Setting Up a Dedicated Distributed Team at a Fintech Startup [A How-To Guide]

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@vsoloVasyl Soloshchuk

CEO at INSART (www.insart.com), a Software Engineering Partner for Fintech companies.

At the outset of its existence, a startup involves a limited number of people. Basically, it consists of cofounders, whose roles are rather tentative. Soon, however, if that startup succeeds, it requires other specialists for help—specialists whose qualifications are high enough that they can work efficiently in a startup-like atmosphere.

The motivation for these specialists is based on interest in the problem the startup is trying to solve, working conditions, schedule, and material incentives. However, a high salary isn’t something that a startup can provide easily. Moreover, according to a recent report, the Fintech market is struggling to hire qualified employees because of a local talent shortage.
In parallel, there is strong workforce mobility and an increasing trend toward remote work. Now, saying that a company has a distributed team means its workers can work from wherever they want. There are more and more companies allowing workers to work from home or coworking locations, which is resulting in others trying to keep up with this trend and provide such an option too.
Today, it doesn’t matter if you hire an offshore workforce or not. You would still be forced to have your inner company’s processes adjusted to include distributed teams.

How can you benefit from the required change?

● For you, it doesn’t make a difference where you hire specialists because all your team members can work efficiently, regardless of the location.
● You will be able to hire people anywhere in the country, where your salary level allows you to hire specialists with the required competence.
● The candidate range will be broader, which makes it possible to choose workers with the necessary qualifications, background, and personal qualities.
● As a result, your team will be balanced and supportive, comprising both technical skills and emotional fit.
It is often the case that the negative offshore development experience has deep roots in companies not knowing how to establish processes where remote and in-house workers can work together efficiently. According to the above-noted report, only 8 percent of companies know how to use an alternative workforce properly, and that’s why we see so many outsourcing failures. In this article, we describe the first steps a startup should take to build a solid, risk-free distributed team management process.

Step-by-step distributed team implementation

Before we proceed to the steps, consider the following points as an integral part of any distributed team:
● What do you expect to achieve when the transition is done? Formulate customized goals and synchronize your actions and decisions with them.
● Ensure transparency culture across your team in all areas. When you are not in the same room, there are many things that can slip your attention. If there is a lack of transparency in your team, this increases the likelihood of something being missed. In this case, you can lose the trust of the team, resulting in a toxic atmosphere. Ensure that transparency is present in each step below.
● Don’t forget that it’s people, not processes, that make your distributed team a success. Your cofounders and employees should share the will to introduce a distributed culture in the company. Above all, a distributed team requires workers to be responsible, self-managed, and communicative. They should concentrate on keeping their code understandable and maintainable so that their colleagues can cooperate efficiently. Additionally, to avoid blockers, they should pay more attention to planning and be more forward-thinking than traditional workers.
For your convenience, we have prepared a project charter template with all the sections necessary to streamline business processes. Use this template for higher efficiency and this whitepaper, which will guide you through the process.

Step 1. Project team

Your first step to introducing a distributed team is analyzing your current team roles and responsibilities to figure out a complementary team structure. At a startup, you have a few people but a very broad range of responsibilities for each. At this stage, it is crucial to unveil bottlenecks and problematic responsibility areas for defining criteria on what specialist skills you should look for as well as invoking transparency.
First of all, figure out the criteria that are common for every person who works or is going to get a job in your startup. For example, these could include knowledge of capital markets and the wealth management ecosystem. In this article, for example, we researched the time that teams spend on developing Fintech projects with and without domain knowledge.
Next, formulate a transparent competency matrix for each development stage and elicit grade levels to contribute to the team’s integrity. According to CIO, a RACI matrix is the simplest, most effective means for defining and documenting project roles and responsibilities.
Knowing exactly who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be consulted, and who must be kept informed at every step will significantly improve your chances of project success. Below you can find an example of the RACI matrix for the requirements elicitation and design stage.
Image originally published on: https://www.insart.com/

Step 2. Marshal project knowledge

At this step, you are supposed to consolidate the project information. This is a complex task because some information you take for granted may be crucial for your team to know. In this guide, you will find all necessary aspects that will make your process holistic. Make sure you don’t miss anything:
● What project documents and artifacts do you have?
● Are they concise enough and friendly for people who don’t work at the project?
● How do you grant and/or revoke access to these materials?
Not all the materials necessary for effective knowledge transfer can be documented. Some of them may change so quickly that it’s hardly possible to keep documentation up-to-date and inform people about the changes. To cope with this problem, you can use team management and collaboration tools.

What knowledge are startups supposed to transfer?

Project knowledge. This type helps newcomers obtain an understanding of the current project process. The transfer can include an Agile process overview, communication channels, team structures, and documentation overview.
Technical knowledge. This type helps with obtaining an understanding of the process from a technical point of view. For example, it can comprise high-level architecture overview CI/CD processes, an introduction to logging and monitoring tools, and help in installation of the project including all required accesses (e.g., VPN, repo). You can also create a plan to let new members work on all system modules (first 1–2 weeks) to obtain a broader vision of how it works.
Domain knowledge. By walking in the shoes of the users, developers can anticipate possible problems. Seeing the bigger picture contributes to improved productivity and shared understanding. Thus, engineers shift from mere members of the workforce to experts who are able to craft extraordinary solutions.

Step 3. Software development life cycle

At this stage, you define communication channels and flows within your distributed and in-house teams. These are a few of the questions you should ask to build a robust distributed development process:
● Which communications channels would you prefer?
● Which development methodology do you use?
● Which project planning and tracking tools do you use?
You can use the table below to systematize your current SDLC and shed light on ways to improve it for introducing a distributed team.
Image originally published on: https://www.insart.com/

What else to consider before making a team distributed?

According to the 2019 CIO Survey, cybersecurity continues its stellar rise in importance, with 56 percent of respondents listing it as a board priority this year, compared with 49 percent in 2018. Protecting data and systems from cyber threats is becoming paramount in 2020. Fintech specifics raise the bar for security even higher.
When speaking about distributed teams, people and processes’ security comes to the fore. The following checklist will help you secure your distributed team.
Background checks. Before you allow new members to join the team, learn more information about them. According to Appen’s (an artificial intelligence customer acquisition platform for financial services, which has 50 percent of their team remote) questionnaire at remote.co, “in regards to our independent contract remote workers, making sure they have represented themselves honestly and that their credentials are valid is a common source of worry. We must constantly be on the lookout for potential instances of fraud.”
Physical security. Distributed workers can work from home, a cafe, a coworking zone, or literary from anywhere. That’s why they are potentially more exposed to a laptop theft or a security breach. To overcome this problem, companies have figured out simple rules such as encrypting hard drives on employees’ laptops, logging out when they need to leave a workplace, not exposing the working screen in public places, and so on. You can also discuss the places where your employees can work from before admitting them to the team.
Onboarding training on security. Distributed team philosophy requires employees are able to combat many security issues by themselves. That’s why it’s worth it to train them on security when a new specialist joins the team.
Secure communication and processes. Specific security requirements for your company’s software toolkit should be defined, taking into account nonfunctional system requirements, data criticality levels, and so on. Don’t forget that the processes and communication flows should be checked for security (and not designed in a manner you can see in the picture on the right).

Takeaways

As you can see, it’s not so difficult to transform your company’s routines to support a distributed work philosophy. However, the benefits are enormous; the distributed team is your pass to a highly qualified workforce and state-of-the-art corporate culture.
If you decide to give the distributed philosophy a try, there’s an ultimate guide to Building a Distributed Fintech Team. It enables you to obtain a closer look of your core objectives and inner processes, which can unveil the criteria you need to find the best people for your team.
(Disclaimer: The author is the CEO at INSART)
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@vsoloVasyl Soloshchuk

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CEO at INSART (www.insart.com), a Software Engineering Partner for Fintech companies.

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