Nowadays, there are many task management and productivity tools that can be used along with your team, making it easy to fall in the trap of having too many of them and repeating work. You can even end up using those which don’t really add any value.
This post is written based on the experience of a product engineering team that works remotely, you will find some similarities in comparison to your situation. No matter your industry, in the end, we all have to work in teams.
We’ve been working remotely for about 3 years now. Sometimes we get together but give or take, 99% of the time the entire team or the majority of it operates remotely and in different time zones.
All this time we’ve faced different challenges, as it is expected. We are always looking to understand what tools to use, and more importantly, how to use each one of those tools.
“No matter how useful a tool can be, if not used correctly, you’re making it of less value for the team”
As our team grows and the amount of messages exchanged through messaging platforms increased, a new challenge was witnessed: we had to stay very focused on not losing important information, therefore, we were constantly looking at each of our tools to avoid missing relevant messages. With a considerably-sized team, is not easy to know who is working on what or what problems people can be facing.
If you want to find out, you have to wade through the conversation history for the day or check task management tools, and even after that, there could be the case when someone forgot to update the tool or didn’t mention the problem at all.
Finding out when a teammate is facing a problem at the right moment is not only a time saver for the person facing the problem but for the whole team. Furthermore, communicating the problem and the solution can help someone else on how to face the situation in the future or know who to contact to get quick help.
What may seem so simple for an “on-site” team can be way harder to implement in a remote environment. In the same way, a physical, non-remote team without the log writing/recording habit can leave a lot of things undocumented, thus, losing very valuable information.
Well managed communication can make us highly productive
We have experienced and introduced small changes, practices and daily rituals to generate a positive impact in the way we communicate. An such impact has been seen, for instance, after adjusting our daily routine to dedicate the first five minutes of it to think what will be done, document it and agree with the team that it is the way to go.
Another example of this is when a member of our team experiences a blocking issue, that person spends at least one hour (timed) to investigate the issue and see if a path to a solution can be found. If the allotted time expires without finding a solution, the situation has to be escalated to the team in order to get help. This allows us to be agile in problem solving but at the same time, avoids all the noise caused by reporting obvious issues that could have been fixed in a short amount of time with the right thinking.
Communication is key, therefore, as time has passed we have invested more in testing different techniques, processes and daily team and individual rituals.
The tools we use allow us to work remotely
Our main communication tool is Slack. We are also supported by e-mail when the message demands an extra effort due to its importance or because external parties are involved. For video conferencing, we use Zoom.
Besides Slack, all of our projects and research are managed with the help of one of several Trello boards. Our workflow is Kanban based, but we’ll leave that for a future post.
For file management and sharing, we have our own file cloud where all teams’ files are synchronized to a central repository — similar to Dropbox — and we also use G-Suite for documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Distributed, git based repositories are also used so we can operate as a team. Everything is online.
But how to quickly solve problems? How to become a more effective team?
There was a missing link, due to all the rituals and daily discipline we had reached the point where a Daily Follow-Up had been adopted, just like any Scrum daily stand-up.
This information was written every day, by each one of us in a Slack channel. It had to be this way because we wanted to keep an asynchronous log due to the time zone constraints of our team. However, we didn’t like how it was visually presented and how the information logged could be put to good use.
With this in mind, we decided to build a bot for Slack that allowed us to gather all this information for each team on a daily basis, group it together and display it in its own dedicated channel. That was our basis use case.
From that point forward, the information flow was better and we felt very comfortable with the adopted practice, all of us committed to ask ourselves the same questions at the beginning of each day:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What I will be doing today?
- What blockers or problems do I have?
These questions help analyze personal and team progress, besides, we can react as a team to offer support to those with blockers. The team leads now have more visibility, provide feedback to the engineers based on the plan for the day with the aim of optimizing their use of time. And best of all: we mainly focus on finding problems to turn ourselves in problem solving creatures :)
It’s incredible how a chatbot help us manage our team
All of this was really good, our chatbot was working and our internal communication was optimized, but something was missing, all the data that was being gathered was still difficult to browse or analyze, especially when we wanted to look way into the past.
Retrospectives, a learning tool
We have the habit of analyzing progress and measure individual and group delivery within a timeframe, the outcomes and metrics of the products we work on. This is a very important task that many agile teams usually do and those who have done it in the past have had moments when specific important aspects have been forgotten.
We do a short retrospective every Friday at the end of the day, extracting all the data from Slack wasn’t really comfortable. As a script for the retrospective, focusing on the problems found throughout the week was important.
That is the reason why we integrated a website and a timeline to easily iterate on the different daily reports captured by the bot, also being able to filter activities by ”issues”, etc.
The tool has suddenly turned into one important one in our stack. This is when DailyBot was borned, a chatbot and assistant for you and your team.
Why use Dailybot?
DailyBot helps to adopt the daily follow-up practice in your team, for an improved communication and a more effective team when it comes to identify and solve problems.
DailyBot operates with teams in different time zones and each user can configure the bot so it knows when their daily schedule begins, this way, Dailybot only asks questions during that specific time frame.
The bot speaks English as well as Spanish and has been built so it is not too “noisy” — DailyBot won’t add unnecessary noise to your Slack channels and asks each team member using private messages.
The dashboard allows to look up daily reports and browse and search the reports history. An “activity feed” format is also available for visualizing all the data with filters by users and questions.
DailyBot is constantly improving given that it has been included in the portfolio of products RockaLabs invests in. Its mission: to improve you and your team productivity.
Recently, we added a new functionality to display motivational status metrics for the team, DailyBot can be configured to ask weekly questions with anonymous responses to understand how motivated each person on the team is, the resulting metrics are presented to team leads in charts for detailed analysis.