In the media – The virtual agile team

– This article was published in Training Journal (June 2014)

Almost everywhere in industry people are talking about Agile Project Management. The name agile, just like PRINCE2 in the late nineties, conjures up a feeling of innovation. It sounds fast moving, modern, dynamic and is associated with bringing new products and services to market swiftly and without bureaucracy.

In fact both agile and agility are essential in business. Agile is seen to be the leading edge of software development while agility is important if we are to embrace change in all areas of our business effectively and swiftly.

For those of you who haven’t come across agile yet, and it is hard to imagine how, agile is a method for developing software rapidly. There remains a lot of misunderstanding about agile in terms of how and where it can be applied. Suffice to say for the purpose of this blog post its use is in building software products. In fact it is not a new idea and those of you who have heard terms like RAD, RUP and DSDM will generally know what Agile is about.

The agile approach is to bring together empowered representatives from each of the following groups: analysts, designers, developers, users, testers and project leaders into integrated teams. Once established, the agile team would manage a series of sprints (or timeboxes) where software products are delivered rapidly and incrementally with time being the fixed constraint and functionality (or scope) being the flexible parameter.

Agility versus flexibility

The irony is that for almost as long as I have been working in projects (more than half my life) the mantra has been to embrace and value diversity. Flexible working has become the norm, teams are disbursed, home working is encouraged and a healthy work life balance is everyone’s goal. In addition, much of our development is undertaken “off-shore” which compounds this distributed team arrangement.

How is it then that the leading edge approach of agile is resulting in organisations, both public and private sector, turning back the clock to the nineteen seventies? Agile teams seem to have to be together to be effective and companies are opening purpose built “incubators” situated in one location, forcing people to physically come together and encouraging longer hours.

So why don’t agile teams embrace the modern approach to business. Have we been wrong all along and do teams need to be together to be highly effective? Why can’t agile teams be virtual teams?

Are we virtually there yet?

We are living in a technological age. The Millennial Generation looks at life in a different way. They study, think, value, engage and contribute in a way that is different to previous generations. With the availability of pocket sized super-computers, credible video conferencing solutions, cloud-based storage, near constant connectivity and multi-user accessibility there is no reason why we can’t all be constantly connected no matter where we may be.

So if we took a similar approach to software development, how would the world of the virtual agile team look?

Perhaps we would start the day with a video conference call at 9.30 am (just after the school run) to focus every team member on the priorities for the day. We would all have two monitors of course. One for the task in hand and one for the collaboration tools that we depend upon. These would include an open FaceTime style video channel to encourage collaborative working face to face and a “What’s happening now” diary manager showing who is doing what at any given time – so we don’t miss a meeting or ad hoc get together. In addition, our interactive Smart Board facility would be ever present on our extended monitors so that we could instantly see any notes, tasks or achievements together with any other “office” wide messages.

Our development platform would enable multi-user working at the same time (in real time) and would identify who was working on a product at any given time. And we would of course all be wearing a blue tooth headset not only for taking video calls hands free but when we are not on the phone we could constantly hear the murmur of what everyone else is doing and saying and join in when we need to. Just like being at the office.

Why is this not already happening? Today through technology we feel constantly connected to our close friends and even though we are not always with them, through social media, we can see everything they do and everywhere they are going. Gaming over the internet allows participants to connect and compete with complete strangers while having a dialogue over their blue tooth headsets. Collaboration tools allow us to work together on the same documents and share resources using the cloud.

Perhaps with just a little more thought and effort we could apply this to our teams, introduce change and stay closely connected to work while maintaining the all-important work life balance.

View the Training Journal article

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