In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital session, Job van der Voort, CEO of Remote and ex VP Product, GitLab, discusses how best to build products asynchronously with a distributed team.
Watch the session in full, or read on for the highlights.
Culture of the Written Word
Job challenged how we can build successful products when working asynchronous (whether in a different place or even a different time zone), describing the power of the written word.
“The written word comes first,” Job says, explaining how documentation of products and of discussions (agendas, conclusions, disagreements), will provide transparency between teams and allow everyone to move forward with the benefit of a shared context and understanding. “Only through a culture or a habit will you be able to work together in an asynchronous fashion”.
Iterate on Everything
As product people, we’re all aware of the term iteration and Job challenges us to iterate on our own working behaviour, treating our practice as a product. He suggests that we think about what’s being done now and what has to change in order to be more successful, whether it’s the attitude or culture. “Iterating on everything means iterating on things beyond the products you’re working on themselves,” he says. This is crucial for teams to feel successful.
The Challenge of Timezones
Job describes the difficulty of working between timezones for asynchronous teams, especially when there’s little overlap, after all, few of us have the luxury to design a team.
What’s important, Job says, is to acknowledge the difference, and strive to find a
global balance, where teams can meet and communicate together, making sure it’s not a battle with one side continually giving in. “Accept the fact that this is just the way it is, you can’t avoid timezones,” he says.
What Not To Do
Job lays out the traps teams can easily fall into when working asynchronously:
- Don’t forget about life beyond work – encourage people to set boundaries
- Don’t throw work over the fence – use “handshake protocol”, to attain mutual agreement between parties before considering work passed on
- Don’t fall in love with process – challenge, question and iterate
- Don’t shy away from creativity – unstructured time is essential, ensure you make time to not do much
These traps, he says are “easy to fall into, especially if you’re becoming a well-oiled machine.”
Finally, Job implores us to empower those around to do their best work. The best way to do this, he says is to be relaxed with rules, create a culture of writing things down, give people the time they need and the power to make decisions. Doing so will allow an organisation to move fast. “If you give individuals with talents, the power to do their best work, the freedom to do so, and the trust to do so, it allows them to do their best work,” he says.
More on Remote Working
- Engaging with Remote Customers in Discovery by Audrey Cheng
- Remote Discovery – Teresa Torres on The Product Experience
- The Impact of Covid on Product Managers and the Products They Build
- Being a Successful Product Manager From 5,000 Miles Away