How to work with agile methodology with 100% remote teams?

In Blogfest-en, Uncategorized by Baufest

The first image that comes to mind when thinking of agile teams is a small group of professionals in an office with a blackboard, collaborating, brainstorming, talking, transferring information and clearing any doubts face to face.

Tuesday 20 - October - 2020

In fact: presence used to be considered as a corner stone in agile methodologies. But reality is that remote agile is not only common, but also can demonstrate more equally productive and efficient results. As long as adequate support technologies are provided, together with the commitment of the team to make it work and special attention in certain agile practices.

Actually, the spirit of agile is the capacity to adapt to changes – in commercial priorities as much as technological ones, etc, which, when faced with an unexpected situation such as COVID-19, it does not disrupt agile teams.

study which researched the way in which the pandemic affected the adoption of agile, found that 55% of organizations plan to increase the use of agile in the next 12 to 24 months. And 33% also said that it expanded the adoption of agile in the last 90 days precisely to help manage distributed teams.

Naturally, for organizations which have experience in developing business agility – either because they already incorporated the agility mentality and work culture, or because they master their methodologies – transition to remote working will be easier. Moreover, for these organizations, the fact that team work is remote may result anecdotic. But where this is not the level of maturity reached, presence is not at all exclusive when utilizing agile.

All these concepts allude to agile teams working remotely but within the same time zone, and in conditions where all members work remotely from their homes, as is the case of the teams who had to be rapidly moved from remote work due to Covid-19. This last condition makes that no person feels in inferiority of conditions or isolated, as could be the case if some members worked in the company, and some did not.

Guidelines to adapt

We were saying that remote agility is not something unheard of. Already back in 2016, a poll had showed that 60% of organizations, who had implemented agile methodology at scale, also used remote teams. And in 2019 another study showed that 78% implemented agile practices with members working remotely. However, the covid pandemic forced many teams to switch to remote mode in a very sudden way. And, naturally, at the beginning, this could have generated certain deficiencies and communication issues, as a result of the new ways of work.

In this same vein, when reviewing some of the guidelines which will help us to adapt, the subject of transparent communication is key. Within the teams, as much as with customers. If this does not happen, there could be comprehension or interpretation errors – something that virtual communication could be prone to generate. To that purpose, the suggestion is to incorporate video in meetings, so as to avoid misunderstandings that could sometimes come up due to not seeing each other.

Establishing daily work meetings with the leaders and different groups to clear out specific doubts, and delve into the development of the planning sessions, formalities and workshops, making use of the different digital collaboration tools, is a recommended strategy. This meeting routine creates an environment of synchronization and facilitates the self-organization of team work. And besides, it is key to maintain the social ties, provide support, and continue feeding the sense of team spirit.

Tools and operations

Regarding the use of tools, it is convenient to avoid sending too many emails, and instead focus more on solutions such as Slack or Teams (for communication in the entire organization and collaborative work), Zoom or Meet (videoconference), ClickUp, Trello or Jira (for task and project management), among others.

To fire up the agile mentality and to maintain motivation  with the people, some communication rules and interaction guidelines could be reviewed. Fortunately, today, it is possible to access videoconference solutions, virtual blackboards and chats to promote collaboration and participation. As well, special attention is to be given to cultivating bonds between team members, resourcing to small rituals that can foster camaraderie.

Within the strictly operative, rituals could be transformed according to need, or thinking of new ones in a manner slightly more structured than usual, until the expected productivity is reached and teams adapt to remote working.  

It could also come in useful to establish a unique “source of truth” which is stored in a shared repository, for everyone to have access at all times to the most recent versions of the agreements.

On the other hand, within the new context, leaders will also have to be more proactive, listen, and keep close to teams, customers and other interested parties. It is important that they do not overwhelm their people with messages, and to be clear with communication.The pandemic and remote work put agile teams to the test. But when these teams are well prepared, they have enough resources to ensure an adequate outcome and add much value to organizations.