Toward global agility: 5 best practices for managing distributed agile teams
Today’s connected world delivers a powerful tool for businesses: easy access to a rich, global talent pool. The availability of talented professionals around the globe lets smart companies stay ahead of the competition with their agile practices by hiring the best talent while keeping costs under control.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to deliver on defined roadmaps while furthering the organizational mission.
Of course, every opportunity includes challenges, and this one is no different. Drawing from a global talent pool means the need to collaborate across different geographical locations to serve global markets effectively, which takes more effort and knowledge than working only with a local team.
Some of the potential gotchas include differences in time zones, language and communication barriers, and potential cultural concerns.
Fortunately, with careful planning, the right tools, and a commitment to agile principles, scaling teams in multiple geographies can be made simpler and more efficient.
In this article, we explore five best practices for managing distributed agile teams that you can put to work right away to enhance your company’s success.
1. Embrace agile principles
Agile methodologies serve as a strong foundation for scaling teams across regions, making them particularly well suited to global talent pools.
An important place to start is by ensuring that all team members understand and adhere to the core principles of agile development, which includes placing emphasis on the following areas:
- Individuals and interactions (over processes and tools)
- Working software (over comprehensive documentation)
- Customer collaboration (over contract negotiation)
- Responding to change (over following a project plan)
Be sure to conduct agile training and incentivize team members to pursue agile certifications. These efforts are essential to creating and maintaining a common language and approach that applies regardless of where team members are located.
2. Use every opportunity to collaborate—in person
Most of the collaboration involved in managing distributed agile teams will be online, for understandable reasons. After all, it’s necessary to work together year-round during projects, and travel must necessarily be limited.
However, while that travel cannot take place all the time, make sure that it does take place. Working together in person offers certain opportunities that are not available using video calls and team software, so allocate a travel budget to ensure the team can meet in person and collaborate regularly.
Keep the following in mind:
- It is beneficial to plan the initial project kick-off in a common location; this could be done at the end of a team-building exercise. If that’s not feasible, try to think outside the box, like creating a virtual event at a convenient time when most team members are available.
- If feasible, have technical team members travel to the locations of business users/stakeholders for demos.
- Clearly define the project’s objectives, priorities, and success metrics. This shared purpose will help align remote teams and keep everyone motivated toward achieving the common goal.
- Plan in-person meetings to focus specifically on high-priority activities and events that benefit most from the “personal touch” and don’t work well over the internet.
3. Leverage modern communications tools
Nearly all project teams now utilize videoconferencing tools like Zoom. That’s true even of local teams, due to the rise of remote and hybrid work, but it’s particularly essential to managing distributed agile teams.
Here are some best practices to get the most out of these tools:
- Set up all agile ceremonies with links to Zoom (or another video platform) well in advance. Ensure that conference rooms are booked for these ceremonies—preferably the same room every day—so people in the office do not get distracted or conduct meetings offline.
- Build a “camera-on culture” for agile ceremonies to foster a sense of virtual togetherness.
- Identify a proxy scrum master at each location who will ensure that agile principles and ceremonies are enforced at each location.
- Set up chat rooms for each scrum team to enable instant, seamless communication.
- Agree on core hours during which team members from various locations can overlap for meetings and collaboration. If, as is generally the case, the core hours result in inconvenience for team members in one or more time zones, consider rotating the core hours every sprint so that every team shares the inconvenience.
4. Put agile project management tools to work
Communications platforms are the foundational general tool sets for managing distributed agile teams, but there are also specialized project management tools that can make your life a lot easier if you put them to work for you. These tools can help your team work together smarter and get more done in less time.
For example, you can utilize agile project management tools to manage tasks, track task progress, monitor overall progress, and keep an eye on priorities across projects and locations. Tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana enable teams to update their status asynchronously, letting both managers and team members maintain a clear view and handle specific activities seamlessly.
5. Conduct retrospectives regularly
Retrospectives are the cornerstone of successful agile teams. They ensure continuous improvement and bring forward the unseen challenges of working with distributed teams, allowing both managers and individual contributors to get better and enhance the organization’s overall effectiveness.
Be sure to hold retrospectives at the end of each sprint or iteration to reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and how the team’s remote collaboration can be enhanced. We recommend using a template that allows all team members to vote on the retrospectives logged; this will help highlight the top issue areas in a situation where all team members may not be able to attend the retrospectives.
Managing distributed agile teams is a challenge that today’s organizations must address to take advantage of the many benefits of employing modern global workforces. In this article, we have explored five essential best practices that can help you make the most of worldwide teams to ensure project and organizational success.
Learn more about iTalent Digital’s outcome-driven PMO services on our PMO web page, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with us about your project management goals.
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