Real life is about compromise
With more and more teams being co-located, distributed working is on the rise. To consider the impact of such a shift and some of the tools you can use to make it work for your team, we sought insight from our headline sponsors, Agility in Mind.
Designing an effective IT product delivery capability is a complex problem involving compromise. It will never match up to the perfect world described in the training course or the management book. One such compromise is the decision to surrender the ease of communication and collaboration that comes with co-located teams. Some examples of trade-offs we’ve seen from our clients in this scenario include the following:
- Reduced operational costs.
- Proximity to customers or internal business units.
- Access to a wider range of people and specialist skills.
- Time zones allowing “follow the sun” support.
- Loss of spontaneous face-to-face communication.
- Distance to customers or internal business units.
- Time zones reducing time for whole-team collaboration.
- Meaning can be lost when discussing requirements.
Difficulties and Costs in avoiding the need to compromise
- Teams are already in place and would be highly disruptive to move.
- Space is running out at the main site, putting pressure on desks.
How to make it work
In practice, the following three simple steps represent the work required to achieve high performing offshore development teams:
1. Invest in people
Investing in people starts with attracting the right people, and then setting up a working environment that allows them to thrive and want to stay. Consider which of the typical models might work best in response to your particular set of challenges and constraints:
- Home or remote workers
- Virtual teams distributed across multiple sites
- Individuals, teams or functions provided by a vendor or consultancy
- Partial offshore development teams staffed by full-time employees
- Complete offshore development teams including all skills and product leadership
Each of these models has benefits and challenges – consider these as part of the whole picture.
2. Establish Purpose
Teams are more productive when they understand the business context of the task at hand. However, this impact of this is amplified when communication and visibility are made more distant.
Remote teams with a sense of purpose will seek out and eliminate sources of ambiguity, whereas those that are disconnected from the business risk can become increasingly isolated and mistrusted.
3. Experiment with processes and tools
There is no standard package that allows effective collaboration across time zones and locations. The only way to find the best available set of processes and tools to support your particular set of people, products and challenges is to experiment.
Here are some of the immediate challenges to deal with and some of the tools that we’ve had success with:
Talking to each other
Google Hangout, Apple FaceTime, Skype are free services allowing video conferencing between two or more computers. Pitfalls to watch out for include low bandwidth, wasted time setting up calls, people forgetting to talk to individuals.
Slack is a modern chat application with a number of features designed to allow remote collaboration, some of which are free and others requiring a subscription. Some teams love it, others find it distracting.
Managing work and storing requirements
Trello is a free, lightweight tool allowing teams to collaborate around lists of things to do. Very easy to set up and use with no technical knowledge or training, but has no forecasting functionality.
LeanKit is a subscription-based work tracking system built with lean and Kanban processes in mind. It is simple to use but provides many features for planning, forecasting and capacity reporting.
Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) is a way for technical and non-technical people to speak a common language when deciding what to build. This technique is at the heart of our training course for effective distributed teams.
Online Whiteboards such as Realtime Board can enhance collaboration by providing a visual stimulus during discussions on planning, design, analysis or retrospectives.
Three Simple Steps for distributed teams?
Invest in people, establish purpose, experiment with processes and tools. It should be that simple, so why is the reality so difficult? Compromise.
In the hands of a pragmatic and accountable leader, compromise is a powerful approach that allows good solutions to surface quickly at the expense of time-consuming perfection.