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Implementing Agile for Remote Teams

agile-for-remote-teamsImplementing the process of agile for remote teams can be a productive and rewarding experience, but it comes with its own challenges. Just like any other pattern of working remotely, agile will take a tremendous amount of commitment, responsibility and planning.

We’re well into the 21st century, so working remotely shouldn’t be a new concept to you, however many people haven’t taken the leap into implementing agile and scrum processes on remote teams though.

While there are many similarities in tasks that continue to be important in remote agile, there are also several differences between the two. One of the key differences between co-located teams and remote teams is communication.

Communication of Agile for Remote Teams 

One of the most challenging parts of implementing agile on a remote team is effective communication.

With remote agile, you don’t have the opportunity to just hash out problems with your co-workers face to face. That’s why it’s important to keep meetings efficient and on-point.

All of the standard agile meetings still apply to remote agile:

  • Sprint Planning Meeting – This meeting usually requires a couple of hours a week, which entails planning for the next upcoming sprint
  • Daily Scrum Meeting – A daily meeting in which team members collaborate and communicate risks, progress and dependencies.
  • Sprint Review – Team members show the team what they have accomplished during the sprint and recieve feedback
  • Retrospective meeting – Team members identify what went well and not-so-well during the last sprint and identify solutions to make the next sprint better.

Some of the important features of these tools for facilitating these meetings are (1):

  • Recording
  • Screen sharing
  • Easy scheduling with reminders
  • Audio teleconferencing
  • Ability to pass control to another user

We also have an article on Remote Collaboration Tools covering some of the most popular tools used to facilitate the process.

Types of Remote Communication

Two types of communication exist when thinking about remote communication – synchronous and asynchronous.

It’s worth considering the benefits of each before deciding which style may be best for your team.

Synchronous Communication

Synchronous communication involves remote teams communicating in person, via video, audio, or real time chat. This can be accomplished with Skype, Google Hangouts or others.

One of the positive impacts of this type of communication is that you build relationships with your team members as a result of hearing their voice or seeing their face.

It also allows you to resolve project questions, conflicts or roadblocks quickly and easily by resolving problems on the fly, often without the need to wait for a response. The ability to clarify issues quickly in meetings allows for better progress and an overall increase in productivity.  

While synchronous communication has it’s benefits, it also has pitfalls, such as the impact on team members schedule’s in timezones far apart. Requiring synchronous meetings can force these members to attend meetings early in the morning or late at night, leading to a poor work/life balance.

Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication does not rely on team members to attend meetings at specific times. It allows team members to have much more flexible schedules.

Helpscout’s remote engineering team focuses on asynchronous communication (2). Instead of disrupting everyone on their teams’ schedules to attend a stand up meeting, they just ask everyone on their team to post the standard stand up comments on their slack channel at the beginning and end of their workday:

  • What they did since yesterday’s update.
  • What they plan on doing before the next update.
  • Whether anything is blocking them.

Since asynchronous communication in many ways becomes a rolling schedule, people may need to wait a little longer to get replies or answers to their questions since other members may not be seeing comments or questions at the same time they are posting. For many people, the flexibility that asynchronous communication provides make it worth waiting a little longer.

Find the Combination That Works Best

Try different combinations of communication and address them in your retrospectives. There is no right or wrong way to communicate remotely. You can mix and match both tools and synchronous/asynchronous methods. In the end, it’s about what works for your team. Remember “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” as stated in the Agile Manifesto.

  1. (List courtesy of Meeting Burner’s Article )