Product managers, team leads, and managers are often facilitating team activities — whether it’s OKR planning, brainstorming sessions for new projects, or design sprints.
I remember the pre-COVID days of traveling for product offsites, week-long design sprints, and multi-hour workshops. When COVID-19 set in, doing a lot of that became harder. All of a sudden, we had to adapt to formats that were effective and enjoyable while working remotely. At the beginning, many of us tried recreating those in-person sessions remotely which consisted of six to eight hours on Zoom calls — Zoom fatigue, anyone? — multiple days in a row. 😓 Yikes! No one wants that.
Over the course of the past year, I realized the importance of balancing synchronous and asynchronous practices. Over the past six months, the team at Range has experimented with new methods that balance sync and async tasks and work. Synchronous work is work or communication that happens in real-time; i.e. everyone is in the same meeting at the same time. Asynchronous execution or work is work or communication that happens independent of time; i.e. people complete asynchronous, individual tasks or communicate over a period of time.
A few examples of things we’ve accomplished with a blend of sync and async practices include facilitating a customer journey mapping session, a product roadmapping exercise, spec-ing out complex new features, and brainstorming sessions for new product ideas.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about how to balance and blend async and sync practices.
Both async and sync have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. There are times where you might only be able to make asynchronous functions or synchronous execution work, but for teams that work remotely most of the time, I think it’s important to find a balance so that you can reap the benefits of each.
There are a few keys to doing sync and async well.
One possible downside of using both practices is that it might extend the timeline of a project. Whereas in the past, you might have gotten into a room for a day and nailed down 80% of a project, sync and async together might take several days. So it’s important to set clear expectations from the start on the timeline and the commitment from all who will be involved.
To do sync and async together well, a bit more upfront planning is required. Before kicking off a project, I roughly outline the activities we’ll do and map out the dates/times for each activity. I schedule meetings for the sync sessions and plan deadlines for the asynchronous tasks. This helps us ensure the overall project happens within a timeline that’s reasonable for both project goals and people’s schedules.
I remember when we used to have large, multi-day, in-person workshops, some folks would be half-working, half-participating. It was understandable given the time commitment, but it meant that the quality of the workshop was lower because of their partial participation. In my experience, the best combo sessions — sessions that incorporate asynchronous programming and activities with synchronous tasks and meetings — are ones where everyone was fully committed to all the exercises and sync meeting times. That means if there’s reading required before a meeting (or other asynchronous tasks), everyone should actually read the docs thoughtfully and come prepared to the meeting with questions and perspectives to share.
It’s taken a few tries and we’re always iterating on the process but our team has really enjoyed blending these practices. The more we do it, the better we do it next time.Find out how you can engineer better teamwork with Range