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Working with Remote Verification Consultants

September 12, 2017

At XtremeEDA, a lot of our client work happens remotely. It’s a model that’s very successful for both our clients and our engineering staff. Remote development provides opportunities for clients when it’s difficult to find local talent. It’s also a great arrangement for XtremeEDA engineers who enjoy contributing to teams regardless of geography. If you’re new to remote verification consulting, this is how it happens with XtremeEDA.

Pre-Engagement Discussions

Prior to an engagement even starting, there’s always a discussion with potential clients regarding our remote development model. For new clients especially, we build the understanding that our contribution will primarily come from afar and describe necessary development and communication enablers.

Usually clients are set up with VPN for secure network access and most of the tools they use are accessible through a terminal, VNC or web browser. That’s perfect from our point of view; network access to tools is all we really need for development work. From a collaboration and communication standpoint, we use phone, client messaging app, client wikis, video conference or VNC whenever we’re talking to teammates or sharing information. A whiteboard app is handy for brainstorming but we can make do with video conference or VNC.

It’s also typical to discuss IT and security requirements in cases where a potential client organization has strict access rules. XtremeEDA takes client privacy and security seriously so part of initial discussions are always dedicated to ensuring we can meet IT and security requirements.

A key point in discussions with new clients is building an expectation for site visits. Typically, we visit client sites for a week at a time every 1-3 months, though there is a great deal of variation depending on client, position and workload. Sometimes once a year is all it takes to be entirely productive. For other clients once a month is more preferable. Regardless of frequency, an important part of engaging with new clients is sharing an expectation for how often we’ll be onsite.

Beyond the technology and travel, we discuss the proactive habits we’ve built within our XtremeEDA team when it comes to integrating with client teams. From the outset of a client engagement, we connect with teammates and remain connected continuously. We talk regularly with teammates and work alongside teammates to the point we become part of the team. We also make friends and remain friends after engagements come to an end.

We may work remotely but with us nothing happens in a bubble. XtremeEDA engineers are teammates in the truest sense of the word.

Ramp Up

Remote development works, but remote verification consultants still need time onsite with client teams from time-to-time. Especially early in an engagement, meeting teammates face-to-face and learning side-by-side is the best way to immerse consultants in a new project. But the ramp-up period starts before the first site visit with the goal of making the initial meeting as productive as possible.

 

For new engagements it’s helpful to think of ramp up as being two phases – learning and doing – and it’s best if the first onsite visit happens at the transition point between the 2 as we learn just enough to get started. The transition from learning to doing typically happens in the 2nd or 3rd week of an engagement. Two to three weeks is enough time to work through any IT or account setup issues, complete any mandatory training, get access to and read project documentation, identify development and delivery goals, draft a development plan and take the first few steps. Clearing these types of issues lands us on site ready for real work.

Aside from technical issues, we’re onsite early to build a good working relationship with new teammates. For a remote development model to be successful, building trust is absolutely critical. We have to do everything required to demonstrate we are capable and worthy of a client’s trust.

Follow-up Site Visits

We typically return to client sites as necessary. Early in the engagement that’ll mean following what was agreed upon during pre-engagement discussions. As time goes on and trust builds, we reach an equilibrium where site visits correspond to major project milestones or transitions from one project assignment to another. Rolling through a number of project objectives is common for us. Depending on the complexity of each objective, repeat “ramp up” visits may be necessary.

During Development

Not much to say here other than during a client engagement there’s not much difference between what we do and what our teammates do. We’re an integrated part of the team. We have development and delivery responsibilities. We attend meetings. We offer new ideas, take advice, teach, learn, lead, follow and always work in a client’s best interest. Basically, everything you’d expect from an experienced full-time employee, that’s what you get from us.

The End of an Engagement

The end of a client engagement means finishing up delivery responsibilities, tying up loose ends and handing off responsibilities to teammates. Depending on our level of responsibility, the end of an engagement may require one last site visit. This is particularly true when we’re leading a client team. Otherwise, it’s reasonable for us to finish up remotely and save clients the extra travel expense.

New Client Perspective

Many teams we work with have taken on remote verification consultants at some point in their history. From their experience they understand how teams with remote consultants can be successful.

A first time working with remote verification consultants, however, can feel like a big step. The hesitation we see in taking on remote verification consultants is rooted in uncertainty; passing on responsibility to someone you barely know, only occasionally seeing that person and being uncertain as to how they’ll perform. This can feel like a lot of risk; a big step that requires a lot of trust. But when you factor in the total effective commitment of remote consulting and compare it to that of hiring a full-time employee, the overall risk is similar with long term risk actually being less with remote verification consultants. Further, we mitigate risk by hiring only seasoned engineers. XtremeEDA consultants are experienced, capable and professional. What seems like a big step getting started very quickly turns into a comfortable working relationship between our team and yours. When it’s difficult to find local talent or committing to new full-time employees doesn’t make sense, a remote verification consultant is an effective option.

New Consultant Perspective

Remote consultants, above all, must be technically capable because clients bring us in to meet an immediate need. But remote consulting is not strictly technical. We have to be disciplined, personable, responsible, multidimensional problem solvers always working in our client’s’ best interest. If you see verification as more than just punching in and punching out and don’t want to be confined by geography, verification consulting with XtremeEDA could be the right job for you.

If you have questions about how XtremeEDA engineers work in remote client engagements, feel free to send me an email at njohnson@xtreme-eda.com.

-neil

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