Lab Zero

Your Development Partner for a Remote-First Workplace

In many ways, Covid has just accelerated the evolution of software development that was already in progress. Virtual collaboration, empowered teams, new models for meeting across time and space: we are all turning a corner toward a remote-first workplace. Some developers who had already made the jump to remote work are thriving, and even designers working remotely for the first time have prospered as well. Fewer meetings, more accountability, and management by results are music to the ears of many. But overall, Covid hasn’t meant a rosier world for producing high quality software. There’s a difference between having options for how to work and having a single option imposed overnight. Here are a few of the hurdles we’re seeing our clients encounter, and how we’re helping them overcome them.

When we help our clients kick off new projects, we notice a distinct bump up in the time it takes teams to get comfortable with each other, to build trust, to “norm”. At the start of each project, in addition to getting to know one another, we are careful to align on goals, roles and norms. Read more about how we get ourselves aligned.

Remote work makes clean hand-offs challenging. This is partly human nature. Left alone, any individual can be almost infinitely hopeful when imagining what will be handed off to him, or when imagining what needs to be handed to the next person. This only gets tougher with remote work. Clean hand-offs result from well-established Definitions of Ready and Done. And although that’s a critical starting point, the retrospective is also essential to tuning the hand-off, and bringing to light the gaps and overlaps that tend to crystallize over time.

We stimulate real-time collaboration by introducing tools and reinforcing best practices to keep processes open and transparent:

  • Using online whiteboards such as Miro and Mural to facilitate interactive discussions
  • Using collaborative tools for design (Figma, XD, zeplin) so it’s easier to browse updates in your own time and give feedback
  • Continuously reviewing, testing and deploying code through CI/CD-enabling tools like Jenkins and circleci
  • Promoting fluency and fluidity in real-time collaboration tools, whether it's Google Workspace or Sharepoint
  • Proactive management of messaging channels to optimize communication

Getting to know your users can be really challenging if you can’t see them in their natural environment. Now that user interviews are conducted primarily online, we work with our clients to:

  • reduce the overhead of user interviews with streamlined interview team, more informal setting
  • ‘come to the user’ via more convenient scheduling
  • keep drilling down to understand most basic needs and motivations
  • employ game-like techniques for engaging research subjects in attention-hostile environments

Managing relationships with vendors and customers is increasingly difficult. As a vendor and partner to our clients, we model and coach the behavior that makes our clients successful when supplying their services to their customers. We use frequent 1-on-1s with a lightly structured agenda to get real feedback on how we’re delivering.

One of the most often-cited reasons for working with Lab Zero is experience transfer. Some clients describe this as  ‘leveling up’ their in-house teams when they work with Lab Zero. Whether it’s starting up a delivery pipeline or building a design organization, Lab Zero experts share a lot along the way. With Covid, we adjust to meet our clients in a variety of new learning situations. 

  • camera-on code reviews with team leads
  • one-on-one weekly coaching sessions
  • recorded presentations of key activities led by Lab Zero
    • user interviews
    • prioritization and backlog grooming
    • story estimation
    • demo
    • sprint planning
    • retrospective

The strength of the team depends on the mental health of its members, and for some team members it’s difficult to overcome feelings of isolation. For many, the work environment is a big part of the social engagement they experience. Within our clients’ norms, we sponsor activities that promote empathy and inclusion:

  • coffee channel on slack
  • group lunch breaks
  • sync-your-playlist Friday

By contrast, other team members manage an increasing workload at home, and are simultaneously engaged on two fronts during the workday. We set standards at Lab Zero for work-life balance, and during Covid that includes:

  • communicating advance availability to others
  • being available for enough of the workday to sustain collaboration
  • respecting the work-home boundaries of others

Can We Help You?

Is your development organization experiencing ‘virtualization pains’? We’d love to hear what changes you’re going through, and find out how we can help you meet those challenges.

Continue the conversation.

Lab Zero is a San Francisco-based product team helping startups and Fortune 100 companies build flexible, modern, and secure solutions.