How companies can implement an agile approach to achieve significant improvements in the work with the offshore teams
Many companies today move their software development activities offshore to achieve cost savings, save time, and optimize their product development processes. In the previous post, we’ve already talked about why and where to hire a dedicated development team and how it can help to streamline your startup.
In a nutshell, hiring an offshore development team allows startups to build a high-quality MVP while saving their funds and time. However, as opposed to the management of traditional teams, managing offshore teams involves a set of specific challenges such as culture, communication, multiple locations and time zones, task management, discipline, and control. Therefore, it requires an efficient methodology that would allow distributed teams to work effectively.
The effectiveness of the work of an offshore team depends largely on implementing the right offshore team management practices which will coordinate all work processes. An agile methodology is a particular approach to project management that emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, continuous improvement, and high-quality results. It provides an efficient and flexible approach to software development and to help teams produce better software. offshore team management
So the question is: how agile techniques can be used in an offshore setting? Are Agile approaches applicable to offshore development teams, especially if the teams are scattered around the world in different time zones and cultures?
Get the most of an offshore team in an agile environment
Agile methodology is already used worldwide as a convenient and effective framework for software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster. The Agile Manifesto published in 2001 includes four foundational values and 12 key principles of the Agile Methodology that serve as a guide for the teams. One main benefit of this methodology is the ability to adapt and change at any step depending on the market conditions and feedback.
The agile approach aims to help development teams uncover better ways of building software products by providing a clear framework that promotes iterative development, team collaboration, with a focus on quality and efficiency. If you have an offshore development team, how do you successfully implement an Agile approach?
1. Define the product vision statement
Before starting work on the project with a distributed development team, it is necessary to determine the volume of all the tasks that must be completed by a given date. This step helps to build a comprehensive work strategy or the Scope of Work (SOW), and present a complete picture of the project to the team. The Scope of Work should contain the milestones, reports, and timeline for all deliverables that are expected to be provided by the team.
Based on the scope of work, the project can be further divided into several parts and specific sets of tasks that would later be used for planning product iterations. This allows the development of the product to be more flexible and makes it easier to change the priority of tasks depending on the user feedback and other external factors.
2. Create a clear product roadmap
Once the general tasks list is created, you need to divide all the scope of work by time intervals to create a product development roadmap. The product roadmap is a high-level view of the requirements needed to achieve the product vision. It is important to note that product roadmap is a flexible instrument, so deadlines and functionality may vary depending on the speed of the development process, user requirements, and other external factors. Its main goal is to create a clear picture of the process of product development that would be available for all members of the offshore development team.
In order to constantly see the progress, as well as quickly make changes in the direction of the product roadmap, the development process is divided into short iterations called sprints. For sprint planning the team creates a list of tasks with descriptions with time estimates.
3. Conduct regular demos
Demo is a demonstration of the intermediate result of the teamwork that is usually held at the end of each iteration. The main purpose of the demo is to show what the team managed to achieve during the sprint and to understand whether the team performance meets the expected requirements. At demos, the product owner or the project manager should give the team constructive feedback and make sure that it is documented. Also, it is important to analyze the last iteration, identify positive and negative points, and develop solutions for them.
Because all the members of the software development team are actively involved in the demo, there is a continuous level of collaboration between all parties, which is especially important for distributed teams.
4. Invest in collaboration technology
Collaboration technology really helps offshore development teams be more effective. Such tools as Trello, Slack, and JIRA help agile development team to make the collaboration workflow easy and transparent. These tools don’t replace sitting in a room together, but they help keep the whole team on the same page, despite the differences in locations and time zones, which makes them essential for offshore team management.
5. Use agile team meetings to sync up team members
Daily standup, a quick 15-minute get-together, is a good instance for agile development teams, who share work between different time zones. The goal of daily standups is to share the goals for the day and set agendas, as well as discuss any problems that have arisen. Such regular short meetings could be a simple yet effective way of ensuring the entire distributed agile team is in sync.
6. Always communicate with customers to grow your product
Prioritize asynchronous communication
One of the fundamental pillars of the agile development team is the importance of communication between the people and teams involved in software development. But considering that the work of the distributed agile teams takes place mostly remotely, and team members are not sitting in one office, communication becomes significantly harder.
Asynchronous communication is oxygen for remote development teams. The timezone difference is one of the main problems that affect communication in the team in the first place.
According to Chris Brookis, The Chief Product Officer at Help Scout, for remote engineering teams ‘nearly everything should be optimized for asynchronous communication — daily standups, code reviews, feature demos, project updates, and so on’.
When a team is scattered around the world in different time zones, most management problems are solved by building the right communication within the team. Some of the best practices for communication for the agile development team include:
- All team members must be available to communicate with each other in order to resolve issues in a timely manner.
- Communication should be transparent for all team members.
- All decisions made need to be communicated and documented.
- Building a single vocabulary to smooth the communication context will help to improve clarity and avoid misunderstandings.
- Conducting regular short status meetings for the entire team helps to improve collaboration and coordination.
- With time zone problems it’s important to keep the time for calls and video meetings as consistent as possible.
Different communication tools work for different kinds of problems. There are 5 main communication tools used by successful distributed agile teams:
- Team chats and instant messaging tools such as Slack, where team members can discuss tasks and problems daily, arrange meetings, and more.
- Project management tools such as JIRA are used to plan all tasks and describe the work process for them. It is very important to create one project environment where all tasks are stored centrally and every team member has access to.
- Wikis to contain common information, such as design guidelines, instructions, notes on progress – anything that needs to be written down for reference by the team.
- Email is used most often for sending reports or other official project documents and sharing decisions with all who need to be informed.
- Voice and video calls are required for long discussions, for example, for strategic planning sessions.
Create a consistent development environment
Working with offshore teams, it is crucial to have a designated product lead with both the autonomy and the accountability to make decisions and take responsibility for the overall outcomes. This person could be a CTO, a project manager, or a product owner.
The following three simple steps represent the work required to achieve high performing offshore development teams:
- Build trust between teams in a distributed work environment.
Agile development teams thrive in an environment that promotes autonomy, trust, and flexibility. Project involvement plays a key role in offshore team – if people do not feel their contribution to the overall project success, the potential of the team falls. Teams that are simply given requirements to “code up” have much less motivation and involvement. It is important to make the offshore team feel like a partner, help team members understand the business context and create a sense of purpose to achieve a high level of engagement in the project.
- Minimize the friction in setting up the development environment
There is no standard development practice that allows effective collaboration across time zones and locations. The only way to find the best available set of processes and tools for the particular project and team.
Distributed teams rely more heavily on processes and tools. The project lead should provide the team with direction and guidance, and ensure the team has the right tools in place to do their best work and focus on delivering value for the customers and the business.
- Create guidelines for effective work
Offshore development teams should have a common understanding of the best work practices and standards they will adopt and follow. It is the team lead who keeps standards high and ensured all the expectations and instructions are clear to everyone on the team. Managing offshore development teams, it is always important to clearly define the goals, priorities, milestones, and to document them.
Putting it together
In many cases, distributed development teams can be as productive, or even more productive, than co-located teams. Agile with offshore teams can be a key component in achieving this high level of effectiveness. Despite different geographic locations, there are many possibilities to utilize the best agile practices to achieve high performance and build trustful partnerships with offshore development teams.