during the rotation of specialists and recruitment of new engineers. In addition, you should be compiling a common base of concepts on the project, a kind of dictionary of common terms, designed to simplify communication between the participants.
The above items form the basis of a successful and well-coordinated team.
Regardless of what the world will be like tomorrow, whether things will go back to what we used to think of as normal, or a new round of transformation awaits us, remote interaction is here to stay. It has proven its effectiveness and become a timely response to market trends. You are wise to consider how to optimize your response to this trend.
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