Managing Global Teams in an Agile World

In today’s corporate environment, a large portion of software development is done across the globe. Typically teams are spread out for cost control, yet we still want them to be efficient. This drive to lower development expenditure, along with the need to become more Agile, has proved to be problematic for many companies.

The Rise of Agile

The software industry has aggressively embraced Agile. Agile is an umbrella term for frameworks used to build and deploy software that puts customer value at the heart of the process. Scrum, being the most popular Agile framework, will be our example for this article. Scrum is a way of communicating about work, and it embodies many aspects of the major cultural changes necessary for a company to embrace the Agile mindset. To deploy Scrum, organizations require senior management, stakeholders, and the development teams to dedicate themselves to that effort. Scrum was initially designed for small teams working in proximity, but the demand for global development has raised many questions about how to implement it on a larger scale, across continents. One of the most common questions raised is how to use Agile effectively with global partners.

Making Agile work successfully in global teams typically requires companies to train and implement Agile consistently across the organization. A shared understanding and a commitment to the common mindset is critical. Still, training isn’t enough. Too much is left to interpretation, and new Agile implementers often make false assumptions about what matters.

Building an Agile coaching bench is a crucial aspect of every Agile implementation. Coaches can address issues at the source and create that consistency. A company must spend time to identify the people who will be advocates for the move to Agile. This group of advocates should be local to the teams they will manage so that they can be sensitive to cultural and language needs and can be available as needed.

Using Technology to Bridge Time Zones

In today’s development environment, a team has access to multiple tools that can help them develop and communicate. These tools include Lync, JIRA, wikis, and a variety of online Planning Poker® tools. The leaders of the Agile transformation must keep in mind that tools alone do not make teams more efficient. Instead, it is the people and their ability to communicate and collaborate that make the team great.

The global team must be part of a coordinated effort to “see” the activity of all Scrum Teams and where they stand daily. We suggest setting up a global calendar on which ScrumMasters can place daily Scrum call details.

Sprint planning, demo, and retrospective detail — this coordinated review enables teams to see collisions in schedules, and it allows key stakeholders to listen in to ceremonies as needed. The likely view of your calendar will be a large block of time that is booked from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m. to compensate for overlapping time zones.

Achieving Transparency and Cultural Sensitivity

Communication is a critical component of success in every business endeavor, and none more so than creating a successful Scrum process. Teams need to trust each other and share a vision of their goals, so a constant focus on improving cross-team communication must be part of the culture. For example, one communication technique is the town hall concept, whereby senior leaders assume the classic servant-leadership position. These senior leaders should physically, or through video, be in front of all the employees to clearly show where the transformation is going. This town hall should also stress the commitment that issues will be acknowledged and quickly addressed by senior management.

Another important area for teams to focus on is cultural sensitivity, as this can greatly improve trust. Global teams often discount the need to understand the culture of the other members on their team. This understanding is not only for the onshore to understand the offshore but also for making sure that the offshore understands the onshore culture. Teams should dedicate time in the course of work to learn from each other and identify what’s important to each team regarding their culture. This effort will pay tremendous return and bring the team to higher productivity.

Conclusion

The move to transform the culture of your company can be a large investment. Management must fully understand the current impediments that the development teams are facing and how Agile may help make the process more productive. Agile itself is a way of thinking, and it greatly impacts the culture of the company for the better, but it also requires commitment to Agile ways of development. The move to Agile is a process with an eye toward providing more value to your customers. If your company is looking to improve delivery of customer value, better manage uncertainty, or enhance morale or product quality — and if you are willing to commit to it — then an Agile approach may be right for you.

Note: This article originally appeared on ScrumAlliance.org on December 6, 2016.