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Virtually Agile - Is virtual really the nemesis of Agile?

How to run Agile on Virtual Teams

 In today’s IT world, Agile and scrum methodologies are the latest trend in implementation methods - but can they be managed virtually?

Increasingly, they are used in an attempt to keep up with ever-changing technology and the demand for speed of change that new technology requires.

Over the last 20 years however, many global companies have spent billions offshoring teams and locating them in other more cost efficient countries, particularly with SAP implementations and BAU support.

Because of this, IT support teams increasingly find themselves working remotely as a small part of a team that is spread across the globe.

So that leaves us with a burning question…

Can Agile methodology be used effectively by Virtual Teams?

The Advantages of Virtual Teams

There are many advantages to Virtual Teams - the first and primary advantage being cost.

In a Virtual Team the majority of the team can be offshore - and in some cases the whole team can be remote - making it much cheaper.

But cost isn’t the only advantage of virtual resources.

Virtual Teams mean you can leverage highly skilled resources who are remote.

Even if your best developer was in Brazil and your best customer facing functional consultant was in Poland it doesn’t matter - you can pick your best team according to their skillset as well as their rate.

Remote workers also benefit from a lack of distraction from being on the “shop floor”.

This can be beneficial whether you need a Virtual Team to execute simple repetitive tasks or if you need them to do something that requires intense concentration.

Typically, Virtual Teams work best in process driven environments with clear deliverables and objectives.

They can also work well and more commonly in support environments.

With all that said, you might be thinking “but these use-cases don’t sound very Agile?”.

And perhaps there’s a reason for that.

The Problem with Virtual Teams

A common problem with Virtual Teams is their lack of exposure to high pressure situations.

Not being in the office at the coal face of a project can lead to deadlines being missed and a general lack of urgency around getting work done.

Communication can also be a challenge due to lack of face time within the team, across teams and across the global business.

While technologies like Skype and Slack can help with this, nothing can compare to the real thing.

And, when it comes to Virtual Teams and communication there can also be the challenge of clashing cultures.

When working with offshore teams, differences must be appreciated, especially if teams are located in more than one country.

Nuances such as body language and tone of voice can often be misconstrued on telephone calls or meetings without video - and expectations of how to manage workload across religious and public holidays can sometimes cause unexpected delays if there has been no due diligence done by the project team back at HQ.

How to create success with Agile

Traditionally, the prime driver of an Agile delivery team’s success is that they are co-located.

Therefore by definition, Agile is the nemesis of virtual.

Agile teams are designed to work quickly without barriers or time zone considerations.

They make joint decisions - with little or no hierarchy - and speed is a key measure of success.

Agile teams should be empowered to act fast, having stand up meetings within minutes of calling them and operating in highly efficient sprints.

Can Virtual Teams be Agile?

So can Virtual Teams operate in this way?

They can - people have proven that they can - but there are a number of factors that have to be in place to make it work.

Virtual Teams should be led on all sites with a facilitator in each location.

This enables teams to mobilise quickly, easily attend stand ups, and make joint decisions.

To support this, Virtual Teams need the right technology.

  • Video conferencing for example helps greatly, giving the effect of having the team in the same location.
  • Kanban style project management tools such as Favro should also be used to clearly visualise workload. This helps everyone involved know where the project is up to.
  • Managing time zones is key to success. Remember to update your calendar with your colleagues’ national holidays as well as your own. It’s amazing how frequently this gets forgotten.

A Virtual Team actually has an advantage over an in-house team as they can work 24/7 with the right distribution of staff across different time zones.

Ensure handovers are conducted thoroughly between each “shift” of the Virtual Team to keep everyone working towards the same goals.

Creating your own Virtual Agile Team

So how do you set up a Virtual Team that can be successful with Agile?

There are five critical success factors:

  • Choose your highest performing individuals who are skilled at delivering results quickly and know the methodology
  • Check their track record - are they driven to thrive in this type of environment?
  • It helps if you’ve worked with the team members before so you know how to deal with them and work at your best with them
  • Choose your facilitators in each location carefully - they will be the key to ensuring all team members are mobilised quickly ready for any short notice video conferences or meetings
  • Most importantly, prioritise good communication regardless of how far away your Virtual Team members might be

If you need help establishing a Virtual Team or setting up project management tools like Favro we can help.

Contact us here.

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