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A Beginners Guide to Distributed Agile

    Company mergers and consolidations, geographic expansion, and offshoring have made multi-site development the norm rather than the exception. Because of this, many organizations are finding themselves faced with the challenges of making distributed agile teams work. Though not a new concept, it is becoming a common organizational model for technology companies, making it easier for employees to work from any location. Adapting to this new change brings the opportunity to broaden your scope and invest in the best people in the industry. 

    In a typical agile environment, teams work closely with one another. Attending daily scrums, sprint planning, sprint reflections, backlog meetings and more can be a challenge,leading many to believe this to be an impossible model to follow with a distributed team. But done correctly, these teams can operate effectively and even flourish given the right environment and guidance. 

    Let’s first start with a few important definitions:

    Agile: A project management approach that emphasizes collaboration, communication, and the ability to adapt quickly to change. Work is broken down into manageable pieces that allow for incremental and iterative change. Timelines are broken down into repeated iterations that produce tangible results allowing the team to adjust faster to consistent feedback and market changes.

    Distributed team: Individuals or groups of individuals that are dispersed geographically but working on the same project and/or team. Many industries are reaping the benefits of a distributed team that allow you to employ the best talent without geographic restriction. It can also result in reduced cost. 

    Distributed team examples:

    ∙ Product Owner is onshore, Team is offshore

    ∙ Team split between two or more locations

    ∙ Multiple office locations. One east coast, one west coast. 

    ∙ Small corporate office with at home office workers

    ∙ A complex model like product owner not with onshore team and development team distributed across time zones

    Why have a distributed agile team?

    Distributed teams allow you to focus on talent without geographic limitations, allowing you to acquire the best in the business. Many companies are also finding hidden cost reductions from a distributed staff. Depending on location, remote workers can cost less. If you compare salaries in the Midwest of the US against a San Francisco salary, for instance, the difference can be substantial. Additionally, organizations don’t pay for regular office space for remote workers. Working remote also provides a list of benefits for your employees. Which include:

    • Enhanced productivity
    • Increased self-confidence
    • Reduced stress levels
    • Flexible working hours
    • Better work-life balance
    • Saved commuting time.

    Tips to ensure success with your distributed agile team

    – Build the culture: This will by far create the greatest output from your employees. Starting with strong leadership that practices and believes in agile principles. They should have the ability to empower their teams, support them in their efforts, and be the spokesperson of change. Leaders should have shared goals and provide employees with an environment where people feel safe to ask questions and work differently without fear of failure. 

    Hire the right people: As stated previously, the greatest benefit to a distributed agile team is the ability to widen your search for the right candidate. Your talent pool is so much larger when you are not geographically limited. Although having the greatest talent is important there is another characteristic that should be considered, self-motivated. Self-motivated employees make the best remote workers. They tend to be more organized and oftentimes have excellent time management skills. They set high but realistic goals for themselves and are not afraid to go the extra mile. These are the people you want making up your distributed team. 

    – Communication: Even in an office setting communication can be a struggle. Communication has to be a priority when working with a remote team. Build a strong communication infrastructure like Skype, Zoom, video conferencing, etc. Encourage teams to use webcams, it is much easier to connect and build rapport with your teammates when you can see their facial expressions and cues. It is also a good idea to establish a streamlined communication plan. You can do this with daily stand-ups, a template for communicating weekly updates or regularly scheduled retrospective. 

    – Collaboration: You no longer have the ability to sit down in a conference room and draw ideas on a whiteboard. One of the benefits of distributed teams becoming a more normal approach is companies have already done the groundwork to build virtual collaboration tools. Zoom offers you the ability to create a group whiteboard session where members can type or draw out ideas. Microsoft Word documents in Office 365 allow you to add your thoughts and see what others are typing as well. Azure DevOps has a built-in retro tool to collect anonymous feedback and group them into talking points as well as vote on discussion topics. There are new tools being developed every day, making virtual collaboration easier. 

    – Sprint Cadence: When you have a distributed agile team it’s best to have short sprints. Shorter iterations ensure that you see what the team is doing on a regular basis and allows you to give quick feedback and redirect the team if needed. 

    – Planning: Involve the entire team in sprint, release and integration planning as well as the review and retrospectives. This is the best way to keep everyone on the same page, give team members a chance to ask questions and gather clarity on upcoming work. 

    – Relationships: Don’t forget to take the time to allow your team to connect on a more emotional level. Plan a team event where each group can interact face to face. Encourage a little small talk at the start or end of a meeting. Building relationships is a great way to build trust within your team, which results in a better product. 

    Excel SoftSources employees have been participating in a distributed agile approach for years. We pride ourselves on our staff of trained agile developers, many of which are certified Scrum Masters. We have the experience and knowledge to augment your staff seamlessly. Work with us today!