Relocating across the world to build a team, develop software and travel. We spoke with Dirk Jan van Kessel, Software Development Manager for Conxillium, to discuss why Sri Lanka is the perfect place for him, how he manages his team and what he finds interesting about running a software team that is remote.
Q: Could you start by telling us about Conxillium and about your role?
At Conxillium, our goal is to develop, commercialize and support a broad range of company software for the local government in The Netherlands. The applications pool is diverse, from developing software for election systems, civil affairs to tax applications and workflow management systems etc.
We partnered with Gapstars in 2016 to scale up and build an extended team of software developers with varied expertise. Today, our team consists of 12 Senior Engineers working at the Gapstars tech centre in Sri Lanka.
My role mainly revolves around building bridges between our teams in The Netherlands and Sri Lanka. I travelled to Sri Lanka 4 years back as an in-house Software Manager to lead the development team. I’m more involved in team management, developing a high-performance environment, and keeping the team motivated.
It’s my job to extend the Netherlands teams with Developers from Sri Lanka and make sure the distributed teams serve the product managers to the best of their abilities.
Q: With even more companies looking to set up an offshore development team. Could you share the management practices needed to lead a successful offshore team?
When it comes to managing distributed teams, especially if team members hail from different cultures, mutual understanding doesn’t always come naturally. Hence investing in some real face-time at the start of your cooperation is essential. Build trust from the start.
Personally spend some quality time in selecting your offshore developer team. We practice agile methods within our team. The Agile framework provides teams with the freedom to organize themselves and manage their own work. Which cuts out unnecessary micromanagement.
Another practice is to have a clear communication discipline. Incorporate a reporting structure, meeting schedules, communication tools, and team roles at the start. Do: video calls. Don’t: chat and email.
Select the right tools to work with. The Target process is a good tool when it comes to tracking and reporting. Microsoft teams for collaboration.
Q: What type of skills do you need to thrive in this role?
First, I believe you need to be a leader more than a manager. Leading remote teams requires managers to develop unique leadership skills to engage remote workers and maintain effective collaboration.
Listen to your team. Provide team members with the space to express. Creating a “bottom-up” culture within the team. This is only possible if a strong layer of trust is developed.
We are allowed to make mistakes and we learn from them. Communicate openly and honestly. Share what’s really going on. Provide support whenever required but empower them to be responsible for the results.
Q: What are your favourite things about Sri Lanka? Culture, conversation, and community?
Believe it or not, I consider myself a Sri Lankan now. Sri Lanka is definitely a very interesting place to live and work. When I first came here, I was surprised at the level of hospitality and friendliness of the people in Sri Lanka. Everyone treats you with respect and you’re made to have this sense of belonging.
The Conxillium group is recognized by Gapstars as a “Star Partner” for achieving the highest standards of innovation and performance in remote development. One of its keys for success is its adoption and practice of agile to build engagement.
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