Delivering Human-Centered Products in a Remote World

By Cristina Crespo

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed offices and sent everyone home, product delivery teams had to adapt quickly. Luckily, frog has been working with remote teams for years. As a global company, our teams are already distributed across North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Our product, strategy, design and technology teams have also collaborated closely with software engineers from our sister company, Lohika. While we have deep expertise and proven capabilities around remote collaboration, we’ve never had to work 100% remotely.

In recent weeks we’ve been building on that expertise to implement tools, systems and processes for maintaining the quality of collaborations, services and work experiences in a remote world.

While frog is vendor agnostic when it comes to recommending tools that work best for our client organizations, we have an arsenal of tools that we use regularly for remote work. It can be a hard transition for teams used to working side-by-side, but these tools and strategies will help any agile product delivery team adapt to the current 100% remote work environment while maintaining cohesion, productivity and purpose.

 

Planning Product Delivery

Successful product delivery teams plan their work ahead of time by aligning with strategic objectives and initiatives. Product release planning sessions, such as a sprint zero or a quarterly increment planning sessions, can gather large groups of people across many departments to prioritize the product features.

During remote collaboration, these sessions can be conducted with product roadmapping and planning tools that create shared visibility. Tools like Product Plan or Aha! can help teams align product decisions with corporate strategic goals, prioritize features and build digital roadmaps that can be easily visualized in minutes.

We maintain a product backlog that closely aligns with the design system from the start of the design phase. The product backlog maps closely to the overall customer journey and we use it to manage priorities, track progress and plan each sprint. Product backlog management tools such as Atlassian’s JIRA or Azure DevOps are already remote-ready and can be used to enable digital collaboration.

During the agile product delivery process, we also estimate effort during backlog grooming sessions. Our teams estimate the work using the Fibonacci sequence, which offers an exponential estimation scale rather than precise hours.

Digital planning poker tools such as Pointing Poker or Planning Poker allow the teams to share their estimates all at once, which prevents one person’s estimate from influencing another’s. As a team, we discuss discrepancies among the estimates and agree on a work estimate. Even though we’re no longer in person, pointing estimates remotely with digital tools can still be a great way to engage teams in planning.

 

Unifying UX Design and Development

A successful design-to-delivery process needs to be iterative and collaborative. At frog, we believe in hand-in-hand, not in hand-off. Our technologists and solution architects collaborate in iterative cycles with our designers and clients to ensure that the designs are both innovative and achievable under time-to-market pressures.

We work closely with our clients’ technical teams to help implement best-in-class techniques for developing reusable and scalable code. Through rapid prototyping, our designers are able to quickly pivot ideas and interactions as they see the code come to life.

Cloud-based design tools such as Figma, Adobe XD and InVision are valuable tools for remote design and development team collaboration. Design, product and development teams can review work in progress during key moments of collaboration in a sprint or provide feedback remotely. In addition, once designs are dev-ready, links to design artboards or prototypes can be added to user stories that are tracked and managed in a product management tool such as Atlassian’s JIRA, Azure DevOps or Notion.

 

Remote Testing and Research

Learning from users is important throughout the product design and development lifecycle. Every few sprints we put new UX features, questions, and designs in front of users. This helps us understand what resonates with users before we commit too much time or code. This feedback and data informs our product backlog and design process to help us prioritize upcoming work for design and development sprints.

In a 100% remote work environment, we’re conducting this testing and research with tools like UserZoom, Vidlet or User Testing. These remote research tools allow teams to screen participants, share consent forms that can be signed digitally and conduct a variety of research sessions.

We can host an unmoderated session, in which the system records the user interacting with the application and prompts them with questions about their experience. We can also conduct moderated research sessions, in which product teams talk directly with research participants and interview them – just as we would during an in-person session.

While remote research cannot fully replace the human connection of in-person sessions, these tools will still allow teams to learn and generate valuable insights.

 

Continuous Retrospectives

Sprint retrospectives are an essential element of agile product delivery. They’re a moment to reflect and analyze what went well and what did not go well. Together, the team documents action items to improve the way they work. A key characteristic of successful product delivery teams is their ability to change and adapt so that incremental process improvements can enable them to succeed. Retrospectives help make that happen.

Working 100% remotely, sprint retrospectives have also become a valuable tool to gauge overall team health. How is the remote environment working for team members? Is anyone feeling burned out? Those feelings might come out during the retrospective, and we encourage people to be open about how they feel.

There are many tools that allow teams to retrospect remotely including FunRetro, Miro or Azure DevOps. These tools help the team document their feedback anonymously, vote and have honest conversations about what impacted the sprint both positively and negatively.

 

Human Connection is Critical for Success

COVID-19 has forced many teams into remote collaboration, and these remote tools and processes can help them be more creative, collaborative and engaged while they’re working from home.

Even more critically, they can help foster the same camaraderie, excitement and trust we feel when working with our teammates and clients in the office.

It is unclear how long the current stay-at-home scenario will last, but it has presented us the opportunity to implement systems of human-centered tools, practices and expectations that are extensible to a future where working remotely is much more common–as a strategic force for scale, or as a way to offer greater autonomy and flexibility for employees.

That’s why frog is going beyond tools and features to create remote collaboration processes that put people first. By combining our experience as a global firm with the necessities of the moment, we’ve implemented tools and processes to run every aspect of our client engagements remotely, including collaborative sessions, research, ideation workshops and core design and development activities.

We’re also coaching our clients to strengthen their own remote capabilities, increasing their ability to connect, collaborate and achieve program objectives within a remote collaboration paradigm.

Human connection is at the heart of collaborative work. That means we must recognize that simply adding digital collaboration tools will not fix a broken culture or process.

We must heed the principles of human-centered design as we face a future in which remote collaboration will be more than a temporary necessity. We must understand that putting human needs at the center of how we connect and collaborate remotely is critical to improving how we feel, how we work and what we deliver to the world.

Originally published on Lohika.com

Author
Cristina Crespo
Associate Director of Product Experience Delivery, frog

Cristina Crespo is a human-centered product leader with 10 years of experience helping clients identify opportunities and launch products to market. She has led several of frog’s largest digital transformation programs across many industries including healthcare, transportation, facilities maintenance and insurance. As a medical anthropologist, Cristina is passionate about conducting research, designing solutions to solve real human problems, and delivering these solutions to the world so that they can affect change and improve lives.