The Secret Sauce, Ep. 34: Remote Teams

Strategies for making remote collaboration successful on web development projects.

With the advancement of technology, there are infinite ways and opportunities to work remotely, no matter where you are. In this week’s episode of The Secret Sauce, we share some strategies for making remote work - well, work.

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Allison Manley [AM]: Hello and welcome to The Secret Sauce, a short podcast by, that offers a little bit of advice to help your business run better.

I’m Allison Manley, Sales and Marketing Manager here, and today’s advice comes from Scott DiPerna and Lauren Byrwa. In this global economy, there are infinite ways and opportunities to work remotely, no matter where you are. Scott and Lauren are going to share some strategies on how to collaborate successfully across great distances and time zones.

Scott DiPerna [SD]: Hi, I’m Scott DiPerna.

Lauren Byrwa [LB]: Hi, I’m Lauren Byrwa.

SD: Recently we worked with a client in California who had hired a content strategy team in New York City. Lauren, with our development team, was in Chicago, and I, as the Project Manager, was in South Africa. We had lots of interesting new challenges in this project, and like we do in most projects, we learned a lot about working well with our clients, our collaborators, and with each other.

LB: So, Scott, what was it like trying to work from South Africa, being seven to nine hours ahead of everyone else?

SD: Well, it wasn’t that different from working remotely in Richmond, Virginia. I do shift my working hours to the evening to overlap with the team in the States. But just as I did in Virginia, we do all of our meetings on a video chat regardless of where we are. It’s part of our process especially with our clients being all over the country, so that part wasn’t really different. But we did do a few things differently in this project — not so much because we were all in different places, but because we had multiple vendors and teams collaborating together. Do you want to talk about some of the adjustments that we made in terms of meetings?

LB: Yeah, so we met with the content strategy team weekly. We met with our product owner three times a week. We met with our full team, our full team of stakeholders, weekly. And in addition to that we still had all our usual agile ceremonies like scrum, demos, retrospectives, that we always do on projects. These meetings especially were productive because we had all of the strategic functionality up front, and we could ask specific implementation-level questions early on, and we could vet them both with the product owner specifically, with the strategists specifically, and with the entire group. But I think there are a few other ways that the thorough strategy helped. Do you want to talk about those?

SD: Sure. I think there were two parts specifically that were really helpful. Doing a lot of the strategic planning up front meant that the client was a lot more conversant in the details of the product that we were planning to build for them. We just had a lot more conversations with them up-front and could talk in detail. The other piece was having much of the functionality visually documented in wireframes that the strategy team kept current with changes in the functionality meant that the client always had a “picture” in their minds of what it was that we were talking about. When everyone is working remotely from one another, these kinds of visuals help conversations over video chat be infinitely more productive, which I think is something we see in all of our projects. So all of this planning had a really helpful impact on your ability to estimate the work up front, too. Do you want to talk a bit about that?

LB: Because we had the complete and canonical wireframes from the strategists we were able to fairly precisely estimate all of the functionality that they had scoped out in those wireframes. This meant that even before we started development, we were able to work with our product owner to go over in detail the scope of work we anticipated to be able to complete within their budget. We had many conversations with him about what features would be most important for their users, and were able to prioritize accordingly. It meant that we could talk about the specifics of our implementation in really granular detail internally, both with the strategists, both with the product owner. We collaboratively evaluated if there were options to streamline our implementation, and we were able to address specific questions that usually would not come up until user acceptance testing. All of these conversations resulted in updates to both the canonical wireframes that the strategists were maintaining, as well as the implementation documentation that we were maintaining on our end. And it meant that the picture that the strategists had, that they kept, that the clients had in their head, stayed the same. And it was all reflected in what they could expect to be spending on the implementation for development.

SD: Right. And since we were documenting those functional changes in the wireframes, we could capture that quickly and review it with the client in the middle of a sprint. And speaking of that sort of adjustment in the middle of a sprint, you started doing mini-demos of work in progress, demoing that to the product owner. Can you talk a little bit about why you shifted in that direction?

LB: Yeah, so because we already had all of these meetings set up, and because we already had those canonical wireframes that showed all of the functionality in the picture, we wanted to make sure that they could see the picture of their website, the implementation, as quickly as possible too. So when we had specific implementation questions about things that were spec-ed out in the wireframes, we would demo it for the client. And they could vet it, both for the client and the strategists, and come back to that . . . is this the best choice for the user. It meant that all of those questions of, is this the best route to go down, does this work the way that I anticipated it to, were answered not even before user acceptance testing — they were answered even before the demo. So we could pivot our strategy accordingly, and we did on a lot of issues.

SD: So given all of these constraints that we faced on the project, where we had a client in one part of the States, a content strategy team in another part of the States, even our own internal strategy team split up across continents, and a pretty sizeable project with some interesting technical projects to solve — what were some of the biggest take-aways that you had from that project?

LB: I think the number one thing that I took away from that project was that we can solve every problem together, and that we can come to a better conclusion when we come to it together. The collaborative effort with the strategy team to focus conversations through the lens of the primary audience really helped us anchor our strategy and our implementation in that primary user, and not in some of the other things that often derail projects. We had complete and thorough documentation both on the strategy level and on the implementation, and both of those were transparent to everyone accessing the project. And I think that really helped us to streamline the entire project.

SD: I think for me one of the other things is that we were able to form really good relationships both with the client and with the third-party team we were collaborating with. And that made all of our conversations run more smoothly. We were able to have fun even in the difficult phases of the project, and even going through tough negotiations around scope or functionality or budgets or stuff like that — having those good relationships and having that good level of communication with them just made the whole process go more smoothly.

AM: That’s the end of this week’s Secret Sauce. For more great tips, please check out our website at You can also follow us on twitter at @palantir. Have a great day!