With the advent of Coronavirus, more and more companies have moved to an exclusively remote workforce. If you and your team are unfamiliar with remote collaboration, it can be a daunting shift during an already difficult time. We’ve been a majority-remote workforce since Silverline was founded over ten years ago, and at each stage of our professional services projects, we find that effective remote work functions best with proactive and thoughtful planning.
We want to share insight into the ways we truly develop partnerships with our clients — particularly at a time when mindfulness matters, we can be strategic about the myriad tools available, and focus on clear results is paramount. Below are the steps we take at Silverline to ensure a great experience and successful outcomes for ourselves and our clients.
Setup is key and organization is gold. Planning the who, what, and how of the project starts with careful prep work. During initiation, we work closely with clients to begin planning key project events, creating project schedules, defining project tools, and creating collaboration plans that work for everyone involved. We have conversations centered on our proven tools for success and what tools the client’s teams are comfortable using. Ours is a blended approach, not a Silverline approach.
All of these activities are facilitated remotely via web meetings and through digital technologies such as virtual whiteboards, polling software, and group/individual chat applications. We leverage Zoom for video conferencing as well as Slack to set up real-time conversations with our clients. For further real-time collaboration, we also recommend tools such as Google Drive, Microsoft 365, and Confluence.
The Silverline project manager works directly with the client team lead to coordinate planning activities. All additional team members for both teams onboard to the project during this time.
During discovery, both teams come together to deep dive on not only existing functionality, but also the future goal state. We identify pain points, goals, success metrics, and come up with a plan to steer the entire project. We also gather solution needs and business requirements in order to create the initial user story backlog — all of which becomes the framework used to build the solution.
Silverline team leads — including but not limited to SMEs, architects, design experts, and program managers — engage in discovery. On the client side, the product owner, business leads and process experts, and technical team leads participate and speak to the unique needs of the broader group they represent.
Remote discovery success tips
Even though discovery is often done onsite, not all clients or client personnel are able to participate onsite. We have experience conducting successful remote discoveries with teams of many sizes. Here are Silverline’s eight keys to success for a successful remote discovery:
- Kick-off meeting. Conduct a virtual kick-off meeting in which all Silverline and client team members are introduced, so everyone understands what the project is, how they will individually and collectively be involved, and what activities are planned.
- Pre-reads/pre-work. Both teams are responsible for providing materials in advance for participants to read, watch, or complete that give the entire group a shared vocabulary and context for the discovery session.
- Agendas. Create focused agendas for all remote sessions and provide them in advance, allowing proper preparation time for participants. Be mindful of different time zones and adjust accordingly. We are only human, so be sure to factor in necessary breaks throughout the day.
- Duration. That said… if the meeting is slated to last longer than 90 minutes, look at ways to create sessions focused on smaller content blocks or solution components instead. If the meeting is two hours or more, create a clear break within the meeting. Don’t be afraid to add some humor to help keep people on their toes and engaged throughout.
- Audience. Although many people may want to be included, it’s best to ensure the relevance of participants to gain interaction and participation for the given agenda topic.
- Materials and preparation. As team members will not be onsite together, provide the necessary meeting materials in advance. Items such as process flows can be reviewed and amended during sessions.
- Technology. Participants should familiarize themselves with the shared technology in advance; a short technology overview session is encouraged so that everyone is on the same page once it’s time to meet and/or work independently. Additionally, video participation is highly recommended to facilitate more meaningful interaction, focus, and relationship building. We also assign clear roles in advance, so everyone comes to the meeting with a sense of purpose (e.g., notetaker who provides access to a shared doc).
- Stay organized. When individuals have to search for information, overload can occur and valuable time can be wasted. So pick a single source of truth and minimize the need for participants to go elsewhere. For instance, we have used a single Zoom all day, and kept meetings more intimate and interactive with fewer than 20 participants (20 being fine for the initial deep dive). With a clear path forward and designated responsibilities, you can leave with clearly defined action items for everyone.
Both Silverline and our client teams work together during the build phase to execute sprints. Regardless of the number of sprints, all work is typically facilitated remotely, and with active client participation. The sprinting cadence allows a natural rhythm to be established for the project teams.
At Silverline, we are adaptive — meaning we continuously collect feedback and adjust between sprints. For instance, we sometimes have a client test what we built in the first sprint so we can get feedback during the second, and prior to validation (i.e., user acceptance testing). This also helps keep us tethered to the overarching goals.
Some of the benefits of being virtual are that we are losing travel time, which translates to more face-to-face time online; the right tools enable individuals to check in more frequently than they might otherwise, if given an in-person environment; with Slack, we increase responsiveness because people are particularly mindful of updating their status, putting blocks on their calendar, etc. When you consolidate methods of reaching out, people are better able to focus on other critical aspects of the work and not on too wide a variety or the whole.
Validation (i.e., user acceptance testing) is the time for our clients to validate the overall business solution — to check that the user experience is intuitive and efficient and that business needs have been met.
Prior to this phase we coordinate logistics with clients early to ensure they are set up for success. We make sure individuals who have been involved in our build process or a part of our sprint demos are our champions supporting the process. By blocking time that can be dedicated to testing, there are opportunities for revisions and adjustments. Great tools such as JIRA, Salesforce DX, and CircleCI help us easily capture issues, revise, and seamlessly push adjustments as needed.
User acceptance testing kick-off
We conduct an initial review session to familiarize users with the system and create focused sessions for remote testers to join while executing testing. We send test materials generated with the client during the build phase, as well as instructions and guidelines for support during the remote sessions. Online/web-enabled tools are used to provide users with real-time, interactive feedback during scheduled intervals while they complete their testing scenarios.
With a focus on user adoption and company culture, we strive to help companies empower end users with platform knowledge that sets teams up for success. By creating a variety of training materials that are easily accessible — such as unique Trailheads, videos, knowledge articles in Salesforce and more — our materials are easily reusable for anyone remotely outside of the initial training sessions.
Training materials should focus on the learning paths most important to end users and the daily tasks associated with their jobs. These materials will provide a valuable reference point when the system is live.
For these, we focus on a very engaged core group — cameras on, and no more than 15 people. Training sessions for remote users should focus on key platform functions that enable job processes. Just as with classroom training, they should be enabled to participate in exercises, and learning-based questions can be incorporated to see what material may need to be revisited. For admin training and train-the-trainer training (i.e., us training those on the client side who will pass the knowledge on), we are essentially running an outreach program; we include our own product owners and leads early on so that by the time we reach this part of the process, our client champions are empowered to take the info and support others.
Keep the humanity in your sessions
Training is not only about the technical aspect of the project. We help support clients virtually by adding fun activities into our meetings — even something like taking a break to do ten jumping jacks or to look out your window. We use Zoom breakouts to play quick hypothetical games, like What seven things would you bring to your desert island? Or even a challenge along the lines of Who has the best Zoom background? The point being: If you’re forcing people into all-day sessions, add life to it.
A successful launch is when our clients begin realizing value from the solution they’ve worked with us to bring to fruition. For the great majority of our projects, launch activities are managed by fully remote teams. The technology platforms we implement and enable allow Silverline and our clients the benefit of fully remote enablement. And ultimately, we work with our clients to create and execute a joint launch plan, including final testing, acceptance, and user enablement.
Support after go-live
As with all new technology, users will still have questions. It is especially helpful that we keep all the information that comes up throughout the project to help enable client teams, use it for a client services engagement, and even incorporate it into different phases prior to launch. We are adaptive at Silverline because we don’t treat a project as a one-time thing; it is an ongoing relationship that can take on various forms, and we want to be able to support our clients at any point in their greater journey.
End-to-end support wherever you are
While we may currently be in uncharted territory on a global scale, Silverline continues to do what we do best: help those in Financial Services and Healthcare thrive with training and technology — regardless of physical location. Because our professional services team brings expertise in both Salesforce technologies and remote delivery, we are prepared to help you implement, manage, or scale business-critical solutions right now.
Whether you need support making the switch to fully remote operations because of COVID-19 or immediate help maintaining your Salesforce org at a distance, reach out to us.