Managing a Distributed Agile Team

Distributed Agile

Take advantage of the best practices and tools to better manage a distributed Agile team and deliver business value consistently.

With companies going global, you can have teams distributed – spanning across the globe. Although communication in co-located teams is seamless, you may not have all the people you need in your team having the right skills in the same location.

This is where distributed agile teams come to the rescue – they open your options, and you can have talented, motivated people spread across the world. You might also want distributed agile teams to reduce costs and be able to reach the market more quickly. However, differences in time zones, cultural differences, and language barriers make collaboration in distributed agile teams much more challenging than in co-located agile teams.

This article discusses the challenges faced in distributed agile teams and the strategies for effectively guiding such teams to success.

Interested in other project management methodologies? Check out our article: What is Scrum?

Managing a Distributed Agile Team

For a distributed agile team to be successful, it needs some extra effort to overcome the inherent challenges of distance. It would help if you had the appropriate tools for communication and collaboration. You should also be familiar with your team members, encourage transparency, hold regular meetings, and establish clear expectations with stakeholders and team members.

You should adhere to engineering best practices and standards, communicate effectively, focus on achievable milestones, and build a team feeling. You should also be aware of the cultural differences in a distributed team and provide organizational culture awareness training for your people periodically.

Best Practices for Managing Distributed Agile Teams

This section discusses some of the best practices that can help in managing distributed agile teams.

Time Zone and Cultural Differences

When working in a distributed environment with the team members spread in different, remote (often global) locations, the team members should adhere to consistency in their schedule. Since the team members might be from various cultural backgrounds, they must also respect cultural differences. As an example, the team members should respect each other’s holiday schedules and plan accordingly.

Pre-Sprint Planning

Plan early and identify the interdependencies as early as possible. This will help in sprint planning and collaboration. Gantt charts aren’t required, but you should be able to plan the product backlogs far in advance of the sprint start date – weeks if not months ahead. Another excellent practice is to plan backlog grooming sessions regularly; once a week is good enough. When agile teams are distributed, everyone should respect the time zone differences, compromise, and agree on when daily scrum meetings will be held.

Code Reviews

Regular code reviews can improve the quality of the code and the application’s performance, security, and scalability. You should encourage the usage of tools for code review, discuss the code review findings with the team, and help bridge the knowledge and information gap between team members spread across geographical distances.

Distributed Daily Scrum Meetings

Team members benefit from daily scrum meetings because they enable the team to remain focused and collaborate more effectively. Such meetings for a distributed team should be held at a time when the entire team is available. The duration of a daily scrum meeting can typically be 15 or 20 minutes. This is when the entire geographically dispersed team may meet to discuss the progress achieved by each team member, the strategy for the day, and any roadblocks they are facing.

Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives

After each sprint, you should conduct sprint reviews to evaluate the project’s progress concerning the sprint objective planned in the sprint planning meeting. Sprint retrospectives offer remote agile teams a more effective means of exchanging information and ideas, assessing the progress achieved by the team throughout the iteration, and developing strategies for improvement moving ahead in the process.

Minimize Hand-Offs

If a team member must wait for another teammate to resolve a blocking issue or roadblock, much time can be lost. Such delays can be detrimental to the project’s delivery timeline. Although you can minimize hand-offs by identifying the dependencies earlier and planning accordingly, you can’t eliminate them.

Get Motivated Team Members

To build a motivated team in a dispersed environment, you must recruit motivated team members. The remote team members should be focused and self-motivated. They must work harder to communicate, stay focused, and be productive. The co-located team members should also work harder to communicate with – and engage with – their remote peers.

Use Tools for Improved Communication and Collaboration

Communication and collaboration are two of the most critical factors for the success of a distributed agile team. When managing an agile team in today’s digital age, communication is an essential element to consider. To facilitate better communication and collaboration and increase the team’s productivity, you can leverage online tools. You can take advantage of tools such as conferencing, screen sharing, and messaging among team members. There are online tools aplenty – you need to use the one that suits your team size and requirements. Use the right tools and train your people to use them.

Read: What is Agile Project Management Software?

Know Your People

In an agile development team, you must build rapport across the team. You should take time off from your work and spend time getting to know everyone in your team. In doing so, you can build trust and boost the team’s morale to a considerable extent. Regular video conferences and occasional trips to remote offices will make it easier to establish a working relationship with the team. Increase the team’s morale, encourage open communication, and schedule one-on-one sessions with the team members to get to know them better and build personal connections.

It is an excellent practice to co-locate product owners with the development teams. This ensures easy collaboration and communication. You can empower a local person as the remote product owner if the product owner is not available at that location.

Set Clear Expectations and Deadlines

Without clear expectations, you will have many issues during the lifecycle of the project. You will also not be able to measure the team’s success. It is critical to establish clear expectations among project stakeholders to evaluate the project’s success. It will also help if you communicate your expectations to your team members in a straightforward manner. This will help to keep the team focused and promote constructive criticism. Celebrating milestones boosts the team’s morale considerably and helps keep them focused and productive.

Read: Best Agile Strategies for Successfully Applying the Agile Software Methodology.

Agile Methodologies

Agile needs transparency and trust, and building this trust takes time. To create outstanding teams that can work in a distributed way, you should have the right people – motivated, disciplined, and that adhere to agile principles. A successful agile team can deliver value consistently and bring in business agility in a competitive environment.

Joydip Kanjilal
Joydip Kanjilal
A Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in ASP.NET, Speaker, and Author of several books and articles. More than 25 years of experience in IT with more than 18 years in Microsoft .NET and its related technologies. He was selected as a Community Credit Winner at several times. He has authored 8 books and more than 500 articles in some of the most reputed sites worldwide including MSDN, Info World, CodeMag, Tech Beacon, Tech Target, Developer, CodeGuru, and more.

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