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Industrial and agile: How to be both?


Six recommendations for building a distributed Agile model

There is a common myth that Agile teams can only be efficient if all (100%) members are onsite and in-house. But according to the Annual State of Agile Report[1], 78% of organizations practice Agile with distributed team members. Furthermore, 68% of organizations practice Agile with multiple co-located teams, collaborating across geographic boundaries. These facts disprove the common perception amongst senior IT executives that Agile and industrialization are contradictory approaches to setting up your IT organization.

Agility is essential for any company to thrive through digitalization. At Capgemini Invent, we believe agility and industrialization can be complementary forces. We have successfully demonstrated that, if implemented properly, distributed Agile models can yield better results than those achieved by purely onsite and in-house Agile teams. For example, by moving to a distributed Agile model, some of our clients have successfully implemented important requirements in a matter of weeks, instead of going through a yearly process.

Furthermore, clients across sectors have benefited from faster time-to-market, improved solution relevance to business, reduced risks, and better employee commitment and motivation. To learn more about how distributed Agile can help companies thrive on digitalization and inventiveness, download our latest Point of View paper – Simultaneous Transformation.

Why do we need distributed Agile?

In addition to time-to-market and flexibility benefits, distributed Agile brings in specific cost management, scalability and industrialization advantages:

  • Optimizing resource costs
    In a distributed Agile model, the skills needed for specific roles (developers, testers, business, UX, Ops, etc.) can be sourced where costs are most competitive. However, some additional costs linked to facilitating teamwork – including communication tools and travelling – partially offset these economies.
  • Availability of skills
    Agile team working across multiple locations makes it easier to find the necessary skills (Java, C++, Python, Product Owners, UX designers, etc.) access to a larger pool of local talent.
  • Meeting employees’ expectations
    Companies cannot ignore the trend for remote working if they want to remain attractive to new talent.

Six recommendations for implementing distributed Agile

So, how do you transition to a distributed Agile way of working? First and foremost, an imperative for distributed Agile is to stick as much as possible to the Agile manifesto’s ideas and principles. From our experience, there are six areas that need to be progressively transformed to become an Agile company, all of which need a specific focus when moving to a distributed Agile model.

Although each of these areas merits a separate blog post, let me offer six recommendations based on them for setting up and running a distributed Agile team:

  1. Identify Agile champions and leaders at all locations: Managers of Agile teams (business, IT, service providers) need to be onboarded and act as strong change ambassadors of Agile values (i.e. Agile manifesto). Their goal is to create and support a working environment where teams are comfortable to freely collaborate, be creative and eventually take responsibility for the product. Champions should help clarify roles, intent and benefits of selected priorities. They also facilitate communication across teams and eliminate roadblocks.
  2. Set up a strong technology backbone: Collaboration tools are important in a distributed Agile environment because they compensate for the lack of physical interactions and the inability to collaborate with simple office resources, such as whiteboards and sticky notes. It is important to invest in reliable, common collaboration tools like video or voice conferencing, Surface Hub and chat, as well as artefacts management tools like electronic backlog, knowledge repository, and digital workspace setup across locations. Dedicated meeting places and appropriate communication tools like whiteboards, conferencing tools, video walls, projectors and spider phones greatly enhance the quality of communication and interactions.
  3. Invest in team building and relationships: Developing a “one team culture” with no distinction between onshore and offshore is a key requirement for staying in line with Agile values. Regular travel from one location to another, for physical discussion and work, allows team members to better know and understand each other, for example their work habits, aspirations and anxieties.
  4. Define strong working agreements: Discipline is a strong backbone of Agile and it is especially important in the context of distributed teams. Try to specify common agreed behaviors and ways of working from the start (how to define a use case, to evidence it, etc.), set up the cadence and timing for all ceremonies (sprint planning, retrospective, daily stand up), etc. A disadvantage of working in different time zones can, for example, be turned into advantage with a “follow the sun” approach, particularly in the case of maintenance or when customer support needs to be provided 24 hours a day.
  5. Make teams fully accountable for delivering outcomes: A distributed Agile team fully owns the vision and the final outcomes of both delivery and product. This vision needs to be commonly shared across the locations and cultures where different roles reside. For example, the more business-related the activity, the closer the business stakeholders should be, with the Product Owner and UX/UI designers often being onsite at the start of the transformation. On the other hand, the more technical the activity (Scrum Master, developers, testers, etc.), the more distributed it can be. A critical success factor will be to ensure that business knowledge is effectively passed to the offsite teams. For example, while the concept of a used car portal might be clear to a European colleague, it may not be so obvious to team members in countries where buying second-hand cars on the internet is not common. Having a “Product Owner best friend”, someone with similar responsibility as the Product Owner but on the offshore sites, is a good way to ensure alignment across teams.
  6. Co-locate teams during on-boarding sessions: Co-locating the entire team during the initial 2-3 sprints and for major milestones is a recommended investment. It will help to properly set up the team’s way of working, build understanding of each other, and create that all-important one-team culture. In the lifecycle of the team, regular rotations of team members offsite and onsite will help maintain the sense of proximity.

Conclusion and next steps

Distributed Agile allows companies to benefit not only from Agile methods, but also from the efficiency advantages of industrialization. Moving to a distributed Agile model follows the same pattern as Agile – e.g. start small with a few appropriate teams, demonstrate the value and adopt learnings, then expand.

To learn more about successfully transforming into a distributed Agile and inventive operating model, read our new Inventive IT Point of View paper Simultaneous Transformation.

This article is co-authored by Antoine Metivier

[1] 13th Annual State of Agile Report published in May 2019 (CollabNet VersionOne)