You’re scaling up and ready to augment your software development team. After some research, you determined hiring remote developers was the best solution for you, finding quality talent from around the world to “chase the sun” and keep your project moving around the clock.
You found a talented freelance developer, had a successful interview, and you’re ready to start onboarding them. What next?
A kick-off meeting is an excellent opportunity to get started on the right foot, ensure everyone is on the same page, and get some of those pesky logistics nailed down. Every project is different, but no matter what you’re building there are a few things you should always cover—and a few things you should avoid. Here are some tips and insights from successful remote developers to help you have a truly productive kick-off meeting.
1. Plan the attendees.
You’ll want to include the people who will have a hand in creating the site (creatives, development, marketers, etc.), but avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen. Limit who you invite to the kick-off so you’re not overwhelming the freelancer, rather including only the people they’ll be working with regularly. You won’t want to include every stakeholder in the meeting, but you should plan to gather their input beforehand to make sure their wants and needs for the project are represented.
Tip: Having the right product manager in place is a great way to ensure smooth software development from the start.
2. Begin with introductions.
Carve out some time in the beginning of the meeting to make introductions and explain the team structure. Whether you do a round-robin or share an organizational chart, this is a very significant step when onboarding a remote freelancer who’s not physically present for the day-to-day. It helps them understand who’s reporting to whom, puts a face to a name, and lets the whole team know who’s responsible for what.
3. Give an overview of the project.
Take the information that was in your job post and revisit it with a bit more detail. Whether you present this information on-screen or send out copies of the brief before the meeting, giving some context before getting into the specifics is helpful for getting everyone on the same page.
Use the brief as an outline when discussing the project during the meeting. Touch on things you’ve likely already discussed when interviewing your freelancer like the site’s goal, the functionality they’ll be creating, the expected timeline, milestones, etc. If you haven’t gone into more detail with the freelancer before now due to IP concerns, be sure they’ve already signed an NDA before the meeting and follow these 7 tips to protecting your IP.
4. Take the time to talk tech and ask questions.
You’ve likely already told the freelancer the tools they’ll be using to build the software, app, or site—after all, you hired them for those skills. But definitely use the kick-off meeting as a chance to bring up any existing or proposed tools and technology for the project so they can weigh in.
While you’re talking about the technology, open the floor for feedback. If anyone has objections or thoughts, this is the time to give them. IT professionals and designers will often ask lots of follow-up questions so they have a full picture in their minds before they begin programming. They might be able to advise you on any features that you want but maybe don’t want to spend the time or money on, with alternative solutions.
5. Establish roles and responsibilities.
If you have multiple remote workers, this is the time to set expectations about time zones, who will be tackling what, how overlapping coverage will work, etc. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve, but doing this during kick-off will help give a big-picture view to all involved.
“Because a remote working environment is always loosely controlled, the most important expectation to set is the time and effort each freelancer can actually commit to the project. This could take some trial and error to fine-tune, but stating clearly up front how many hours (and which hours of the day) a freelance developer is available helps the rest of the team manage the workload accordingly.”
6. Discuss the collaboration tools you’ll use.
“The first question I always ask when starting a new contract is: “What kind of collaboration tools do you use to coordinate the team? This seems very obvious, but many clients do miss the point that hiring remotely implies managing remotely, and this task requires instrumentation.”
What tools do you have in place so that remote developers can collaborate on a project? Will you be using a code repository like GitHub, or an Atlassian tool like Confluence? What about a tracking tool like Trello or Basecamp? Be sure to give the developer all the information they need about the tools they’ll be using to remotely contribute their work and track their responsibilities—then give them any login information they need afterwards over email.
7. While you’re doing that, establish methods of communication.
Collaboration tools and communication channels go hand in hand in development. With distributed teams in particular, continuous and smooth interaction makes it all possible. So what tools will you use to keep your virtual team connected?
“A lot of traditional communication tools like messaging platforms and email aren’t ideal for developers. For the most part, we developers don’t like to “chat” a lot. But we understand that from the client’s perspective, you want regular feedback about what’s going on.”
This is where a 2-in-1 tool like Slack or Telegram can make be a real win-win for both parties. With a chat tool that has built-in, bot-powered notifications about the workflow, when a developer updates source code in a git repository, the client gets an automatic notification that new code has been pushed out. This lets the developer focus on the code while ensuring the client gets regular, fresh progress updates.
Check out these helpful integrations to link up collaboration and communication tools:
- Telegram bot for Github
- Slack + Github
- Bitbucket + Telegram
- Gitlab + Telegram
- Slack + Bitbucket
- Slack + Gitlab
“Developers aren’t big on long meetings. Even the most difficult meeting shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Clients might not know this, but after a long meeting, developers typically have to spend 1-2 hours to mentally regroup and get back into a coding frame of mind.”
Quick meetings go a long way. See if you can agree upon a good time to briefly meet on a regular basis, whether that’s weekly or every other week, so everyone is on the same page. If this is too hard to do on the spot in your meeting, use a tool like World Time Buddy to align team members in different time zones.
8. Set up “next steps.”
Now that everyone involved knows what they need to do, reiterate what you’re expecting and note upcoming deadlines and the first milestone you’re expecting. Also, establish how you’ll handle reviews and feedback. How will code reviews be conducted? If you’re working on something with a visual UI, will you be using a prototyping tool like InVision? How will you provide feedback of the designs?
If you’re in a test-driven development environment or using Agile to continuously test and deploy, read this article for tips on how to do this effectively with a distributed team. Also, you can optimize your software testing with a distributed team by following these tips.
9. Find out what the developer needs from you.
Before you sign off, plan to deliver any necessary assets, documentation, VPN access, repository logins, etc. to the developer. If you haven’t officially onboarded them yet, remember that this is going to be inherently different than onboarding a full-time employee. Have a plan in place to get them access to everything they need for a smooth transition so they’re not waiting around for the things they need to get started.
10. Send a summary email of the meeting.
This should include the point person and involved people’s contact information, roles, next steps, and deadlines.
After the kick-off is when the rubber really meets the road. If you feel like you need additional guidance, read this article to learn more about Managing a Remote Team Effectively.