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8 Key Strategies to Make Distributed Agile Teams Work

  • Arshpreet Kaur
  • By  Arshpreet Kaur
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  • 87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 8 MIN READ
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  • 6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: May 3, 2021

Distributed and agile software development are widely used practices in the modern-day Software Development world. Though their meaning is pretty clear when used differently, using them together as “Distributed Agile Teams or Methodology” is a new concept for many.

While agile emphasizes teamwork and collaboration from a physical co-location, distributed team members work from different world corners. Thus, applying agile principles in a distributed environment brings a lot of challenges.

However, with the use of suitable approaches, distributed teams can tackle these challenges effectively.

Over time, Net Solutions’ agile processes have matured, and that has helped us consistently deliver excellent quality work remotely for thousands of customers globally. Therefore, in this article, we will be focusing on how remote teams can use the agile approach in its full capacity.

What is Agile Development?

Agile is a culture, not a collection of guidelines or rules. In software development, agile methodology revolves around discovering requirements, developing robust solutions, and continuous delivery through team collaboration and communication.

Agile Development Methodology | Distributed Agile Teams

Agile practices prefer individuals and interactions over processes and tools, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, responding to changes over making plans, and working software over detailed documentation.

The Benefits of Agile

Here are some benefits of using agile for software development:

Improved Quality: Using agile, the team focuses on high-quality development, dividing the whole project into small sprints. By producing continuous builds and testing during each iteration, agile development teams create high-performing solutions.

Predictable Delivery: In agile, with fixed schedule sprints, product features are delivered frequently, letting teams beta test everything before the first release of the product. It improves product quality as well as business value.

Transparency: Using agile methodology, clients have the opportunity to stay involved in product development. From prioritizing features to reviewing sessions and sprint planning – everything stays under their control, and they see the work in progress. That means no surprises later in the product launch cycle.

What is a Distributed Team?

Distributed development refers to planning, building, and testing software with decentralized teams spread across different physical locations. The distributed software development team members can work on projects from any location using internet-based communication and collaboration tools.

Distributed Team Structure | Distributed Agile Teams

The Benefits of Distributed Teams

Some of the benefits of creating distributed teams include:

Accessible Talent: Building a distributed software development team lets you cross physical boundaries when hiring talent. You can consider hiring talent from anywhere around the world to bring diverse talent together.

Cost-Effective: The rates and salaries of developers vary according to their geographical areas. For example, a software developer’s average salary is around $100,000 in counties like the USA and UK. However, in many other countries worldwide, you can hire competent developers working on an annual salary of less than $30,000.

Increased Productivity: In a distributed working environment, the chances of losing a valuable member of the team are significantly less due to several reasons. Many studies show that employees working in a distributed environment perform better, take less sick leaves, and get the work done faster – a win-win for all.

Can Agile and Distributed Teams Co-exist?

As seen, agile and distributed teams don’t merge well. While agile says development teams must work together daily throughout the software development process, there is no such possibility in a distributed environment.

On one side, while agile prioritizes face-to-face meetings (for scrums, sprint planning, and backlog grooming), members of a distributed team might not meet each other ever.

Now, how can they co-exist?

Of course, they can. The world-famous agile methodology allows applying its principles to teams working remotely. The only key is not following each point of the agile manifesto and just focusing on minimizing the consequences of working remotely effectively.

Let’s now see how teams can implement agile in a distributed environment:

8 Strategies to Make Distributed Agile Teams Work

While Distributed Software Development provides you advantages like access to the global market, talent, and reduced costs, it can also restrain communication within the team.

However, with the rise in remote work growth, businesses are only left with one option — limiting its consequences and managing teams the agile way for better productivity and time management.

Here are a few techniques that can help you manage distributed agile teams effectively:

1. Ensure proper visibility of the project status

One of the biggest challenges with distributed teams working the agile way is the lack of visibility about project status. However, in the agile world, where project requirements change frequently, project status visibility is a factor you can not compromise.

Being a project manager/owner of a distributed agile team, you need to make sure your project status reports are uploaded and clear even before starting a new sprint cycle.

It is the only way to capture the full efforts of a sprint and know where the project stands at the moment. PMs usually experience problems when fetching out the correct status of the project. Though this is also a problem with the collocated teams, in a distributed environment, it enhances further.

However, distributed agile teams can use agile project management tools like JIRA to keep an eye on project progress and ensure better status visibility.

How Project Management Tools Ensure Proper Visibility | Distributed Agile Teams

2. Measure your team’s productivity

In the end, it is productivity that matters. By measuring your distributed agile team’s productivity, you can get a clear visualization of who is working on what task and what needs to be changed to make the processes more efficient.

Here are a few metrics that you must use to measure the productivity of your distributed agile teams:

Velocity: It measures the average story points that a team delivered over the last sprint cycles. Using a velocity report, you can measure the amount of work your team can handle in upcoming sprints.

Velocity Report | Distributed Agile Teams

Sprint Burndown: It provides a real-time update of how many stories points your team has completed in a given sprint. Sprint burndown is the best way to stay updated about the status of your project.

Sprint Burndown | Distributed Agile Teams

Cumulative Flow Diagram: With CFD, you can keep an eye on project progress and user story changes amid different statuses – in progress, review, or completed. The curve in CFD should be smooth as a jagged one indicates unproductive resources and bottlenecks.

Cumulative Flow Diagram | Distributed Agile Teams

3. Invest in tools for better communication & collaboration

One of the most essential distributed agile principles is effective communication and collaboration. You can not achieve shared ownership and common purpose without adequately fostering agile values among teams, primarily when they work in different time zones.

The whole point of agile is to allow teams to quickly respond to change, all of which is made possible only through consistent and effective communication. Daily stand-ups, planning sessions, and sprints are some ways through which teams keep communicating and collaborating.

To make distributed teams work the agile way, project owners need to ensure proper collaboration between team members by organizing daily scrums, planning sessions, and discussion virtually.

There are a number of mobile applications and tools online that can help you set up effective communication practices. Selecting the right tools depends on factors like team size, project complexity, and team requirements. Some of the most used tools by agile teams for communication and collaboration include:

Online Tools Used By Agile Teams to Communication and Collaboration | Distributed Agile Teams

4. Distributing work

There’s a method to this madness. You have to allocate work to different teams based on what your location model is. If your teams sit in one office, you’re already doing what you have to.

But if you’re partially or fully remote, you need to allocate work based on the local and in-house expertise present within those teams.

Let’s assume you hire a remote agency to outsource all your design & development work but have in-house scrum masters and product owners. This scenario can allow you to plan and strategize closely with the in-house team and allow the remote team members to execute.

Or, you can hire a remote agency for end-to-end digital transformation solutions. The scrum masters, product owners, and other resources are theirs to handle, including the strategy, planning, and execution.

Also, you must distribute the workload evenly between the members of your distributed agile teams because uneven workload can cause several problems in a distributed environment, including delays in delivery, frustrated or less motivated resources, and many others.

Therefore, treat every one of the members equally and don’t forget to show them respect.

5. Keep a check on code quality

At times, distributed agile team leaders may find it hard to measure the code quality and project health. The status of unit test cases, build stability, coverage rates, etc., may remain unrevealed to them until the team takes time to communicate them over a call or a message.

In such situations, what suffers the most is the quality of the product. Sometimes, suppose if teams didn’t ensure build stability, it might stop the entire team’s working.

For example, suppose team A in country A checked in a code that broke the build and went home without noticing. It will stop the working of teams B, C, D, and so on in different countries. Therefore, you must keep an eye on project health and code stability when working in a distributed environment.

Here are three distributed agile best practices using which you can bridge this gap:

  • Use continuous integration tools that provide build automation and continuous tracking of project quality.
  • Implement Pair Programming to help the teams improve the quality of code and speed up the development process.
  • Ensure your quality assurance team is active and reporting unit testing bugs immediately.

6. Nurturing your agility

Since agility is an attitude that you inculcate within yourself and your teams, it needs continuous nurturing.

Every new product can present a new set of problems that cannot be solved the same way over and over again. For teams to be able to adapt to such a frequency of changes, agile has to be baked into their very core.

That’s one reason you will see companies hiring and working with experienced agile coaches.

Another method of nurturing your own team’s agile processes is collaborating with remote teams outside of your organization. This way, your teams get to learn how other distributed agile teams work remotely, which in itself is an excellent source of learning.

Collaborative work is not just limited to agile, and it extends to design as well.

Agile is iterative. Design in iterative. Why couldn’t they work together? – Jeff Gothelf

7. Outsourcing agile teams

Outsourcing is awesome. Really.

You cannot go for Agile transformation without an experienced agile team. And, to build an agile team, you need to spend a considerable amount of dollars on hiring, inductions, training, and so on. You have to worry about everything.

Even after that, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have your perfect team. That’s one of the pitfalls of running the show yourself. Before you know it, you’re doing everything but creating what you set out to build.

Outsourcing makes it easier to manage your resources. With fewer people to manage, you can think more about improving what you’re building. On top of that, an experienced agile remote team adds more value to your team because of their extensive prior work.

Outsourcing helps bridge significant skill gaps and manage costs that can otherwise skyrocket.

3 Agile Tools For Managing Distributed Teams In 2021

Remote work is the present and future of the software development world. However, managing remote teams can be a bit tricky – you will need everything from communication tools to roadmaps and Gantt charts.

Here are the three best agile project management tools that can make managing remote and distributed teams a little easy for you:

1. Jira

Jira - Agile Tools For Managing Distributed Teams | Distributed Agile Teams

Jira is a very popular and easy-to-use tool designed for agile project management needs. A distributed agile team can use it to plan, manage, and track everything that a software development project demands.

With Jira, you can personalize your workflow, and with effective team collaboration, it is easy to release quality software on time. Here are the key features of Jira that make it worth considering:

  • Custom fields
  • Customizable Scrum Boards
  • Customizable Kanban sheets
  • Tool integration
  • Bug tracking
  • Real-time project status tracking with sprint reports, burnout charts, velocity charts, and flow diagrams.

2. GitLab

Gitlab - Agile Tools For Managing Distributed Teams | Distributed Agile Teams

It is a cloud-based DevOps tool that helps organizations improve operations and hence is a mainstream tool utilized in agile project management.

By helping with fast-track software delivery, it helps distributed agile teams reduce cost as well as risks associated with product vulnerabilities while at the same time increasing developer’s productivity. Here are the key features of Gitlab that can help distributed agile teams work efficiently:

  • Kanban boards
  • Workflow management
  • Several collaborative tools
  • Portfolio management
  • Analytics and reporting feature

3. GitHub

Github - Agile Tools For Managing Distributed Teams | Distributed Agile Teams

GitHub is considered one of the most popular agile project management tools used and loved by millions of developers worldwide. It is the world’s largest development platform with amazing features like CI/CD, advanced coding, and security.

Automating features like testing, CI/CD, project management, onboarding, and planning lets distributed agile teams eliminate overheads. Its out-of-the-box security features include private repositories, two-factor authentication, and GPG commit signing verification.

Some other key features of GitHub that make it more exciting include:

  • Team management
  • Codespaces
  • Project management
  • Collaborative coding
  • Enterprise security
  • Product roadmap
  • Notifications

Conclusion

The agile methodology can help distributed teams deliver quality software faster. But, if remote teams’ projects aren’t handled appropriately, it can cause a delay in delivery, poor performance, and less ROI. The best practices and tools mentioned above won’t just help project managers manage distributed agile models swiftly but will also aid in product development as per the roadmap.

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Arshpreet Kaur

About the Author

Arshpreet is a Lead Business Analyst at Net Solutions. She plays an indispensable role in providing top-notch analytical and resource management advice to businesses. Her well-rounded knowledge in engineering concepts and a certification as a Scrum Product Owner helps her handle multiple projects effectively while defining the product vision and delivering value to customers.

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