Effective Strategies for Managing Distributed Teams in Enterprise Retail: A Guide for Software Development Leaders

Effective Strategies for Managing Distributed Teams in Enterprise Retail

Dariusz Sadkowski - Senior Magento Developer
7 minutes read

A Guide for Software Development Leaders

As the modern enterprise retail landscape shifts and evolves, software development leaders have found themselves in a tricky position.

Keeping up with these changes means managing distributed teams and applications effectively – a task that requires innovative strategies and out-of-the-box solutions. That's not necessarily something you're born with, however.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps and processes you can put in place to make sure your distributed teams and applications work together seamlessly.

This guide (derived from our ❤️s) helps software development leaders tackle this challenge head-on, providing essential and proven strategies for managing distributed teams and applications in enterprise retail.

Here comes the challenge

Building successful distributed teams and applications in enterprise retail is no easy task. And if whoever thinks it's a piece of cake in the remote/hybrid world we're living in, they are mistaken.

Management challenges are still there, just different from the ones faced in traditional office environments. For example, communication, collaboration, and even career development can be more difficult to manage when teams are not in the same room.

And software development leaders need to consider the unique challenges that come with managing distributed teams and applications across a large enterprise organization.

The lack of physical contact makes communication harder and fosters a feeling of isolation among team members, which can lead to decreased trust and productivity levels. This often results in faster burnout for employees who are unable to recharge – and, on top of that, it can also lead to a decrease in overall team performance.

Not quite ideal.

So, what could be the principles, strategies, and practices that software development leaders need to adhere to in order to effectively manage distributed teams and applications? We've identified a few that should help you address the challenges of remote working.

What are distributed teams, actually?

Distributed teams in IT refer to groups of individuals working together on a project or tasks while being geographically dispersed. These team members may be spread across different cities, countries, or even continents, and typically collaborate using various online communication and project management tools.

This remote work setup allows organizations to tap into a broader talent pool, enabling them to hire skilled professionals regardless of their location – but also comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Effective strategies for managing distributed teams

#1 introduce uniform work standards

Developing transparent and uniform work standards within a team is essential for promoting effective collaboration and achieving project goals.

Key aspects to consider include:

  • selecting appropriate coding styles for various programming languages (e.g., using PEP 8 for Python or Google's style guide for JavaScript),
  • establishing code review procedures (such as assigning a designated reviewer or employing a peer review system),
  • and scheduling deployment times to minimize disruption (for example, during low-traffic periods or outside of core business hours).

However, when it comes to retail applications, these might also include considerations such as integrating third-party payment systems, ensuring secure data storage and transmission, or abiding by industry-specific regulations.

Creating a detailed document that covers ALL these principles, with input from all team members, fosters a shared understanding of expectations and responsibilities.

This approach helps to eliminate confusion and enhance communication among the team. If these foundational aspects are addressed early on, your team can concentrate on tackling project challenges and efficiently achieving your shared goals.

The sooner you'll be on the same page, the sooner you'll be able to turn to the next page – in business.

#2 Transparent communication, in all areas

Open communication is not a buzzword - it's a must for successful software development teams. Without clear expectations and frequent check-ins, team members can easily become disconnected from each other, which leads to confusion on the project progress and misunderstandings about individual contributions.

That's why setting communication rules in stone is crucial for effectively managing distributed teams. This includes:

  • providing clear instructions about when and how to communicate,
  • developing a protocol for resolving conflicts,
  • determining which tasks are shared responsibilities,
  • setting up regular team and individual check-ins,
  • creating guidelines, toolsets, and knowledge-sharing platforms (Redmine or JIRA, just to name a few examples you might stumble upon)
  • establishing a unified platform for collaboration,
  • providing ample opportunity for feedback.

You don't need to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel - there are plenty of existing communication frameworks to draw from. For example, Scrum is a popular methodology for managing projects where teams work remotely, which consists of short time frames (called sprints) that last up to one month and consist of daily meetings. And since it's a subset of Agile, Scrum is backed by extensive resources and tutorials that can help your team master the process.

Also, there is nothing like too much communication.

Each interaction can potentially uncover new insights, build trust and ensure that everyone is up-to-date with the project's progress. As long as it doesn't negatively affect performance, team members can, should, and are encouraged to communicate frequently, in whatever way suits them best.

Plus, as "a side effect," keeping communication open and frequent helps to boost team spirit and foster a sense of community among team members, who may otherwise feel isolated due to being geographically dispersed.

#3 Team meetings, redefined

Meetings can make or break a development project. While they are essential for staying on track and aligning everyone's efforts, it can be difficult to keep them productive and engaging in this new digital world.

To make sure nothing falls through the cracks, you need to have effective meeting routines.

You might want to:

  • Establish a well-structured meeting schedule for retail software development teams – include regular meetings: daily stand-ups and retrospectives, but also "huddles" or "scrums" as needed.
  • Prepare agendas in advance to keep the discussion on track and equally involve everyone.
  • Designate a meeting leader who is responsible for leading the conversation, staying on topic, and ensuring that every team member contributes equally.
  • Use interactive tools like whiteboards and visual aids to allow remote teams to collaborate better and make decisions faster.
  • Incorporate informal gatherings, such as casual breaks or open discussions during work hours
  • Schedule optional online meetings outside working hours – example: virtual game night every Thursday at 9 PM (purpose: strengthen team relationships & promote positive work culture). Please note that it should NOT be obligatory for anyone.
  • Clearly state objectives; for example, in retail, these could be – new inventory management issues or user interface improvements
  • Balance formal and informal meetings (if the project allows!)

Embracing these strategies strengthens team relationships and encourages collective work towards common goals, ultimately leading to successful and growing retail software development projects. And that’s what you want, right?

#4 Tools are there for a reason

For retail software development, the right tools can make all the difference.

Imagine a team equipped with powerful project management platforms like GitLab, Jira, or Redmine, keeping everyone up to speed on tasks, deadlines, and milestones. With a centralized Wiki, essential information and guidelines are readily available, making it a breeze for newcomers to get up and running…

Picture seamless communication brought to life through platforms like Google Meet, Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, connecting team members across the globe in real-time. Meanwhile, messaging applications such as Slack or RocketChat foster lively discussions and quick idea exchanges…

Consider a team tackling retail-specific challenges like optimizing supply chain logistics, enhancing customer analytics, or implementing personalized marketing strategies – all made more efficient through these tools.

You might be seeing this in your team now - it's no longer a utopia (and it should never be, if you ask us!).

When retail development teams harness the power of cutting-edge tools for project management and communication, the possibilities are endless.

Collaboration thrives, misunderstandings vanish, and projects reach new heights of success.

Don't be afraid of tools... just use them.

#5 Turn that camera ON

Might be a bit controversial for some, but various research back this up: having your webcam on during meetings is one of the most effective ways to keep everyone engaged. Seeing each other makes people feel connected and creates a sense of unity without sacrificing productivity.

Yes! Encouraging camera usage during meetings can play a significant role in strengthening team connections and combating feelings of isolation, particularly in remote retail development teams. Since it works towards enabling face-to-face interactions, video calls facilitate more effective communication. This ultimately contributes to better collaboration and a more cohesive retail development process. More pluses to come!

When the camera is on, team members can better detect nonverbal cues and body language, which helps in resolving disputes quickly. Not to mention that with video calls, decisions are usually made faster as people are more likely to speak up if they can see each other.

It's also helpful for so-called social loafing - the tendency of individuals to exert less effort when in a group. When people can see each other, they are more likely to contribute to the conversation and complete their tasks on time.

And yes, again – not everyone might feel comfortable with having their camera on, and that's perfectly ok. Respect everyone’s privacy boundaries and make sure to remind team members that camera usage is not mandatory – but it doesn't mean it shouldn't be encouraged. Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen relationships and promote a culture of collaboration and support.

#6 Open platform for sharing ideas

Creating an environment where team members can freely share their ideas and receive active consideration plays a vital role in optimizing retail software development workflows. This open atmosphere encourages diverse perspectives and innovative solutions from team members, enhancing project outcomes.

Psychological studies suggest that when individuals feel valued for their contributions, it positively affects their morale and job satisfaction. This sense of appreciation translates into heightened motivation, increased engagement, and ultimately, improved productivity within the team – but also affects groupthink.

Groupthink refers to the tendency of a group to adopt a single opinion without properly considering alternatives, and with an open platform for idea sharing, team members are more likely to openly question decisions.

Don't get that wrong – providing such a platform doesn't automatically translate into having to apply ALL of these ideas. As a team leader, it is up to you to make sure that only the best ideas are taken forward. Here lies the importance of an effective decision-making process which enables sound decisions.

#7 Focus on outcomes, not time tracking

Imagine a world where remote workers are judged not by the constant clatter of their keyboards, but by the brilliant results they deliver. In this perfect world, employees no longer fret about proving their productivity with incessant typing, but instead focus on the elegant code they create. Their minds are free from the nagging concern of whether they've hit enough keys in a 10-minute interval, and they can channel their energy into devising innovative solutions.

This dream-like scenario can become a reality by emphasizing outcomes over computer activity. Monitoring remote employees' every keystroke may stir up a range of emotions, but it's the quality of their work that truly matters. The thing is to get the trust to marry employees and encourage them to do their best by removing the oppressive pressure caused by constant scrutiny.

After all, it's not the sound of the keys that counts, but the symphony of success they produce.

#8 From bytes to bonds: integrations and team activities, online

In a digital era where connecting with others seems easier than ever, the irony is that forging genuine bonds can feel more elusive than before. Distributed teams face a proper challenge in this regard, as they often lack the physical proximity that can help foster closer relationships.

Fortunately, there are plenty of integrations and activities geared towards uniting remote teams online. And while some of them might require time and effort to set up, it's ultimately worth the investment.

The options are many.

To start out, you might want to test some easy activities, like... tic tac toe or dots & boxes, to grasp the interest of team members. Then, you can go through games like Dungeons & Dragons if curiosity strikes. You might even want to give it a go if there's no initial interest – let people discover something new, captivating, collaborative, and fresh!

And then you have a plethora of other ideas to evaluate. Board games online can connect distributed team members in a real-time, interactive way. Then, you have a lot of games like CS:GO, Rocket League, or even Minecraft if you feel like it.

Or you could consider virtual coffee breaks and lunches, remote social outings and game nights - anything to bring everyone closer, build trust between them all while having fun.

Trivia shows?


Coding challenges even?

Online escape room?

The sky (and your team's willingness) is the only limit here.

There are more business benefits to this activity than only "providing some fun after hours".

Collective games and activities can spur creativity (perhaps you'll be inspired by the Minecraft element to develop innovative retail solutions?) and help identify potential leaders or managers who stand out as good players. They can also break down silos between departments, generate team spirit and ultimately improve productivity within the team (which is a win-win situation!).

When played regularly, or at least frequently, these activities can create a sense of belonging that will do wonders for your distributed team.

Apart from specific game principles, there are a few rules you need to follow: regardless of the activity, do it (preferably) after hours, and only among those who are willing to participate (not to mention, ensure that everyone has the same tools).

Over to you

Saying that digital tools can be used to create strong bonds between distributed team members is not a wild, crazy idea. With the right integrations and activities, teams can bridge physical proximity gaps and prove that dis-tance doesn't have to mean dis-connection. A pinch of rules, a spoon of creativity, and a dash of fun are all it takes to unite your distributed team – now the reins are in your hands.

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