What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?
We set out a number of goals for application development in terms of delivery, quality, and timeliness. They always met individual milestones for scrums and stories, extending their work time if necessary. As we shifted more of the app responsibility to them, we set goals for app ratings on the app stores for a minimum of 4, ideally 4.2–4.3. That’s never easy with products like ours because some users expect it to be free rather than having to pay a subscription. It is a fairly high bar. We hold them to app store ratings and total bug counts, including releases that require production fixes. Five is continually able to meet both time-based and quality-based goals.
How did Five perform from a project management standpoint?
When we started with them, the bulk of the coordination was done by our team. Five was more of a staff augmentation team, coordinating just their local work. Now, there are scrum masters for every app based out of Five, and they coordinate stories. The API team is still based on the company side, so there are still challenges of them coordinating with people outside of their location, but that’s gone as well as could be expected in this sort of remote engagement.
The key people are just fantastic, and the level of dedication we feel from them is great. They feel like a part of the Rhapsody team, and not like a remote team. I’ve run 100% remote teams in India and China, but they truly like a part of our team. Something I’ve seen, especially with remote teams in India, is a very high turnover. We’ve seen super low turnover with the Five team. It’s been fantastic. Everyone’s available on Slack, and that’s the primary communication mechanism. We use Jira to keep track of what’s going to happen in each iteration, and of open bugs and items. We’ve used a handful of other scrum tools, but we’ve settled into Jira as the core controller.
What did you find most impressive about them?
Technically, they are fantastic. I feel like they are part of the team. They are some of the best engineers I’ve worked with and are able to solve some complicated problems. They have a real sense of ownership, which is what jumped out to me and separated them from other remote teams I’ve worked with.
Something else that stands out is the design work. Once we shifted design to them, they were fantastic, going through design proposals, executing user tests against those proposals, and running small A/B tests. They understand the world of user-testing and persona modeling. They really understand what we’re building and what the user reactions to features are going to be before we dig into them.
Are there any areas they could improve?
We’ve had normal time-zone challenges. We’re primarily based in Seattle, and Five is primarily in Zagreb. Being nine hours off is a bit difficult. The team there has been good in terms of hourly shifting and being available either early or late in their days for us. The fact that the team is always available on Slack helps mitigate that. We also do some work in Asia, and Five does as well, so they have a three-hour time zone split. Everyone is roughly eight hours off, so it’s really difficult. The Five team does a great job of being available, though.
Do you have any advice for future clients of theirs?
They should have as much face-to-face time as possible, especially early on. We had the team out to Seattle multiple times, and some people from Rhapsody went out to Zagreb once monthly, at least. Informal, in-person communication is invaluable in building strong relationships.
It was sometimes hard to scale up. We shifted to a more project-based focus as we brought in more projects. There could be multi-week lead times to add new staff, and we had to understand and work around that.