Dealing with Agile Challenges in a Remote Landscape

How do you adapt Agile practices now that the world has gone largely remote — without compromising your products?
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Today, Agile is the mindset of choice for many software development companies. But like so many other styles of working, the methodology has encountered numerous challenges now that workers and businesses have been thrust into a remote work environment. 

Agile depends on collaboration and independent problem-solving. Aimed at meeting the needs of the end-user, the approach, considered a mindset by those who embrace it, asks the employees to work together to solve problems. While they still have managerial insight and oversight, they are largely self-organizing. The goal is to continuously improve products to meet customer satisfaction, the first item in the Agile Manifesto, which is supported by 12 main principles.

The benefits of using Agile are evident for a lot of teams but, given today’s disruptions, there’s a question that becomes unavoidable: how do you adapt Agile practices now that the world has gone largely remote — without compromising your products?

 

Challenge #1: In-Person Methodologies Don’t Translate to Remote Environments

Many teams are finding that Agile methodologies aren’t working for their newly adopted remote environment. There is no longer access to a physical scrum board, for example. Not only can the transition be unsettling for employees who are used to working in a certain way, but it can also disrupt the flow.

 

The fix: Review the rules or consider alternatives

Make sure your teams understand the rules. If it’s been a while since they’ve reviewed them, they may need a refresher — especially with a new landscape to consider. Be completely transparent about what you expect of Agile teams and how they can adapt to meet these norms. Remember to keep employees informed of procedures and any significant operational changes.

This may mean overcommunicating details and efforts to ensure all of your team members are on the same page and comfortable with what they need to do. 

Another way to adapt is to work with external teams to modify your approach and resolve issues. If you outsource specific projects, you may find it considerably easier to adjust to a different environment and resolve problems much more efficiently.

 

Challenge #2: A Lack of In-Person Collaboration

Collaboration is the hallmark of a successful agile team. This is more difficult when you’re not working together face-to-face. With Agile, tasks depend on working in conjunction in sprints — short, structured periods of completing requirements — an approach that is disrupted when businesses move to remote environments.

The work culture is also disrupted when there is no longer a physical environment for collaboration. There’s no in-person communication, which can impact professional rapport and the ability to receive and deliver feedback quickly. In fact, in-person collaboration is one of the main principles of the Agile Manifesto.

 

The fix: Offer remote tools and plenty of support

This may mean adding more structure to previously casual collaborations. Encourage your team members to support one another in addition to offering support as a business, as well as troubleshoot for one another when issues arise.

Consider providing collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, whiteboards, and in-house communication software to facilitate stronger employee-to-employee contact.

 

Challenge #3: A Loss of Productivity

Productivity can be difficult for people working remotely. Distractions abound: children attending school from home, nearby constructions, neighbors playing loud music, and so on. 

This is problematic in Agile, which depends on productivity for successfully meeting project requirements. When working solo, rather than in teams, employees may succumb to distractions or not feel like they’re being held accountable.

 

The fix: Be respectful of team members, but hold them accountable

Now is the time to afford your team members flexibility. You probably don’t know all the challenges your employees are confronting, so afford them as much leeway as you can during this difficult period. 

At the same time, you shouldn’t lower expectations for work products. Although you should keep your standards for work ethic and delivery high, you’ll need to accept different methods of creating the required results.

 

Challenge #4: Maintaining Oversight

How, exactly, do you manage remote Agile teams? Generally speaking, leadership is a little more fluid when it comes to the mindset anyway. And when you’re not working together in-person, the lines between manager and team member become a little more blurred. So, how do you maintain oversight of employees who are working from different locations?

 

The fix: Check-in, and focus more on delivery

Check-in with your employees frequently. This is different from micromanaging — which you should avoid — in that you’re not asking them about how they’re completing tasks and what they’re doing every day. Instead, you’re seeing how things are going and how your team members are managing their responsibilities. Ask them if there are other ways you can support them.

Be mindful of your approach. You don’t want to come across as a taskmaster. Agile, after all, is about collaboration and trust. Present yourself as another resource that will help you all work together to achieve a common goal.

 

Challenge #5: Less Opportunity for Personal Connection and Communication

Many people are experiencing loneliness as a result of pandemic norms. This is all too true in the case of Agile teams, which typically experience in-person communication on a daily basis. In a remote environment, team members may feel a lack of support and a general drop in-group morale. 

Even the small things — team lunches, coffee breaks with a coworker, happy hours, and so on — are missing in this environment. And these casual activities can boost the general office culture significantly.

 

The fix: Adopt structured communication and provide opportunities to socialize

One way to replace the traditional in-person rapport is by establishing regular team meetings and collaborative environments. You might, for example, have regular meetings. While these will need to be more structured than the more spontaneous communication your employees are used to, they will allow you to replicate the dynamic you had in the office and enable team members to become more comfortable with one another.

It can also be helpful to have less formal get-togethers as a team. That could be Zoom happy hours, reading the same book together, or sharing personal facts and goings-on.

As the world adapts to a new method of working, it’s important to bear in mind the challenges teams will encounter. Agile’s principles include in-person collaboration and communication, so this mindset can be especially difficult during the pandemic. But it is possible to transition, following these guidelines and expectations. Remember to be flexible during tumultuous times — your employees will thank you.

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