All You Need to Know While Making Your Remote Team Agile
An agile organization can do things smarter, faster and better! Yes, we all agree on that! There is abundant real-world evidence to support this.
But how about implementing agility in a distributed/remote team model? Is it possible to have a cross-functional remote team that is as proactive and synergized as a co-located agile team?
The answer is a definite YES! From our own experience, we can say that remote working and agile software development are perfectly compatible with each other. (Agile can be effectively implemented in non-IT remote teams too).
Stay with us as we set off to justify the answer with our own experience.
Before we analyze agility in a remote working system, let’s have a quick glance at the need for remote teams in an organization.
Why Remote Teams?
Having part of your team on the other side of the world is not something new. Many organizations experiment working with a hybrid mix of onsite and remote employees.
The need for a remote team arises due to the following reasons:
1. Scarcity of right technical talents locally
2. Easy availability of competent talents in offshore markets
3. Effective retention of talents as they can work from their preferred (home) location
4. Boost in productivity thanks to increased engagement and great work-life-balance
5. More creative and innovative solutions owing to the diversity in team
6. Easy scaling up of business
7. Less operational and managerial headache
8. Reduced business operation costs
9. Better service to clients (as the team is spread across multiple time zones, you never stop working!)
Is Agility Possible in Remote Teams?
Businesses with distributed team model often wonder whether they can reap the benefits of agile methodology. This doubt arises mainly due to the traditional way of looking at agile, where colocation (all employees sitting in the same room/office) is a binding condition.
Traditionally, agile teams were meant to be co-located. As declared in the Agile Manifesto, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
The manifesto makes face-to-face communication a mandate to nurture agile values among the team members. But in the current scenario, where remote/distributed teams is a de facto condition, the traditional agile outlook has undergone some changes.
Modern businesses with a few or several distributed teams have proved that effective collaboration can thrive in remote teams too. The methodology thrives on a high degree of collaboration between the client and project team. Building and launching amazing, working software is a breeze as a result of the agile attitude that pervades the teams.
Therefore, we can say that colocation is not a prerequisite for implementing the agile methodology. Agility is definitely possible in remote teams.
Now let’s see how it is possible to evolve a consistent agile culture across geographies (and across time zones).
How to Make your Remote Teams Agile?
Agile methodology emphasizes the importance of fostering certain distinctive traits in each team member. These traits are vital even if the teams are remote.
Keep your teams agile by cultivating the following characteristics and practices.
1. Enhanced Self-organizing Attitude
Self-organizing nature is the trademark of agile teams. Even though a single or a bunch of members work physically separated from the rest of the team, self-organizing attitude should prevail in each member. Commitment to achieve the same goal will naturally promote dynamic and self-organizing approach.
Scrum Masters should see to it that the distributed team members collaborate well with the other in-house team members. Team members should take informal, tacit, transient, and voluntary roles. Advanced application lifecycle management tools and communication tools can be of great use.
Team members sitting in different time zones should have sufficient degree of autonomy to take decisions and own responsibilities. They need to collaborate and communicate well with each other to complete pending sprint tasks. They should learn to see the tasks from the team’s point of view rather than from individual perspectives. A sense of urgency should spring up in each member when there is a need to adjust build issues.
Nurturing frequent and quality communication among the members is the best way to banish the ‘us vs them’ feeling in a Scrum Team.
2. Uphold Continuous Integration
Continuous Integration (CI) is a development practice that requires developers to integrate code into a shared repository several times a day. Each check-in is then verified by an automated build, allowing teams to detect problems early.
This practice is essential in an agile setting to deliver stable, high-quality code steadily and quickly. Remote teams can very well adhere to this practice even though distance separates them. Efficient source code management (by keeping source code in a continuously working state) enables developers to test and deploy the software continuously. You can avoid multiple interpretations of the requirement by chopping extensive design specifications into story-sized bits and by distributing them among team members.
We successfully stick to a CI system by keeping our repositories in a cloud-based platform like GitLab. This is integrated to our CI server, Jenkins. We have configured Jenkins in such a way that instant notification comes to our email or Mattermost, in case of any unforeseen event. Our daily night tests ensure that all the builds we make on a daily basis do not affect the existing system.
3. Effective Communication Patterns
Effective communication using proper and effectual channels will help in making your remote teams super agile. Advancements in technology and the advent of cloud technology contribute a lot to make this possible.
Video conferencing is a great way to have the much-admired face-to-face conversation among remote team members. Skype, Google Hangouts, Lync, Zoom etc. help teams to contribute actively during the Sprint meets/daily stand-ups. It is necessary to seek the opinion of remote developers at crucial stages.
Encourage team members to indulge in casual conversation at the beginning of each meeting. These off-hand communications will strengthen their bond and will create lighter moments. Scrum Masters should ensure that knowledge-sharing happens in each daily stand-ups. Whenever team members are at work, they should be using some communication channels to constantly be in touch with other members. Use online tools that are accessible to all team members to store their work.
The meeting times should not be a constant burden to a part of your remote team. It should be continuously rotated to share the burden.
Web communication tools like Skype, Google Hangout, Google Meet, Mattermost, Slack etc. are extremely useful in having constant collaboration with our team members sitting on the opposite sides of the globe.
4. Occasional Face-To-Face Meetings (the real ones!)
Traveling the world once in a while to work together is a great option to keep your remote teams well-aligned and spirited. Remote team members should be taken to the main office location where the entire in-house team sits. This will help in boosting rapport and collaboration. Running boot camps once or twice in a year can be beneficial. An intensive training at the beginning of each project can be really rewarding.
We travel across the globe to meet our extended teammates once or twice in a year. This helps us in understanding their culture, working arrangements etc. in a profound way. These deliberate face-to-face meetings with team members sustain our bonding and help us to remain agile better.
Conclusion – Geographic Split does not Deter Agility!
From our own experience, we can confidently say that geographical divide is not a distraction to follow agile practices. We adhere to the best practices in Agile and DevOps. This has immensely helped us in bridging the gap between the local and remote offices/team members, and in serving our clients in the best manner.
There is no doubt that remote teams can stay agile like co-located teams. Challenges are a definite reality. But all of them are completely solvable by adopting a complete web approach based on efficient strategies. Nurturing high commitment level and collective responsibility is the best way to align and knit the distributed teams together.
If you are running an agile remote team, feel free to share your experience with us.