8 Tips for Managing Agile Remote Teams
Before we dive into the 8 tips for managing agile remote teams, let’s first review a quick overview of agile methods. It has been more than 30 years since the roots of agile methods started taking shape. This first occurred when developers felt the need for iterative/incremental and evolutionary models. In the early stages of agile methods, the dynamic systems development model took shape, followed by extreme programming in the mid-1990s and then Scrum and Crystal methods in the early 2000s.
However, still much has changed in the world since the 2000s. We now live in a more globalized and connected environment where cultures, mindsets and generations participate in large and multidisciplinary teams. This type of collaboration on projects, where individuals are not usually co-located on the same premises, represents a big challenge to one of the agile manifesto’s core principles: “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
Other common challenges that every agile team faces include less overall project predictability, undefined team structures, inefficient testing, constant customer feedback, and, one of my personal favorites, constant direction changes! These challenges are especially true at the beginning of a development life cycle. Teams new to the agile methodology fear these unknowns which tends to lead to frustration, poor practices, and often poor decisions—especially on large projects with epics requiring more than 6 months duration.
Now imagine how these challenges are exponentially increased when working with an agile remote team. With that said, let’s cover 8 tips you can put in place now to have a successful, motivated and well communicated agile remote team.
Tip #1 — Define an Agile POD Team Structure. These are cross-functional and multidisciplinary teams that connect to design, build and deliver the right customer products. An example of a POD configuration used here at Intersys is a POD composed of a Scrum Master, Tech lead, Developers and a QA team that share the same time-zone. If sharing the same time zone with all of your team members is not possible, you should at least try to have your Scrum master share the closest possible time zone with the rest of the development team. The Scrum master runs a key role on keeping the team engaged, focused and motivated. They will also be the eyes and bridge of communication with the product owners regardless of their location.
Tip #2 — Set a Clear Roadmap and Expectations. Make sure all your team members fully understand the epic scope & backlog, the methodology artifacts being used, and also the value expected to be delivered sprint by sprint.
Tip #3 — Encourage Integration and Knowledge Sharing on Every Team. This is less about cataloging your processes in a Wiki and more about cultivating it naturally in daily stand-ups or any time team members give updates. To break the ice between teams, it’s also recommended to set aside time for team building with the sole purpose of getting to know each other. You can easily make this meeting virtual to include the team members that are not co-located.
Tip #4 — Use a Project Management Software System. Having the right project management system in place can be a lifesaver. It will help you track your design, user stories, backlog, and sprint boards. It’s also highly recommended to choose a tool that can measure your burn down and velocity metrics automatically (your scrum master will appreciate it). Jira is a good example of one such tool.
Tip #5 — Have a Daily Internal Standup Meeting to Reinforce Team Engagement. Every good scrum master knows that they should not skip any agile meetings. This becomes even more important in remote teams where having a quick meeting to review sprint status can go a long way in keeping everyone on track.
Tip #6 — Use an Easy and Mobile-friendly Communication Tool. When working with a remote team, quick and daily communication is key. Consider making this easier with a communication tool such as Slack or Skype. This will help your team collaborate with each other regardless of location.
Tip #7 — Use a Distributed Version Control System. This helps enable a culture of continuous integration when builds are constantly discussed and planned. It also provides visibility to broken builds and makes it easier for team members to react with a sense of urgency when build issues need to be addressed. One such version control tool you can use is GIT.
Tip #8 — Have a Communication Plan Defined with Your Key Stakeholders. The communication artifacts with your development team are already set by the agile methodology. But in a remote team, it’s highly recommended to have a separate communication plan artifact with your key stakeholders, such as project sponsors or Sr. tech leads. This allows you to set agreements on resources, time management, communication objectives and frequency expectations.
Hopefully these 8 tips will help you overcome the challenges of managing agile remote teams. When included as part of a business strategy and project goals, remote options allow you to reach a broader talent pool outside the over demanded U.S. labor market. It can also help you increase your teams’ technology stack experience, and provide more viable solutions from a technical and financial perspective, all while maintaining product quality and speed of delivery.