Making the Most of Location-independent Agile Teams

Agility helps businesses become effective and competitive to survive in the modern world constantly disrupted by digital natives. Harnessing location-independent teams exponentially increases the agility of an organization making it enterprise productive and streamlined. Such teams tend to keep the organization running round the clock, and can accelerate work without requiring business experts to participate in daily decision making by sharing skills across multiple teams in different locations. A large U.S. retailer with a delivery team of 1500+ members in India, for example, reduced its IT operations costs by 20% and improved end customer satisfaction by 40% in 18 months by using only a ‘minimally distributed’ model.

For businesses getting started with location-independent agile teams, assessing the state of the organization and the project, and choosing the right model of location-independence are key. Since there’s more benefit in running fully distributed agile teams, the aim of every manager and leader must be to improve the agile capabilities of the team. Here are five ways to help teams graduate to the highest level of agility and run as fully distributed agile teams:

1. Build business knowledge-oriented teams at distributed locations. Optimize each team’s product and business expertize by constantly promoting the team structure around business concepts.

2. Configure teams to take advantage of time-zone differences. Ensure there is a minimum overlap across time zones to ensure effective collaboration. Design the workflow such that as one team heads home, another can pick up the work, with enough time for communication to ensure projects continue steadily.

3. Minimize planning overhead. Automate the workflow of your team using DevOps automation and design engineering practices. An Australian retailer reduced its teams’ planning time by 20% by syncing up the sprints and product releases of its three agile teams.

4. Create a ‘one team’ culture. Remember to use the same agile practices, same work and infrastructure privileges, and shared common work characteristics with teams across the enterprise. Enlist culture coaches to help geographically distributed teams understand cultural differences and build healthy working relationships.

5. Plan the right distribution of work across locations. Organize the work to minimize dependencies across teams while maximizing workflow. Agile teams at a European telecom provider, for example, restructured its focus on business features such as customer gateways to reduce dependencies among the horizontal areas and enable frequent and value-added product releases.

To get the most out of your location-independent agile teams, you must ensure you have the right people in the right places. Training them in agile practices and helping them get rid of legacy patterns and practices can go a long way towards upgrading their agile skills. When migrating to agile systems, make sure you also choose the right tools and the right enterprise IT infrastructure.

If you’d like to know more about how you can set up your location-independent agile teams for success, read my article How to Make Location-Independent Agile Work in the latest edition of our management journal, Perspectives.


About the author(s)

Mohammed Musthafa Soukath Ali

Musthafa currently heads the TCS Global Agile Transformation Initiative that is responsible for TCS Agile vision of ‘100% Agile.’ With 16+ years of experience on IT services delivery, Musthafa has consulted with 15+ Global Organizations on different aspects of Agile and DevOps, and coached several teams on Agile. He is the architect behind the prestigious TCS Agile Ninja Coach program. He is also the author of Agile software delivery books including the #1 Best Seller “Scrum Narrative and PSM Exam Guide,” “Get SAFe Now,” and 9 conference papers. He is the topper of Global TCS Top 10 Project Planners Title 2013 and a University Gold medalist.

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