A common misunderstanding about agile software development is that it’s only for co-located teams. Things are definitely easier for co-located teams, and as I found with both the Dr. Dobb’s 2007 and 2008 Agile Adoption surveys (www.ambysoft.com/surveys/) co-located agile teams appear to have a higher success rate than distributed teams, Having said that, many organizations are in fact succeeding at distributed agile development.
I’d like to share some strategies that I’m seeing work in practice, and in this blog posting summarizes generic strategies for distributed teams whether or not they’re agile. These strategies are:1. Do some up front planning. Distributed development is higher risk than co-located development, and one way to address that risk is to think things through. That doesn’t mean that you need to create a monolithic, 1000+ task Gantt chart, but it does mean that you should identify your major dependencies and milestone dates. Effective teams do this planning with the distributed developers actively involved (they are part of the team after all), they strive to consider all associated costs, and in particular they don’t overlook the low probability/high impact risks which often prove to be project killers.
2. Organize the team effectively. Once of the practices of Lean Development Governance (https://www14.software.ibm.com/webapp/iwm/web/preLogin.do?lang=en_US&source=swg-ldg) is to organize your team structure around either your architecture or the lines of business (LOB) supported by the programme that you’re working on. Ideally each sub-team should be responsible for one or more subsystems or modules, something that can be difficult if some of your team works alone from home, to reduce the amount of information sharing and collaboration required between disparate teams. In other words, maximize the responsibilities of the “offshore” team(s) as much as possible. A very common mistake is to organize the subteams around job specialties – for example the architects are in Toronto, the developers in Mumbai, and the testers in Singapore – because to support this team structure you have to create a phenomenal amount of documentation to support communication between the teams.
3. Do some up front modeling. The implication of organizing your team around the architecture (or LOB) is that you also need to do a bit of architecture envisioning up front. Your architecture efforts should provide guidance regarding the shared infrastructure as well as critical development conventions such as coding guidelines and data naming conventions. Architecture envisioning is also a good idea for co-located agile teams too. See http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/initialArchitectureModeling.htm for strategies to get the benefits of architecture modeling without the costs of needless documentation.
4. Recognize that communication is critical. GDD puts many barriers to communication in place, increasing overall project risk. To overcome these risks you will first need to be aware of them and act accordingly, and second, you’ll need to write more documentation than you would likely prefer. The risks associated with long-distance communication include cultural differences, time-zone differences, and the challenges with written documentation (which is the least effective way to communicate information). I make it a habit of asking open-ended questions so that I can determine whether or not the other people understand the topic under conversation. Particularly I will never ask a yes/no style of question because the simple answer of yes can mean a range of things depending on the culture. It may mean “Yes, I heard you”, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying”, or “Yes, I understand and agree with you”. When you’re dealing with people at other locations it’s good practice to ask them to summarize the conversation in writing, in particular to identify key action items and ownership of them, to ensure that everyone agrees with what was discussed. A good approach is to have the team lead on other end to do the summary so that they own it going forward.
5. Put a good technical infrastructure in place. Automate, automate, automate. In a GDD environment you need to work with collaborative multi-site tools such as ClearCase, ClearQuest, and Jazz Rational Team Concert (www.jazz.net) which enable you to share and evolve your work products (i.e. test scripts, code, documents) effectively.
In my next posting I'll describe a collection of agile-specific strategies for distributed software development teams.[Read More]
Agility@Scale: Strategies for Scaling Agile Software Development
Modified by ScottAmbler
In my previous blog posting, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=strategies_for_distributed_agile_teams , I overviewed several strategies for improving your effectiveness at geographically distributed development (GDD). Those strategies were fairly generic and directly applicable to both traditional and agile development teams. In this posting I focus on strategies which are more agile in nature, although they could also be applied to more traditional approaches as well. These strategies are:Modified by ScottAmbler
1. Get the whole team together at the beginning of the project. Your goals are to build rapport amongst the team, to get to know the people that you’re working with to facilitate communication later on, and to better understand the situation on the ground. The implication is that you will need to fly some people around, increasing your initial expenses, an investment that many organizations balk at. The reality is that you will eventually end up paying for travel anyway, either because you actually flew people around or because your communication costs are higher throughout the project. In short, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Organize your team around the system architecture. The most effective way to organize a distributed team is around the architecture of the system that you are building, not around the job functions of the people involved. In other words, if your team is in Toronto, Rome, and Bangalore then each subteam should be responsible for one or more subsystems. It would be a mistake to organize the teams around job function, for example to have the architects and analysts in Toronto, the developers in Rome, and the testers in Bangalore because this structure would require significantly more documentation and other forms of communication to coordinate the teams, increasing both cost and risk. As I mentioned in my previous blog posting you will need to invest in some initial architecture envisioning at the beginning of a project to identify the subsystems and their public interfaces, and that to do that you’ll also need to do some initial requirements envisioning to drive this architecture effort. I suggest that you take an Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) approach to this to enable you to gain the value from modeling without the costs and risks associated with up-front comprehensive modeling and documentation that get many traditional project teams in trouble.
3. Have “daily stand-up meetings”. A common practice on co-located agile teams is to have daily stand-up meetings where people share the status of what they did yesterday, what they intend to do today, and whether they’re running into any problems. These short meetings enable team coordination. Distributed teams can do this as well, the people in a given geographical location can hold local stand-up meetings and then representatives from each location can hold a shared meeting to coordinate the subteams. Whereas local stand-up meetings are held first thing in the morning, distributed daily stand-up meetings may need to be held at unusual times so as to include people at distant locations.
4. Have Ambassadors. Ambassadors are people who travel between sites, often technically senior people or senior business experts, to share information between the subteams. Getting the team together at the beginning of the project sets the foundation for communication, but without continual investment in maintaining effective collaboration between teams you run the risk of your subteams deviating from the overall strategy. These are typically short engagements, a week or two in length, because of the pressures it puts on the people doing the actual traveling. The implication is that you’ll have several people flying between sites at any given time on a reasonable rotation schedule. Because you’ll have some people flying around, your local team rooms should accommodate visitors by having one or more desks available for them to use when they’re visiting.
5. Have Boundary Spanners. A boundary spanner is someone who is located on site who focuses on enabling communication between subteams as well as within their subteam. On large distributed teams you’ll find that you have three flavors of boundary spanners – team leaders who take on project management responsibilities on the subteam, product owners who are responsible for representing the business within the subteam, and architecture owners responsible for technical direction on the team. These boundary spanners will work closely with their peers, having regular coordination meetings across all subteams as well as impromptu one-on-one meetings to deal with specific issues between individual subteams.
6. Ensure that the global team gets the credit it deserves. In both offshoring and nearshoring environments it’s common to see small teams in North America or Europe driving the efforts of significantly larger teams in another country. Yet, at the end of the project it always seems as if the smaller team, often because they work for the direct customer, gets the lion’s share of the credit – unless of course the project failed, then the subcontracting team often seems to get virtually all of the “credit”. This clearly isn’t fair, and it clearly doesn’t promote effective teamwork between the subteams in the future.
7. Take a lean approach to development governance. As I’ve written in the past, effective governance is based on enablement and collaboration instead of the traditional approaches of management and control. Good governance measures progress through regular delivery of working software, not through status reports or delivery of detailed specifications. Good governance is based on the idea of having a living process which changes to reflect lessons learned as your project progresses. In a previous blog posting at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=lean_development_governance I’ve discussed lean development governance in greater detail.
The strategies that I’ve described are clearly nothing more than common sense, something that can be said of all agile strategies. Sadly, as Mark Twain lamented, common sense isn’t very common in practice.[Read More]