Fully Distributed & Asynchronous
A new communication model for teams.
A new communication model for teams.
Analytics for digital storytellers.
This talk is on our distributed team. It's what we've learned about work and communication in a growing tech startup.
"Hire smart people, and they will produce good stuff that you can sell and make money off. Then everything else follows."
(optionals: Chromebox, whiteboards, coffee machine, coworking desk rental, shaded outdoor workspace)
"Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later."
Software projects are often:
Communication in groups scales poorly:
>>> paths = lambda n: n * (n - 1) / 2
In 2012, our 8-person team had:
# 8 * (8 – 1) / 2 >>> paths(8) 28
In 2014, our 24 employee company has:
# 24 * (24 – 1) / 2 >>> paths(24) 276
It’s 10X more difficult to communicate, even though our company is only 3X as big.
# 4 * (4 – 1) / 2 >>> surgical = paths(4) # 16 * (16 – 1) / 2 >>> full = paths(16) >>> full / surgical 20
A 4-person surgical team communicates 20X more efficiently than the 16-person team of which it is a part.
I don’t really think any one of these models is “better” than the other.
Like their equivalent software designs, they involve a series of trade-offs.
An analogy: the CAP Theorem.
If everyone is coordinating, no one is acting.
"The world responds to action, and not much else."
Can we have a proper compromise?
An "Eventually Coordinated, Always Acting" team?
Yes, I think we can.
By analogy: I believe you can't beat the CAP Theorem, but you can build a system where CAP doesn't matter as much.
Likewise, I don't think you can beat Brooks's Law.
But, you can build a team where Brooks's Law matters less.
|Purpose||Good Meeting||Bad Meeting|
|Show Progress||Demo Session||Iteration Status|
|Fix Prod Issues||War Room||Post-Mortem|
|Spur Creativity||Happy Hour||Brainstorming|
|Keep Cadence||Retrospective||Backlog Review|
|Reduce Bus Factor||Knowledge Share||N/A|
Know Your Company Updates, E-mail Group Threads
"A person that precipitates an event."
Engineers or designers who have management-as-a-skill.
Management-as-a-role does not exist.
Help, don't tell. Catalysts help others do their best work; they don't tell others what to do.
In vertical teams, "face time" means a pressure to always be "in the office".
Encourages a 9-to-5 mentality at odds with creative output.
Work-irrelevant personal issues (e.g. hygiene, nervous ticks) are amplified.
Face-to-face meetings are often unproductive in real terms, but can feel productive.
Employees feel unproductive when not in the office; breeds inflexibility.
In horizontal teams, each office location forms a distinct company culture.
Breeds "fiefdom" that is often unaligned with organizational purpose.
Narrow communication channel between offices is treated as second-class.
Real-world artifacts (e.g. whiteboards, hand-written notes, f2f meetings) hidden from other offices.
Encourages "out-of-band" communication.
Due to human nature, distributed "technopresence" not an emotional substitute for colocated "physical presence".
Harder to build true camraderie.
Mentorship is less frequent because in offices, this often happens informally and/or serendipitously.
Full-time work-from-home (without adequate social substitutes) can feel isolating despite technopresence.
Writing, as a skill, becomes more important than your job description might suggest.
Counter-intuitively, distributed employees "kid around" a lot less.
Focus on work product fosters an in-the-trenches (tactical) mentality, rather than a blue sky (strategic) one.
Employees don't "let their guard down" often, as might happen during a work happy hour or a 1:1 "hallway meeting" with a manager.
Collaboration processes will follow the best practices of the open source community, which are admittedly programmer-centric (e.g. Github).
Work is about the product, not "time in the chair".
Overcoming n-to-n communication is a challenge, but digital tools can help.
Infrequent meetings and asynchronous communication allow people to focus on their work.
The web is now the office. The physical office is just Yet Another Internet Cafe.
Distributed teams can make great products through radical transparency and human trust.
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