Distributed Agile teams are a virtual reality these days…

So, let’s talk about the risks associated with them and how to effectively manage them.

Spun correctly, any work methodology can look good on paper but it’s important to understand what challenges there may be and how to face them head-on. Trying CTRL+ALT+DEL after a problem occurs is no way to sustain a successful development project.

A Perfect World

When initially introduced, the concept of Agile was designed for a perfect “brick and mortar” environment. The only problem? Since the world is not a perfect place the Agile methodology is only as good as the people who come into work every day and we know that junior developer you added a week ago is not going to cut it.

Since we know that software development can happen remotely, the Agile model has grown to include the concept of distributed teams. The reason is that so much more talent can be found when a wider net is cast. After all, do you want a developer fueled by the project or a developer “fueled by java”?

It’s Risky Business

In order to improve, risk is something that any business needs to face and managing distributed agile teams comes with risk, but also great reward. To start, It’s important that an organization accurately assesses their level of risk by familiarizing themselves with the common ones as it relates to distributed teams.

First, since your project team is likely working remotely, it’s hard to get your entire team into a morning standup meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page for the day. This lack of communication about inevitable development roadblocks can be a recipe for a delayed project and a frustrated team. The more common breakdowns come due to project members having varied dependencies or misunderstood requirements. 

Another challenge is with attaining and maintaining an engaged development team. Without the added benefit of talking shop at the watercooler, team building events or even your charming charisma, a project team that doesn’t feel like they have a voice can lose interest and as a result the project outcome could suffer.

These risks must be weighed against the benefits obtained from having a team of highly skilled, talented contributors. With a wider pool of talent comes greater technical acumen and less time spent correcting mistakes or educating your developers on technical requirements. 

Plan Your Success

So, if you’ve adequately assessed risk you must now figure out what you can do to mitigate them and increases your chances at a positive outcome. So, before you can attack the technical challenges you face, you need to start with managing the project members.

Tools – Try creating engagement by hosting virtual standup meetings via tools like Skype and by designing communication loops. Every team member knows they need to be prepared to answer for yesterday, today and tomorrow but your communication tool bag should include programs like GeekBo or ScrumGenius which allow for customizable feedback in case some of your team cannot make it.

Scheduled live time – Communication loops alone won’t save you. Other ways to escalate roadblocks and engage the team on the success of the project include scheduled live collaboration time.  At the beginning of every sprint, live time should be scheduled between resources with high dependency tasks.  Consider having the live time slots be on a public board where it can be tracked, so these scheduled times do not fall to the wayside.

Local interface – One other way to keep your project team all on the same page is to add a Product Manager and Scrum Master who understand the needs of the business. Both can be local resources that can be retained for 5 to 10 hours per week. The cost can be minimal, and they will have a more intimate knowledge of what you are wanting to deliver and will have a comfort level with the organization and can carry that culture to the project team.

Wrapping It Up

At the end of the day, your organization must assess cost and benefits of colocation vs. the cost and benefits of better talent. Done right, a distributed agile methodology can greatly improve your project outcomes and create a team of motivated stakeholders rather than individuals looking for a check.

If you want to learn more on how to assess risk, create engagement, and transform your Agile methodology, contact JumpModel.