10 Rules Of Running a Remote Agile Development Team
Oct 146 min read
Co-founder and CEO of Ideamotive. Entrepreneur, mentor and startup advisor.
When you aim at increasing productivity in your software development team, you can think about going fully remotely. It’s tempting as many companies in 2020 transform their processes this way responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. But do you know how to get on with Agile with remote teams?
Is it even allowed to combine Agile with remote teams?
Agile software development and remote engineering teams are two things that can work together. Moreover, that mix is powerful and gains popularity. There is no reason for you to avoid Agile with remote teams or to avoid going remote in an agile organization.
You may encounter some challenges though. Let’s look at them before you start building an agile remote environment for efficient collaboration that boosts your specialists’ ability to do their best at work.
Challenges introducing agile for remote teams
Most of us are used to office work and meeting our teammates in the same space-time. Because of this, it is a challenge to be a part or run a remote team, even though Agile was created by and for people who share the same office. Working in the same workspace makes some issues easier to tackle. The most common challenges will be:
asking for help - all you need to do is simply lean towards your teammate;
discussing solutions - there’s no need to schedule a meeting when you can exchange ideas in person;
task coordination - often it’s easier when you’re all in one time-zone;
team integration - building a real team and integrating all members is way simpler when you all share one workspace;
motivation - some people are great at home-office. However, for many, it’s difficult to stay motivated and diligent outside the office environment.
The fact that there are some challenges doesn’t mean that running an agile remote development team is impossible. Even more, I will show you what tactics will support you with making your remote team agile, efficient, and happy.
How to stay Agile with remote teams? - 10 rules
Going remote raises a question of how to make the most of your team’s potential. While your developers work in a not-so-perfect environment and need to struggle with their challenges, some rules will help you run the team Agile and keep the efficiency high.
So, what are the ten rules regarding Agile for remote teams?
1.Brace Yourself. And Your Team
This applies both for transforming your Agile team to remote, and when onboarding someone, who has never worked like that. Before you even start turning your team remote, you should take your time and explain to everyone, what's the purpose and what it's going to be like. This is crucial because you want to get a team agreement. Part of the solution is to focus on keeping everyone on the same page throughout the project. Pay attention to communication and make clear why, what, and how everything will be done from now on.
2. Pay More Attention to Feedback and Insights
With remote teams, Project Managers, Scrum Masters, technical Leads, or Product Owners should be responsible for collecting feedback and insights from the team. They should frequently ask about the understanding of project principles, tasks, and requirements. It will help increase motivation and devotion to the project. This kind of managers' engagement is also salient for recognizing issues that affect team productivity and overall satisfaction. It corresponds with another issue that is engaging everyone in the meetings held (planning, retrospectives, stand-ups, etc.). Make sure that every team member is involved and has an impact on the project.
3. Use Agile Tools for Remote Teams
Lots of project management tools are equally useful for teams at a location and those operating remotely. However, it’s advisable to approach this realm slightly differently when going full-remote.
Consider investing in one umbrella application that eliminates the need to use different applications for different processes. Think about software that collects crucial data and enhances metrics and KPI analysis. Some tools, like JIRA or ClickUp include (almost) everything you need. Otherwise, you may look for integration with different apps.;
It’s invaluable that you make sure everyone in the team has appropriate hardware and software tools. It might sound obvious, but you cannot call for high-quality remote work from people, who don’t have sufficient equipment. This can include headset and webcam for meetings, VPN (NordVPN, Perimeter 81) combined with remote desktop software (AnyDesk, Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection), stable Internet connection, etc.
Use online video-meeting software for meetings you can’t avoid or re-frame. For meetings like Sprint planning or Retrospectives, choose one person who will share their desktop (Zoom, GoToMeeting, ClickMeeting). Moreover, use a digital whiteboard that will wonderfully replace its tangible version (Miro, AWW, Conceptboard).
For feedback (e.g. at retrospectives) use questionnaires. One advantage of such a solution is that it’s more convenient to aggregate data. Furthermore, it speeds up the process (SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, TypeForm).
4. Hold Daily Stand-ups
This kind of short meetings common in SCRUM will be very useful for any remote team. Short meetings like this help keep everyone on the same page. Moreover, it’s easier to trace progress and workflow. Normally daily Stand-up is a short meeting held in the morning. As the name suggests, participants don’t sit in a meeting room. The standing position introduces a sense of urgency and helps keep the meeting short.
But how to do Stand-ups from home? The best practice is to use video conference software supported by traditional text chat for an equivalent of daily Stand-ups. Standing position not required.
5. Organize Fewer Meetings
Wait, isn’t it contradictory to the previous point about Stand-ups? Well, yes, however, Stand-ups give value, and many other kinds of meetings don’t. Short daily meeting support task scheduling and targeting issues that come up in a project. Usually, 15 minutes is absolutely enough. Your team and the project will benefit from re-framing other meetings into other means of communication. Comprehensive lists, comments in Click-up or Jira, consulting via communicators like Slack... Try not to organize meetings that can be replaced by an email.
Finally, if you really need to run a meeting, make sure it’s a videoconference. Limiting audio will decrease your team’s engagement.
6. Use Smart Metrics
Take a closer look at your metrics. If you need some help, you will find plenty of information in our article about metrics in Project Management. Make sure that you know what you measure, and that it’s vital for your team. Consider, which metrics and KPIs help your team create and deliver value. Maybe you will find some that facilitate your specialists’ well-being? For sure, some metrics and KPIs you currently use will appear useless or even harmful to your project. If you were to restrain yourself to only few, let them be these:
Work In Progress
This responsibility becomes even more important when managing a remote team. Be sure you provide enough feedback from your team and be brave to receive feedback from them. It’s much more difficult for your teammates to keep the rapport without personal contact. Unlike in brick-and-mortar offices, they don’t have occasions to casually meet and chat during the workday. One way to support communication is to invite people for meetings couple minutes earlier and secure some time for more relaxed small talks. Make sure everyone involved has a place and opportunity to express their opinion. Moreover, take care of transparency. It helps keep everybody on the same page and prevents unnecessary conflicts.
8.Create and Use More Documentation
Agile principles value working software over documentation. Unfortunately, the specifics of remote teams require that everyone has easy access to information and knowledge gathered about the project. Does it mean that comprehensive documentation becomes more important than working solutions? No, but you should pay more attention to codified know-how, manuals, requirements, etc. Normally, face-to-face communication would solve lots of issues. With remote teams, accessible documentation can do the job.
9. Manage Time-zones
It might sound obvious but coordinating working time for teammates scattered across various time-zones is difficult. And it’s not only about making sure that everybody has the opportunity to attend a meeting during the day. In some cases, it’s also about motivation and engagement. If you decide that only people from a certain region will work within their uncomfortable hours, that will affect their morale, therefore it’s good to share the pain of a multi-time-zone environment.
Especially today many of your remote specialists will work from home. It means that it will be more difficult for them to keep the work-life balance. Encourage them to sleep well and take their time for relaxation. Rested employers will get more jobs done and their attitude will influence the team-spirit positively.
Being part of a remote team makes it more likely to experience work-life blending. Therefore, as a leader, you should be very responsive and watchful for signs of poor time-management among your teammates. Make sure they know how to separate their working-time and personal-life. As much as possible, consider enhancing their work-life management.
For example, you can make it easier for your team members not to always work from home by providing some free passes to the co-working spaces in their area (companies like Deskpass or Copass are great examples of such services).
As for WFH itself, you can also support them in the creation of a home-based office and a good working environment. This can be done by sharing Work From Home Good Practices and providing them with actual equipment that makes working from home easier, such as noise-cancelling headphones or comfortable office chairs they can use at home.
Is it enough to run a remote agile development team successfully?
10 rules, and that’s it? Is that all you need? Not at all, that’s just a beginning. You will need an experienced team of software developers, who have already worked remotely. Your Scrum Master or Project manager should also know the ropes of remote team management.
Going fully remote isn’t that simple if you’re not prepared. In Ideamotive we’ve introduced a remote-first approach a while ago and now we keep on polishing our processes and increasing the value we deliver to our customers.
Robert is a co-founder and CEO of Ideamotive. Entrepreneur, who with passion spreads digital revolution all around the internet. Mentor and advisor at startup accelerators. Loves to learn and discover new business models.