Agile Next - Distributed Agile

World, on the Agile way

The onset of pandemic in 2020, inadvertently, made Agile the buzzword for organizations that were trying to find a semblance of normalcy. Teams followed the Agile Manifesto unbeknownst to them as the world responded to unprecedented change, by collaborating with customers and putting faith in people more than processes. Strongly-held beliefs were shattered, newer ways of achieving excellence were being tested, and employees learned as they went along – and so did their organizations.

Physical Co-location, widely considered a pre-requisite for Agile, was proven to be a moot point. Across the globe, agile teams supported by remote collaboration platforms and guided by the Agile cadence, showed that they can be equally effective when working remotely.

This increase in collaboration that is seen between Agile teams, is in line with the findings by McKinsey and the Harvard Business School researches which show that companies that had launched agile transformations pre-COVID-19 performed better and moved faster post- COVID-19. Agile organizations had an edge because they already had processes and structures available to them, such as cross-functional teams, quarterly business reviews, empowered frontline teams, and clear data on outputs and outcomes, that proved critical to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. They adjusted faster, and with less employee turmoil.

In this paper, the impact of this transformation is discussed, and the effects it may have on the organization and teams so as to arrive at methods that focus on how to succeed in implementing Distributed Agile.

Amplifying the impact of Distributed Agile

As Organizations scrambled to respond to COVID by adopting a distributed way of working, a lot of different decisions and processes were implemented, to varying degrees of success. Here are some of the factors that help in maximizing the efforts put in, and should be considered when moving from Agile On-Prem to Distributed Agile.

1: Distributed Agile teams need to make decisions on their own

Teams that take decisions by themselves, save hours – if not days – from the delivery timeline. This power of taking decisions becomes all the more important in the distributed Agile environment, as getting in touch with someone for approval across time zones.

2: Robust infrastructure nurtures high-performing teams

The rise in conference calls, be it Microsoft Teams, Zoom or webex, have one thing in common: It is said in jest that one of the most commonly used phrases in 2020 was "I can hear you, are you able to hear me?" This highlights the need to first have a thorough performance evaluation of remote infrastructure and then invest in scaling it not just for now but also for the future.

3: Data needs additional security

According to Statista, the value of IT services outsourcing may exceed $413.72 Billion by the end of 2021. Keeping a strict control over this data is vital for organizations, and the task becomes even more complicated when operating in Distributed Agile environments. An area often ignored for example is Test data, which many times is copied over from production and may contain business sensitive information, which needs to be sufficiently masked and protected.

4: Distributed Agile affects different teams differently

Harvard Business review’s recent research report, titled 'Stand up meetings inhibit Innovation', highlighted how transformative work requires more 'me time' than coordination. Another study by BCG has shown that whilst productivity was maintained or even went up on individual tasks as teams became remote, the results were mixed on collaborative tasks teams had mixed results. This indicates a need for process and platform innovation to not just maintain but improve employee experience.

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Adapting to Distributed Agile

Working remotely enables the benefits of flexibility and independence for employees, and Agile provides them with a way to manage responsibilities and deliverables. There are some best practices and tools to go through this process, which can accelerate adaptation to Distributed Agile.

Best Practice 1: Hiring Quality over quantity

Hiring experienced/talented individuals increases the possibilities of organizations adapting to change better, and enables better decisions. The experienced ones are not guided by process but can adopt accordingly, during times of turbulent change.

Best Practice 2: Monitor Infrastructure performance, Continuously

Performance monitoring is essential for the effectiveness of Distributed Agile teams. It can help identify bottlenecks, help to formulate strategies to reduce non-essential resource hungry systems, and foresee any critical threshold which may bring down the remote infrastructure.

Best Practice 3: Create a safe culture enabled by security tools

Organizations need to invest in a culture of security by engaging associates in create a sustainable, secure process. Reinforcing the same with additional tooling for data encryption (especially for test data which often gets ignored), backup encryption, endpoint encryption, remote monitoring software etc. ensure that the security protocols reflect the needs of the new distributed Agile environment.

Best Practice 4: Implement and Adapt Agile on Distributed Agile process

As teams adjust to Distributed Agile, organizations need to increase the frequency of feedback and experimentation with their Agile process to enable the teams to find the right fit for them and preserve their mental and physical health. Companies such as Gitlab are already experimenting with Asynchronous meetings, and virtual prototyping with end customer in providing enhanced feedback is also being adopted by more teams.

Best Practice 5: Connect people, process and data

In order to retain the power of social connectivity, Organizations need to weave a Digital fabric that enables cohesion and understanding among distributed teams. Enabling use of tools that encourage collaboration, like Timezone.io (tracks current time of all members in a distributed team), or Krisp (mute background noise) simplify matters for employees, and project management platforms like Miro and Trello provide a visual collaboration platform. Finding different tools that can help teams and then championing their adoption leads to better communication.

Best Practice 6: Implement Agile across enterprise

In order to gain a business advantage, organizations need to focus on implemented Agile at an enterprise scale across their business and technology functions and operations. Having an agile enterprise truly delivers business outcomes. An Agile development team does not function in a Silo and is supported by IT operations and business functions – such as human resources or procurement and even customer contact centers to create a circular flow of information and value.

This is just the beginning

The doorstep of a new world is right in front of the human race, where everyone is constantly learning the ways of this new world of Distributed Agile – and there is only one way we will succeed: By working together and learning from each other. References below show some excellent studies and research, which can help organizations take their first step into the Distributed Agile journey.

References

Authors

Adrian O’ Leary, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Quality Engineering

Douglas Sanders, Associate Vice President Quality Engineering

Purnananda Singh, Associate Vice President Quality Engineering