Director of Grasshopper Labs
I joined Grasshopper in 2009 as the Director of Grasshopper Labs. Our primary goal within Labs was to prototype and develop new tools and services that helped empower entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed. If and when those tools and services matured beyond the prototype stage we were tasked with building a team to continue product development and beyond.
You’d think that brainstorming, idea generation sessions, rapid app prototyping, and continued product development requires an onsite team. In fact, the entire Labs teams was spread out across the globe. One of the developers was (and still is) in Rio, the others were in every US timezone.
How did we get stuff done?
We got stuff done like any productive team does: we broke down what needed to get done into the smallest chunks possible, planned an iteration, and split off (or even paired up) to get the work done. Being remote had very few disadvantages.
Tools & Techniques
We used Skype to talk. We avoided any sort of “over the phone” conference call solutions. Those systems just can’t allow a group of people to be expressive and heard at the same time. Humans need to hear the nuances of speech, the sighs, the enthusiasm. Anything that strips those subtleties reduces our ability to communicate. For this reason we also made sure we have good hardware. Good USB microphones, good headsets, good cameras.
We also used Campfire. Where Skype let us talk immediately, Campfire let us talk more passively. If something was said in Campfire, it was acceptable if I didn’t see it until an hour later.
If the labs team had been onsite, we would have had a cork board with index cards for each task. Instead, we used Pivotal Tracker. We met weekly, broke down features, chores, and bugs, and prioritized them. Every morning we’d have a 5 minute standup where we’d talk about what our plans for the day were.
Other Good Stuff
join.me is a great screen sharing service. Not just great - really great. It allowed us to share our screens with everyone else on the team easily - no other app or service could do that at the time as well as join.me (if they even do it at all) did.