Your Remote Projects

Whether you are a technical leader, project manager, data scientist, data practitioner or designer, the way you work together can make or break your team's success. From your first conversation to project completion, it is vital to tackle challenges that arise even when you cannot engage face to face. Explore our process and tips for data science engagements and put these recommendations into practice while working in a remote environment.

Engagement Phases

  • The discovery phase is a critical step to ensure the right problem is being solved and the right stakeholders are engaged in the conversation. This is where you begin to understand the project scope and gain a deep understanding of project needs. Below you'll find recommendations on how to combat specific challenges that may arise in this phase while working remotely:

    • Leadership engagement

      During this time, leaders are inevitably juggling several priorities at once. Increasing leadership workloads can easily add stressors to a project's timeline. In striving to remain engaged with your team:

      • Lead with empathy. "Camera ready" may not be realistic for everyone's work-from-home situation. Be understanding and support the immediate needs of your team so they can cope with adjustments in the best way possible.
      • Use names to address team members. If interaction begins to decrease, try asking for a specific person to provide insight and repeat the relevant question. 
      • Respect everyone's time.  It is important to respect the time of others by staying on track to end meetings on time. Furthermore, be sure to provide your full attention to others during the scheduled time you have together.
    • Design Thinking and white-boarding

      Without the ability to map out ideas in person, utilize the following alternatives:

      • Design Thinking Keys. Utilize our Design Thinking framework to stay aligned on outcomes that matter.  The Keys of Enterprise Design Thinking – Hills, Playbacks, and Sponsor Users – help put user outcomes at the center of your work. Take into consideration the following keys to drive outcome-oriented projects:

        Hills. Hills are statements of intent written as meaningful user outcomes. They tell you where to go, not how to get there. When technical roadblocks threaten to throw a team off course, Hills bring the team back to center by communicating your project's intent with clarity and flexibility.

        See example Hill statements here.

        Playbacks. Stay in sync with your project stakeholders by implementing Playbacks, a safe space to exchange feedback about your work. During white-boarding sessions, prepare the work you intend to share with your stakeholder audience in mind. Whether it is low-fidelity mockups or polished demos, feedback that comes from these sessions will move you one more step in the right direction. 

        Sponsor Users. Pull in someone with an outside perspective who can bring their experience and expertise to your team. These folks are active participants who work alongside you to deliver the right outcomes. The incorporation of Sponsor Users will help close the gap between your assumptions and user reality.

      • Mural. This visual collaboration tool helps keep ideas in one place and organize thoughts, and fosters interactive brainstorm sessions for the team.
      • Paper. It may sound simple, but sometimes the easiest way to communicate a thought or vision is to draw it out and hold it up to your camera. Low-tech solutions sometimes are just the right solution.
  • The scoping phase is used to get up and running and determine logistics of the project. This phase is typically executed using tools like WebEx and Slack or even via email. Although this phase does not need to be accomplished in person, one challenge to consider is:

    • Coordination and ownership

      It can become tricky to work in an agile fashion if there is a lack of clarity around task ownership or communication. To make for speedy follow-ups and clear paths to communicate:

      • Implement a project management tool early on. In tandem with this, set an expectation that you will be tight on coordination via the platform of your choosing.
      • Set up regular check-ins. At the end of a meeting, ask the question: "When is everyone available to follow up next?" Leave no room for lag in your project timeline due to slow communication.  
  • During the kickoff phase, the entire team comes together to assess team skills and begin sprint planning. This usually happens in a highly interactive face-to-face environment, so it's important to address the following challenges with our remote recommendations:

    • Team engagement and buy-in

      It is crucial to maintain overall team engagement during this phase. We recommend the following to address this challenge:

      • Be intentional about sharing. Ensure that each member is able to share thoughts and feedback. This will help avoid lackluster engagement and promote productive and insightful conversation.
    • Assessing skills remotely

      Understanding the skill set of your team is crucial to the assignment and delivery of the project. While it is typically a side-by-side experience, here is one way to gather the information you need:

      • Be specific with clarifying questions. Alignment becomes key in this phase, and questions are your tool to ensure this. Questions may include:
        • "What past experiences have you had with this type of problem?"
        • "Is this the result you expected?"
        • "What programming languages have you used for data science previously (python, R, etc)?"
        • "What packages in (python, R) do you prefer to use for data science?"
  • You may be coding, exploring data, project managing or modeling when you come across various communication challenges due to your new working environment. Use this communication strategy as you strive for seamless and effective collaboration:

    • Pickup the phone.

      Although we may be used to other forms of communication, calling your team makes for quicker answers and helps avoid unnecessary misunderstanding causing project delays.

    • Limit the audience on your calls.

      Being intentional about your invite list will allow for high engagement and easier communication.

    • Utilize communication tools such as Slack.

      Create tailored Slack channels for specific needs around a project.

    • Schedule daily stand-ups.

      Stay in tune with what everyone on your team is working on. 

    • Have casual conversation.

      Avoid burnout by chatting casually at the beginning and end of your calls.

    • Know when to take a breath.

      Step back, regain focus and be sure your team is supported in the best way possible.

    • Communicate clearly and frequently to leadership.

      Provide updates on successes and call out blockers that may impact your project timeline. Clarity is key.

Virtual Data Science can rise to the challenge in unprecedented times

As we learn to cope at a personal level with the dynamic development of the COVID-19 outbreak, we are seeing an increasing impact to businesses in every industry...How do you prepare your business for the economic and operational impact?

Read the blog
Photo of Wennie Allen

Along with an adjusted approach to project lifecycles, data scientists working from home should consider best practices to keep away from burn out, stay on task and communicate effectively. 

Best Practices