How To Make Agile Work With Remote Teams
When implementing an agile approach within software teams, it’s sometimes assumed that it can only be applied to co-located brainpower. But what if this thinking was limiting your capability to be more productive, more efficient and more collaborative?
We know that agile working is characterised by a culture that encourages and fosters close stakeholder collaboration, interactions over tools and processes and quick response to change.
Working in short sprints, engaging in daily standups and retrospectives and pivoting, are all done to maintain a tight feedback loop in order to keep the work aligned with expectations and deliver maximum value in the shortest of timeframes.
Originally co-location was seen as a key tenet of the agile philosophy, but contrary to the original thinking more and more development teams are proving that agile processes need not be bound by co-location and team members geographical proximity. In fact, with the complexity of modern business environments, I don’t think that that plays a part at all.
Agile development practices can be just as powerful within offshore and remote teams with the right process and mindset. So, here are my tips on how to achieve it.
Rethink the way you work:
In any agile team, success is a result of an aligned end mission. Rethink team roles so that working independently is normal, with different scope and specifics.
This can be a challenge if you’re used to everyone working in a linear, plan-driven way, but the focus with agile working is on the mission, not the solution. Redesigning your work style empowers teams to think more dynamically, making them more accountable and productive.
Advocate for open communication:
The secret killer of remote working relationships is the snowball effect of miscommunication. In my experience, 99% of failures occur because small miscommunications go unidentified until they manifest into a much bigger misunderstandings.
Be strict on your channels for communication and encourage a culture where all team members can ask questions, raise concerns and lend ideas.
Don’t lay blame, but diplomatically identify and acknowledge miscommunication when it occurs so the whole team can learn and grow from the experience.
Foster inclusion without exception:
Teams that play well, play happy. Just because your product team don’t all rub physical shoulders every day doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be empowered to treat each other as if they were in the same room.
Make as many face-to-face meetings as possible a priority, and architect virtual catchups so that everyone can easily participate. Use video conferencing and screen-sharing and make sure everyone can always hear and be heard; see and be seen. When it comes to team building, always think ‘developers sans frontieres’.
Equip them with the right tools:
When working in complex, fast-paced and enterprising environments, the toolkit you equip your team with can make or break their efforts to be agile – and the core connector between these tools is visibility.
Invest in and employ tools that give everyone essential visibility into ongoing conversations and decisions, sprint and feature progress, sprint planning and blocked work streams and code reviews, regardless of whether they’re head-quartered or offshore.
Embrace continuous improvement:
A fundamental part of working agile is being able to honestly acknowledge when something is not working, and change it. For geo-disrupted software teams, what works in one place may not work in all, and that might mean improving and iterating if need be.
Hold retrospectives and agree on definable improvements and action items, keep the team accountability for the processes in place. Never compromise on your development values, instead promoting and enforcing them within your remote teams so they feel confident in putting forward improvements.
Remember that offshore software teams offer intelligent businesses many advantages, like more opportunity, enhanced well-being of the onshore team and improved productivity – and implementing agile only serves these outcomes more quickly.
The first principle of the Agile Manifesto is that the “highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”.
This is a goal that all software teams, whether onshore or remote, want to achieve. The great news is that it is completely within everyone’s reach, no matter where they work from.