Agility at scale is one of the crucial issues for large organizations. We interviewed four experts in order to put together an ebook, allowing to understand the contributions of agility at scale and SAFe. The following article is an excerpt from this ebook and allows us to understand how scaled agile practices be implemented with distributed teams.
We reinforce relationship between teams
In decentralized stuctures on multiple sites, even if they are a few metro/tram/bus stops apart, the scaled agile structure has to cope with an additional distance-related constraint. This impacts one of the main qualities of agile: “working together”. The distance might be between members of the team (e.g., developers and project management, teams and users), or between teams.
If we add in a subcontracting relationship, often involving a development team, we are adding a contractual constraint, which-if not provided for at the time the contract is signed- will have to be treated as an additional risk.
It’s essential to set up events as soon as possible that bring everyone together once every on or two sprints (typically review and retrospective events), to test the organization of roles, and to encourage feedback and cross-functionnal learning. (SAFe recommends PI Planning only every 3 to 5 sprints.) The first few of these will be a total mess, but perseverance is vital. Here, dedicated logistics and tools are important, under a perso with identified responsibility, including:
- Communication tools for video conferencing, information-sharing tools (wikis, project management tools), virtual moderation (using tools such as Beekast);
- Dedicated meeting rooms equipped with video conferencing facilities/large screens, supplemented by individual equipment;
- The availability of a large space for reviews;
- A tool for sharing Tuleap-type or other backlogs.
Particular attention will need to be paid to the quality of the links between teams and to supporting people performing a cross-functional role. This is why the alternation between virtual and real-life meetings has to be carefully organized.
We provide teams with tools for remote collaboration
And yes, of course, now more than ever with lockdown and home working, it’s been shown that distributed ways of working are possible. But this requires organizations to be be equipped with tools for remote collaboration. A product like Tuleap is already a solid foundation, one that can be complemented by products for desktop virtualization, whiteboarding, and other things.
We encourage teams to communicate through different tools
A scaled agile approach with distributed teams will always be less easy to implement than with teams in the same location. The human factor is essential in agile: we’ve all had some experience of working with someone remotely -including in the corridor or the department next door- and finding it complicated.
This principle can be proven in all contexts, in all organizations. However, when faced with an international scenario or the simple fact of teams distributed across multiple sites, the issue remains unresolved. The use of tools then becomes indispensable. We should distinguish between two types of tools:
- Project management tools are the ones that are most often indispensable, especially in a scaled agile context, where visual management is no longer sufficient. In addition, consistency and continuity in the monitoring of activities, from management of the continuity in the monitoring of activities, from management of the backlog to the deployment of stories -including all good practices for devlopment, testing and integration- are a real help for agile teams. A tool like Tuleap can meet these needs very well;
- Collaborative tools for developing, building, and sharing ideas (Google Suite, Mural, Klaxoon, Miro, etc.); although these will never replace the effectiveness of a team working together in a room with a whiteboard and Post-it notes, they are necessary nowadays.
In addition to the tools, here are some further tips:
- Hold regular physical meetings, even if it’s expensive (as we don’t measure the cost of not doing this, and I’m convinced of the ROI);
- Turn on your cameras when video conferencing;
- Use communication tools that allow small groups and large groups to interact (Zoom breakout rooms, Microsoft Teams channels);
- Introduce virtual cafés
(informal gatherings where you talk about something other than work);
- Set up random virtual meetings between all members of the organization (speakeasy);
- For kick-off events, workshops, PI Planning sessions and agile days, there are some great tools such as Remo (used for the Agile Online Summit in April 2020) or Sococo, which allow you to (almost) believe you’re in the same place;
- Encourage cross-functional initiatives such as hackathons, communities of practice, sharing experiences between teams, agile days, and so on.
Note also that, in SAFe, the geographical factor should be taken into account when defining Agile Release Trains. Finally, above and beyond the geographical distribution, the cultural factor is also important in an agile transformation: European, North American, and Asian cultures aren’t the same and this can create obstacles, misunderstandings, and tensions if it’s not taken into account.
We support mutual aid between team members
We all generally agree that it’s preferable to have people physically present. But in reality, it’s extremely rare that all those involved (sometimes hundreds of people) can be brought together in one place. Appropriate tools are, in fact, indispensable at scale. So, allow me to share some tips for success with distrubuted teams:
- Rule #1: see yourselves, show yoursleves, and show others what you see using video conferencing, dashboards, and digital backlogs;
- Rule #2: have confidence and inspire confidence;
- Rule #3: help one another
But these points are obvious, aren’t they, as we’re talking about agility, the agile culture.