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Key Factors to Succeed at Managing Distributed Agile Teams

 Advanced communication and collaborative technologies have largely been responsible for the onset of globalization, giving organizations a competitive advantage over slow adopters. These technologies have allowed people to work almost anywhere, anytime, and on any device. This has contributed to the age of distributed teams and the virtual employee; professionals who deliver critical business value, but are not constrained by co-location requirements.The majority of Agile teams are distributed in some form or another. From my own personal experience, at least 70% of the Agile projects I worked in the last ten years have involved distributed teams. These include team members on another level of the building, down the road at another site, located in another city or even country.  There are some challenges with distributed teams that do need attention, such as problematic communications technology, language barriers, feelings of isolation, distractions at home, ineffective feedback and a lack of trust by managers. On the issue of trust, Daniel Cable, a professor of organizational psychology, believes that a lack of trust on behalf of managers is the greatest obstacle to successful remote teams.  However, another emerging issue is between the Agile purists who believe that Agile teams should be co-located in order to get the best results and Agile pragmatists who believe that the best self-organizing, cross-functional teams are the ones who create their own team from a global resource pool, regardless of location.Choosing the best one is situational, as there are a number of variables are at play. However, there are some advantages to both schools of thought: Advantages of co-located teamsAd-hoc team meetings are fast and easy to arrange.Facilitates osmotic communication; useful information that is overhead due to a  close proximity.Facilitates tacit knowledge; the stuff we know that isn't necessarily documented or taught.Faster feedback (answers, status, decisions).Low tech, high touch tools such as whiteboards and sticky notes that facilitate  knowledge sharing and create a bond with the team and project through human touch and interaction.Issues with technology can generally be resolved quicker.Faster (but not always smoother) team formation phases.There is a higher level of trust from management. Advantages of Agile distributed teamsIncreases the skill sets of teams by accessing a wider pool of global human resources.Reduces office space and various associated work items.Increased feedback due to the iterative nature of Agile.Reduces travel expenses.Teams can span time-zones, thus access up to 24-hour capacity.Can include members with disabilities and mobility restrictions.Higher levels of well-being.Flexible working arrangements foster an increased commitment to the company.Increased cultural diversity. Helping Agile distributed teams to succeedThere are a number of ways to get the best out of distributed teams. Digital tools such as video conferencing, Agile soft boards and collaboration platforms are just a few of the obvious enablers. Some good applications that I have used in the past include Zoom, Skype, Slack, Jira, and SharePoint. Also, adequate infrastructure such as computers and a reliable fast internet connection is another crucial enabler. I have witnessed several projects fail or underperform simply because internet connectivity and speed were severely limited. Another critical factor that is rarely considered is that of psychological health. If the mind is not in the right place, the greatest tools in the world are not going to make a distributed Agile team successful. Agile teams differ from more traditional project teams in that they are far more useful to being empowered, self-organized, flexible, innovative, collaborative, with a flatter management structure. When an Agile team is distributed, it presents added complexity with regard to the psychological health that can impact these Agile team traits.In my MBA thesis, I investigated the well-being of home-based workers in the BPO industry and discovered that 27% expressed feelings of isolation, less team unity, and missed their work colleagues. Perhaps more disturbing was the lack of organizational support for this phenomenon. While this may not always affect distributed workers, such as ones located in remote serviced offices, the feeling of disconnection is still there. I used to work for Fujitsu out of a serviced office many years ago. The offices were very nice, clean, well serviced, but empty most of the time. The only people I came across were strangers from the company who would drop in to have a meeting or print out something. I distinctly recall the feeling that I was alone with a phone to call prospect clients; more strangers. I was in a distributed team of business development managers and received zero communication from anyone about how I was coping, only about how the sales numbers were going.So here are some of the critical success factors that helped me to reduce the negative psychological effects of Agile distributed teams:The Scrum Master, Product Owner or other Agile lead needs to touch base with the distributed worker or team at least once a day. Videoconferencing is the best method or a phone call at the very least. It only needs to be 5-10 minutes just to touch base and let the team know they have organizational support. This is aside from the daily stand-up, which should also use video conferencing to promote a feeling of togetherness.Now Me  This is my own name for a special weekly get-together derived from a NO Work MEeting. As the name suggests, this meeting is not about work at all. It is an opportunity to get together virtually, via video conferencing, to chat about anything the team wants to chat about.Virtual Coffee CupWhen regular meetings are scheduled in the head office or boardroom with a mix of co-located and distributed team members, I try and buy a custom coffee mug with the name of the distributed team member or members who are connecting remotely to the meeting. I actually fill up the coffee mug with their favorite beverage and place it on the table in view of the camera. This may seem like a simple thing, but you may be surprised just how inclusive people feel when they have been thought of as in that meeting room with everyone else. Remember Agile teams are equal members, so every effort should be made to make everyone feel equally appreciated.Counselling ServicesThis is where HR might need to step in and provide a service for distributed team members that feel isolated, frustrated, or even depressed. These issues can become serious. It is best to provide a service that is independent of the organization, but if that is not possible, HR needs trained and qualified personnel with regard to mental health and confidentiality.  360° Feedback Unfortunately, many performance assessments are only one way. With distributed Agile teams especially, there must be a 360° feedback on team performance, and that includes product owners, scrum masters, release managers etc. Agile distributed teams are becoming the new norm. To label these teams as the lesser counterparts of their co-located cousins would be premature, especially since technology can only get better before the disadvantages start outweighing the advantages. While there is naturally some loss of osmotic communication with distributed teams, it is more than compensated by a healthier, happier, culturally diverse team of members that are backed up by the latest in communication and collaborative technology, and an unlimited global human resource pool. 
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Key Factors to Succeed at Managing Distributed Agile Teams

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Key Factors to Succeed at Managing Distributed Agile Teams

 Advanced communication and collaborative technologies have largely been responsible for the onset of globalization, giving organizations a competitive advantage over slow adopters. These technologies have allowed people to work almost anywhere, anytime, and on any device. This has contributed to the age of distributed teams and the virtual employee; professionals who deliver critical business value, but are not constrained by co-location requirements.

The majority of Agile teams are distributed in some form or another. From my own personal experience, at least 70% of the Agile projects I worked in the last ten years have involved distributed teams. These include team members on another level of the building, down the road at another site, located in another city or even country.
 

 There are some challenges with distributed teams that do need attention, such as problematic communications technology, language barriers, feelings of isolation, distractions at home, ineffective feedback and a lack of trust by managers. On the issue of trust, Daniel Cable, a professor of organizational psychology, believes that a lack of trust on behalf of managers is the greatest obstacle to successful remote teams. 

 However, another emerging issue is between the Agile purists who believe that Agile teams should be co-located in order to get the best results and Agile pragmatists who believe that the best self-organizing, cross-functional teams are the ones who create their own team from a global resource pool, regardless of location.

Choosing the best one is situational, as there are a number of variables are at play. However, there are some advantages to both schools of thought: 

Advantages of co-located teams

  • Ad-hoc team meetings are fast and easy to arrange.
  • Facilitates osmotic communication; useful information that is overhead due to a  close proximity.
  • Facilitates tacit knowledge; the stuff we know that isn't necessarily documented or taught.
  • Faster feedback (answers, status, decisions).
  • Low tech, high touch tools such as whiteboards and sticky notes that facilitate  knowledge sharing and create a bond with the team and project through human touch and interaction.
  • Issues with technology can generally be resolved quicker.
  • Faster (but not always smoother) team formation phases.
  • There is a higher level of trust from management.

 Advantages of Agile distributed teams

  • Increases the skill sets of teams by accessing a wider pool of global human resources.
  • Reduces office space and various associated work items.
  • Increased feedback due to the iterative nature of Agile.
  • Reduces travel expenses.
  • Teams can span time-zones, thus access up to 24-hour capacity.
  • Can include members with disabilities and mobility restrictions.
  • Higher levels of well-being.
  • Flexible working arrangements foster an increased commitment to the company.
  • Increased cultural diversity.

 Helping Agile distributed teams to succeed

There are a number of ways to get the best out of distributed teams. Digital tools such as video conferencing, Agile soft boards and collaboration platforms are just a few of the obvious enablers. Some good applications that I have used in the past include Zoom, Skype, Slack, Jira, and SharePoint. Also, adequate infrastructure such as computers and a reliable fast internet connection is another crucial enabler. I have witnessed several projects fail or underperform simply because internet connectivity and speed were severely limited.

Agile distributed teams


 Another critical factor that is rarely considered is that of psychological health. If the mind is not in the right place, the greatest tools in the world are not going to make a distributed Agile team successful. Agile teams differ from more traditional project teams in that they are far more useful to being empowered, self-organized, flexible, innovative, collaborative, with a flatter management structure. When an Agile team is distributed, it presents added complexity with regard to the psychological health that can impact these Agile team traits.

In my MBA thesis, I investigated the well-being of home-based workers in the BPO industry and discovered that 27% expressed feelings of isolation, less team unity, and missed their work colleagues. Perhaps more disturbing was the lack of organizational support for this phenomenon. While this may not always affect distributed workers, such as ones located in remote serviced offices, the feeling of disconnection is still there. I used to work for Fujitsu out of a serviced office many years ago. The offices were very nice, clean, well serviced, but empty most of the time. The only people I came across were strangers from the company who would drop in to have a meeting or print out something. I distinctly recall the feeling that I was alone with a phone to call prospect clients; more strangers. I was in a distributed team of business development managers and received zero communication from anyone about how I was coping, only about how the sales numbers were going.

So here are some of the critical success factors that helped me to reduce the negative psychological effects of Agile distributed teams:

5 key success factors for distributed agile teams


The Scrum Master, Product Owner or other Agile lead needs to touch base with the distributed worker or team at least once a day. Videoconferencing is the best method or a phone call at the very least. It only needs to be 5-10 minutes just to touch base and let the team know they have organizational support. This is aside from the daily stand-up, which should also use video conferencing to promote a feeling of togetherness.

Now Me 

 This is my own name for a special weekly get-together derived from a NO Work MEeting. As the name suggests, this meeting is not about work at all. It is an opportunity to get together virtually, via video conferencing, to chat about anything the team wants to chat about.

Virtual Coffee Cup

When regular meetings are scheduled in the head office or boardroom with a mix of co-located and distributed team members, I try and buy a custom coffee mug with the name of the distributed team member or members who are connecting remotely to the meeting. I actually fill up the coffee mug with their favorite beverage and place it on the table in view of the camera. This may seem like a simple thing, but you may be surprised just how inclusive people feel when they have been thought of as in that meeting room with everyone else. Remember Agile teams are equal members, so every effort should be made to make everyone feel equally appreciated.

Counselling Services

This is where HR might need to step in and provide a service for distributed team members that feel isolated, frustrated, or even depressed. These issues can become serious. It is best to provide a service that is independent of the organization, but if that is not possible, HR needs trained and qualified personnel with regard to mental health and confidentiality.  

360° Feedback 

Unfortunately, many performance assessments are only one way. With distributed Agile teams especially, there must be a 360° feedback on team performance, and that includes product owners, scrum masters, release managers etc.

 Agile distributed teams are becoming the new norm. To label these teams as the lesser counterparts of their co-located cousins would be premature, especially since technology can only get better before the disadvantages start outweighing the advantages. While there is naturally some loss of osmotic communication with distributed teams, it is more than compensated by a healthier, happier, culturally diverse team of members that are backed up by the latest in communication and collaborative technology, and an unlimited global human resource pool. 

Sante

Sante Vergini

Blog Author

Sante is a senior management professional with 30 years experience in IT, project management and sales. He holds numerous qualifications in project management and Agile including PMP, PMI-ACP and PSM. He has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Management and Strategic Leadership. Currently, he is completing a PhD in project management frameworks within the education system.

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Agile Project Management Vs. Traditional Project Management

In this fast-moving world, project management has become one of the most important pillars that are helping businesses run without any glitch in their processes. Both small and large scale organizations around the world are exploiting technology and depending on project management systems to deliver the software development project successfully. Whether it is team workflow management or timing, these tools help to ensure that everything is going well without any obstacles. While there are tens of different project management approaches, Agile is considered one of the most practical and flexible software development mechanism that exist today. It is capable of executing a variety of tasks, but what sets it apart from others? Let’s find it out. 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When a traditional system focuses on upfront planning where factors like cost, scope, and time are given importance, Agile management gives prominence to teamwork, customer collaboration, and flexibility. It is an iterative approach that focuses more on incorporating customer feedback and continuous releases with every iteration of software development project. The basic concept behind Agile software development is that it delves into evolving changes and collaborative effort to bring out results rather than a predefined process. Adaptive planning is perhaps the biggest feature of Agile and one that makes it a crowd favorite among project managers. Scrum and Kanban are two of the most widely used Agile frameworks. They are very well known for encouraging decision-making and preventing time consumption on variables that are bound to change. It stresses customer satisfaction and uses available teams to fast-track software development at every stage. The table below shows the major differences between Agile project management and traditional project management.                                                                                Table: Agile project management vs traditional project management Why is Agile Preferred and why not the traditional project management? Agile is preferred by most developers and managers because of a variety of reasons. Let’s have a look at the most common ones: Project complexity Traditional: This method is the best fit for small or less complex projects as it follows linear approach. Sudden changes in the project or any other complexities can block the entire process and make the team go back to step one and start all over again. Agile: This is the best methodology to follow in case of complex projects. A complex project may have various interconnected phases and each stage may be dependent on many others rather than a single one as in simple projects. So, Agile methods are preferred for large complex projects, as they can respond better to such structures. Adaptability Traditional: This approach works with a belief that once a phase is done, it will not be reviewed again. So, it is not adaptable to rapid changes in the work plan. In case if any sudden situation arises or any change in the requirements from the client’s side, traditional approach fails to adapt to the new change. The only choice is to start from the very beginning once again. This wastes a lot of effort and time in the process. Agile: The adaptability factor is very high in this methodology since it is not linear. Complex projects consist of several interconnected stages, where a change in one stage can cause an effect on another. 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The majority of projects and development teams are now adopting this methodology, while the traditional waterfall approaches have many flaws.    Traditional organizations vs. #Agile organizations #SALC16 pic.twitter.com/bBgxkQB1fI — Scrum Alliance (@ScrumAlliance) January 20, 2016 Agile was first introduced about 15 years ago as a substitute for traditional software development approaches. Many people considered it as challenging to implement traditional approach practices and Agile adopters stated that this new style of software development improves team collaboration and is more customer-centric.  Though Agile method was present more than a decade ago, the vast majority of organizations have adopted the practice in the last 5 years. Moreover, the survey reported that agile adoption saw an inflection point between the year 2009-2010. 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On successful completion of the training, candidates will get ICAgile Certified Professional-Agile Certified Coach (ICP-ACC) designation from the internationally recognized ICAgile certification body.Note: Before choosing any institute, ensure that the institute is an authorised by ICAgile certification body.9. Leading SAFe® 4.5 Training Course:Salary: The average salary of Leading SAFe 4.5® certified individual is  $68,667 per year.Leading SAFe® 4.5 certification will help you to foster your organization’s success. SAFe Agilist (SA) certification will allow you not only to execute and deliver value through Agile Release Trains (ARTs) but also to lead a Lean-Agile transformation in scaled organizations. This certification will also let you build a continuous delivery pipeline, DevOps culture. Also, the course exhibits the power of coordinating with the larger solutions and empowering a Lean portfolio culture within the enterprise.Benefits of Leading SAFe® 4.5 Training Course-After the course, candidates will be able to-Exhibit how the combination of Lean, Agile, and Product Development shapes the SAFe® foundation.Apply SAFe® 4.5 principles and Lean-Agile mindset to scale the Lean and Agile development in the organization.Managing development of the larger solutions and bolster a Lean-Agile transfiguration in the enterprise.16 PDUs and 16 SEUs and a one-year membership with Scaled Agile Inc.(SAI)Note: Before choosing the institute, ensure that the course is authorised by Scaled Agile Inc.(SAI)Prerequisites for Leading SAFe® 4.5 Training Course-To obtain this certification, you need to complete the course, followed by the exam. However, for attending the exam, the candidates must have 5+ years of experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product or project management. Also, he/she should have work experience in Agile and Scrum.After the course, candidates will get 3 emails from Scaled Academy.A welcome email to create a profile,A survey email which requests your feedback on the training,An exam link email with instructions for the examBenefitsExhibit how the combination of Lean, Agile, and ProductDevelopment shapes the SAFe® foundation.Apply SAFe® 4,5 principles and Lean—AgI|e mindset w sca\e theLean and Agile development in the organization.Managing development of the larger solutionsand bolsteraLean-Agi\e transfiguration in the enterprise.16 PDUs and 16 szus and a unew/ear membership with ScaledAgile Inc.(SAI)10. PMI-ACP® Certification Training:Salary: The average salary of PMI-ACP® is nearly $123,000 a year.The Project Management Institute-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) is a broadly acknowledged certification in the Agile community and is a proof of the holder's capability to manage projects utilizing Agile practices. Working experience in Agile projects, knowledge of Agile practices, principles, tools, and techniques, and the Agile training are the prerequisites to attend PMI-ACP® training.Benefits of PMI-ACP® Certification Training-This course will help individuals to-Attain deep knowledge of Agile Manifesto, its processes, principles, tools, and techniques.Understand the Scrum Framework, its associated roles and responsibilities, scrum tools to increase transparency, lowering the risks and quality product faster.Learn the concepts that will help you to accomplish project goals within a confined time and budget constraintsDevelop the soft skills like emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, working in collaboration etc.21 PDUs and 21 SEUsCourse completion certificate and courseware approved by PMI® (if the institute is PMI® approved)Prerequisites for PMI-ACP® Certification Training:To acquire this certification, candidates must have2000 hours of working experience in general projects or active PMP® OR PgMP credential.1500 hours of Agile project working experience21 contact hours earned in Agile practicesTo attend the exam, you just need to register and create a login at the PMI’s online system.Note: Choose PMI ® approved certification institute as Project Management Institute® is the renowned certifying body of Project Management.BenefitsAttain deep knowledge of Agile Manifesto, its processes,principles, tools, and techniques.Understand the Scrum Framework, its associated roles andresponsibilities, scrum tools to increase transparency, loweringthe risks and quality product faster.Learn the concepts that will help you to accomplish project goalswithin a confined time and budget constraints.Develop the soft skills like emotional intelligence, conflictresolution, working in collaboration etc.Candidates can earn 21 PDUs and 21 SEUsCourse completion certificate and courseware approved byPM|® (if the institute is PM|® approved]Today, Agile and the organizations aren’t strangers anymore. A plethora of Agile certifications are available for the interested people to boost their Agile career. As you are most likely aware, simply earning a skill is not enough, you need to prove yourself to the potential employer. The relevant training programs open your talent to the outside world. To start your career with a reputed organization, look for the various certification options available to drive you to success. Also, find a good institute to pick the course that best fits your requirements. You can visit https://www.knowledgehut.com/ for more details. Buckle up to keep climbing the Agile ladder!
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Top-paying Agile Certifications To Consider In 201...

The potential positives of Agile and Scrum trainin... Read More

Agile and ITIL: Friends or Foes?

Today, many IT organizations are expanding their IT businesses using ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and other valuable industry frameworks for ITSM (IT Service Management). They are focussing on improving their service quality. In addition to quality, companies are trying to build agility, with the emergence of new technology and methodology like Agile Software Development.  Recent reports from ITSM.tools emphasized upon the factors that organizations measure during work in IT industry. The following image shows the statistics of the aspects, as measured by the organizations. Even after the use of these methodologies and technologies to speed up delivery, IT operations were not able to get on with the fastest delivery rate of IT services. So industries carried out many discussions regarding the combination of ITIL and Agile- Is it possible that both can coexist within an organization? Can ITIL and Agile play major role after merging service quality with agility and speed? Will Agile and ITIL together becomes friends or foes? The article has tried to address this as precisely as possible.  ITIL provides a framework for the governance of IT from the business and customer outlook. ITIL is referred as the best practice framework for IT service management (ITSM). It focuses on continuous measurement and improvement in the quality of the IT services delivered to the customers. According to the ITIL Practitioner course, ITIL includes 9 guiding principles as follows: Focus on value Design for experience Start where you are Work holistically Progress iteratively Observe directly Be transparent Collaborate Keep it simple Agile is a set of processes for software development which fulfills customer requirements and solutions from the cross-functional teams. Companies need to adopt the key points from the Agile Manifesto to achieve Agile ITSM. The key points are as follows: Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools Working Software over comprehensive documentation Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to Change over following a plan. If these Agile practices are matched with the 9 principles of ITIL, you will find some striking similarities. ‘Working software’ is an equivalent to ‘Focus on value’- which means develop the right things, the valued software can be used by the customers. The ‘Keep it Simple’ principle clearly explains how close ITIL and Agile are! This principle suggests to act quickly and deliver quality, which is the same as ‘Responding to change’.    One of the main hurdles in the integration of Agile and ITIL is the truth that ITIL follows sequential framework, whereas Agile is an iterative approach where Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) are constructed and updated in a very short period cycle. This may create instability. However, businesses and their clients look for stable and agile IT services. DevOps can be the solution for it. It is a more endurable approach for bringing these two contrasting approaches to enable stability and agility (Development and Operations), together. DevOps is based on the combination and communication between Development (Dev) and IT Operations (Ops). DevOps provides technical practices to produce a software. The goal behind DevOps technology is to automate an application delivery and workflow of the processes (planning, design, implementation, testing).  In future, there will be a lean, fast and agile IT service management. According to Gene Kim, thought leader and co-author of The Phoenix Project- “Patterns and processes that emerge from DevOps are the inevitable outcome of applying Lean principles to the IT value stream […and] ITSM practitioners are uniquely equipped to help in DevOps initiatives, and create value for the business”. Essentially, considering the diverse perspectives, Agile and ITIL can exist without some major conflict. Agile and ITIL can very much go hand in hand, because this combination allows IT organizations to have a new culture called, Agile ITSM. ITIL will offer a framework for stable and quality-assured service rapid delivery, whereas DevOps will ensure to provide the continuous stream of improvements. Due to the alliance of Agile/DevOps and ITIL principles, Agile ITSM can provide guidelines for service and the speediest delivery in an Agile way!   
Rated 4.0/5 based on 20 customer reviews
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Agile and ITIL: Friends or Foes?

Today, many IT organizations are expanding their I... Read More