Earlier this week Projects@Work released a 38-page report—Distributed Agile Teams: Achieving the Benefits. Individuals from over 40 countries where surveyed and asked about what they do, the industries they were in, and the number of Agile managers working within their organizations to cite just a few of the questions asked.
“Given the high proportion of IT respondents, we expected most Agile practitioners to report working for an IT PMO, or at least the IT department. However, 39% of all Agile practitioners report across all business areas, which shows that Agile is breaking out of the IT department and adding value across other teams. A further 14% reported that they were affiliated to a corporate PMO. The remaining 47% said they reported into IT, with nearly 20% of these reporting to the IT PMO,” writes Projects@Work. “Even in the IT industry, fewer than half (46%) of Agile practitioners report into IT. The majority report either to a corporate PMO or across other business areas.”
Regardless of the type of project you manage, I’m convinced that an Agile approach shouldn’t be overlooked because of its traditional roots in software development and IT. In fact, I’m of the opinion that project managers should look at every project and evaluate whether or not a traditional Waterfall approach or an Agile approach might best produce the desired business value. I’m convinced that a one-size-fits-all approach just isn’t the way to provide the most value to the organization.
I recently spoke with a very talented project management veteran on the TalkingWork podcast who has jumped into the Agile methodology with both feet. Although they still have what she calls “traditional project teams” there are some projects that are just better suited to an Agile methodology. What’s more, Projects@Work identifies that over 60 percent of respondents reported that more than one in five their Agile projects are run with distributed teams.
Distributed teams pose some unique challenges to most organizations. “With distributed teams, the notion that you can use a story card board goes out the window, you are pretty much forced to use some type of tool,” said one practitioner in federal government. “The good news is that there are tools that do a decent job in this and from my perspective as a Product Owner, I prefer to use the same tool to manage my Product Backlog as the team uses to manage their Sprint Backlog and tasks. The challenge is getting the team to go into the tool and record their progress and ‘to do’ estimates frequent enough (daily hopefully) to glean any useful data from it.”
Last summer I spoke with a brilliant project manager who is working to eliminate email from their project communication—it takes place within their software. All the messages (whether direct messages or in the message stream) are attached to tasks, issues and projects which makes them easy to search and reference for building out reports and effectively collaborating. Eliminating disparate communication methods like email and instant messages makes it possible to have “one source of truth” when it’s time to ask questions and evaluate project success. This is very consistent with the idea of keeping the backlog and the tool the SRUM team uses on a daily basis the same.
It should be no surprise that 80 percent of respondents suggest that it’s harder to work with distributed teams. It’s also no surprise that the vast majority of respondents suggest that “poor communication” is the biggest challenge. This seemed to be true regardless of the experience level of the manager or the team. Whether the team is co-located or distributed, this is a challenge for every project team.
However, the flexibility of an Agile environment was viewed as the greatest benefit to distributed teams. Projects@Work suggests, and I wholeheartedly agree, “The essence of Distributed Agile is all about collaborating and putting together the way we want to execute a project by means of leveraging Agile best practices and fine-tuning existing methodologies.”
Whether or not you are working with distributed teams, I think it’s time that even organizations that have relied on traditional project management methodologies for the last fifty years, take another look at Agile methods to see where they might be best utilized within their organizations. I’ve personally had experience with agile projects within a marketing context with great success—for the right type of projects.
There’s so much great information in this report that I will likely bring it up here again. It’s worth the download and review. I think you might be surprised at how effective an Agile approach could be with a distributed (as well as a co-located) team.