This is the third in a series of blog posts that we’re publishing about how to build effective remote teams. We’re sharing insights and experiences from the Scott Logic delivery team working on the Scottish Government Payment Service as they shape optimal ways of working on this important project. You can read the earlier posts in the series here: Remote Possibilities and Sense and Sustainability.
The phrase, “more important now than ever” has become a bit of a COVID cliché. But as is often the case with clichés, it’s because it’s a quick expression of a simple truth. In the global pandemic, the importance of a whole range of things we previously took for granted has been thrown into stark relief.
Before COVID, the creation of a Team Manifesto for a software project was seen as good practice but not essential. In forming our team for the Scottish Government Payment Service, it was clear that a Team Manifesto needed to be a foundational artefact.
With all of the team members working remotely and in isolation from each other, it would play a vital role in articulating how the team wanted to work together. And it would go some way in making up for the absence of the formal and informal ways that were available to face-to-face teams for bonding and cohering around a common goal.
How we created the manifesto
To create the Team Manifesto, I facilitated a Ways of Working ‘Futurespective’ during project initiation. This is a great technique for scene-setting at the start of a project. It asks the team to set goals and work back from them to agree the ways of working that will help them to get there, as well as the challenges that might stand in their way (and how they’ll deal with them).
The whole team participated and everyone was asked to contribute the values, attitudes and behaviours they wanted the team to manifest. The team then voted on these and the results were distilled into the Team Manifesto.
I’ve shared the principles of the manifesto at the bottom of this blog post—not as a template to follow, but as an example of the principles our team found important to include in theirs.
The process of the manifesto’s creation was a key formative moment for the team. Our SG Payment Service team brings together software engineers with a wide range of experience, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. By asking the team to express what it valued the most, the more experienced team members shared insights from other successful projects which helped the less experienced team members have a clear sense of what good looks like; while the more junior team members were encouraged from the start to feel confident in expressing the ways of working that were important to them.
Everyone’s view had equal weight and helped shape a shared expression of team values and intentions which everyone could buy into.
The team’s North Star
As important as it was in the formation of the team, the manifesto has gone on to function as the team’s ‘North Star’, its benchmark for measuring how well it is staying true to its original vision. It a key reference point for team retrospectives; taking the most recent one as an example, three actions were agreed that were aligned to it:
- Team members were encouraged to heed where they were optional attendees of meetings, and there was a commitment to document meeting outputs in lightweight ways for non-attendees – linked to the principle of ‘Value time’
- There was an agreement to retain and rename a shared ‘Dev’ channel for engineering discussions, rather than splitting out different disciplines – linked to the principle of ‘Make all team members feel included’
- The team agreed to make more collective effort to curate the ‘Bantz’ channel and to create a music one – linked to the principle of ‘Make time for informal catch-up and chat’
Importantly, the retrospectives also offer the opportunity to update the manifesto to reflect the team’s latest experiences and needs—it isn’t set in stone.
The manifesto has also been of central importance in onboarding new team members. It has demonstrated to them that they are actively encouraged to contribute and have a say from day one; that the team and the company care about their wellbeing; and that they should reach out for help and support rather than spending too much time banging their head against a problem.
As a way of making space for everyone to contribute, new team members are asked to prepare a short presentation to the team relevant to the project—e.g. on test strategy, functional programming, payments standards, etc.. Beyond having their voice heard early in their involvement, this also helps them validate their knowledge and get up to speed with the project.
Themes of the Team Manifesto
Your own Team Manifesto will be bespoke to your project, but I thought it would be useful to share some of the themes of the SG Payment Service Team Manifesto.
Team Excellence and Quality of Delivery
The team is creating a service that will benefit millions of people in Scotland, which is a source both of pride and a deep sense of responsibility for the importance of the project. By articulating this in the manifesto, the team will keep the users front of mind in all their decisions about the service they are creating. And they will fuel their sense of pride by celebrating good work along the way—all the more important when working remotely.
The same motivation inspires the manifesto principles on quality of delivery. As I described in my previous blog post, the team is ensuring that all members have an understanding of the two-year project roadmap so that decisions are made in this bigger-picture context. And rather than rushing to implement, the team has agreed to think before acting. This is not to say that they will do masses of up-front design in a Waterfall way; rather that they will give themselves sufficient time to think through options, designs and plans to avoid time-wasting and rework.
As mentioned above, this theme of the manifesto is of central importance, “now more than ever.” The team wanted to express the value it gave to personal relationships, respectful behaviour, and time to get to know each other in a non-work context. Hence encouraging new team members to feel confident to contribute from day one; hence the Bantz and Music channels and the jokes about a certain team member’s Kotlin obsession; and hence the impromptu pair programming that the team has adopted whenever a team member comes up against a technical obstacle so that they can continue to make their contribution.
As with any well-run agile project, we understand that teams have to be allowed to work at a sustainable pace. But when working remotely, it’s all too easy to slip into working longer hours. That’s why the team included the principle of ‘Value time’ in the manifesto. No one is expected to work overtime, and everyone is asked to flag any issues relating to time usage as they arise.
It was due to this principle that the team has agreed to split in two for the next phase, in order to make team meetings more manageable and efficient. Nevertheless, they are determined to retain a one-team ethos and a shared manifesto.
Like any team, the SG Payment Service project brings together team members with a range of skills and levels of experience. And the team is solving a complex set of problems together—no one has all the answers. That’s why the manifesto includes a whole set of principles around sharing knowledge and learning together.
Everyone is encouraged to ask for help and to be prepared to help others. And in the same vein, everyone is asked not to make assumptions. Both represent a commitment to improving everyone’s knowledge about the project and the technical domain, which promotes not only the likelihood of project success but also the professional development of individuals in the team.
I’ve worked on projects where team manifestos have been created and then filed away to die on a forgotten Confluence page. It’s been inspiring to see how for the remote-first SG Payment Service team, the manifesto is a living document, something that motivates and supports them as a team working towards an important goal. I have every confidence that it’ll keep them united even as they divide into two teams for the project’s next phase.
Scottish Government Payment Service
Scott Logic Team Manifesto Principles
- Make all team members feel included
- Help others to be successful
- We make space for everyone to contribute and recognise benefits and success
- Be proud of the service that we are creating
- Have fun and enjoy working on the project
- Make time for informal catch-up and chat
- Aim for excellence
- Think about the future, not just the immediate tasks
- Ask for help and be prepared to help others
- Value time
- Say it loud if it is good – have a quiet word if it can be better
- Ask if you are unsure, rather than making assumptions
- Think before acting
- Acknowledge mistakes and learn and improve from them