In this post, I explain the rules that we apply to ourselves to keep the team flow and collaboration going. These are the rules that make it possible for Squads to deliver high-quality MVPs. The rules are short and easy to remember.

If you’re part of a distributed team, you can introduce these rules and you’ll see that things get better quickly. If you’re managing a startup company’s development and you’re thinking of setting up a distributed team, you could add these rules to the mix from day one. Adapt them to your needs and do let me know if you learn something interesting.

Rules of working with a Distributed Team

These are the practical steps to follow to improve the chances of success of yourself as a developer, your team, and the startup you’re building software for.

1. Estimate a task before you start

It’s important to show progress to the rest of the team and the client. Estimate the complex work you expect to be in front of you. Make sure you can actually finish and commit before your time is up.

2. Uphold 4 eyes principle

No code can go to production before being looked at by at least two people. We all suffer from blind spots from time to time. To ensure this:

  • we use pull requests by default,
  • we may merge without a PR only if we’re pairing,
  • when pairing just local feature branch is OK too
  • when we create a pull request, make sure someone else closes it in 24h

We’ve made a conscious choice that merging immediately after pairing is OK. Pairing does not fully replace a code review (the goals and results are very different), but when working with startups, speed is often more important than avoiding risks. Usually getting quick feedback on the feature is of higher value to the client than a potential snag in the implementation. Considering the fast turnaround of Squads we can usually fix an issue in a production application in a matter of hours.

If the code we’re working on resembles high business risk for the client, we tighten the rules and spend a bit more time.

3. Respect Work in progress (WIP) limits

We use a kanban board in our team for each client. In the lanes, we uphold strict WIP limits to avoid clogging up the flow. When a WIP is reached, communication in the team increases to resolve the blockage. This smokes out issues that cause the clogs.

4. Favor Pairing over working alone

This is the most important rule of all. This rule means that to start to work you:

  1. look to help someone else first;
  2. if nobody is available, then find a task of your own;
  3. keep hailing to find a pair programming buddy

As you can see, communication is enforced from the beginning of any developer’s workday. The knowledge sharing resulting from pairing is invaluable.