How to Build Remote Work Processes for Agile Teams

by Sandra Petrova

10 min read · Jan 11, 2019

Agile purists originally envisioned teams to be located in the same office. Agile development wasn't suitable for a distributed team as face-to-face communication was essential. However, although clustered teams introduced the agile method, business realities sometimes need a remote team.

Remote teams are rising in popularity. They’re a movement that has only been increasing throughout the years. In the U.S, nearly 43% of the workers have spent some time working remotely. A whopping 90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers and 94% of the remote workers said that they encourage others to work remotely.

There’s also a number of benefits when you have remote employees working from every corner of the globe. Remote teams can work on projects around the clock, and strong talent can be found in less competitive markets. Employers also save on relocation costs and could ultimately reduce real estate costs.

Despite all the benefits remote work brings, many distributed teams still find it difficult to adopt the agile practices. Surely, there are difficulties along the way, but they can easily be solved by using some of the best remote work processes.

Let’s dive into some strategies that can help you lead agile remote teams and adhere to the Agile principles when applying them in a distributed environment.

Team Members Should Have a Mutual Understanding

Although many people think that software development is a purely technical process, this is not the case. Software development is also a social process and relies on trust built between individuals.

Personal connections are essential for the success of any agile remote team. A mutual understanding across the team can build trust, reduce missed expectations, and enhance employee morale.

Allow quality time for the team to get to know each other. Agile visionaries strongly believed that teamwork is crucial to delivering great software. All great agile teams embody "we" rather than “I." Luckily, there are several ways how you can bring the whole team closer together:

  • Video conferences can close the gap between teams, especially for agile remote teams.
  • Hold regular 1:1 video chat sessions.
  • Team members will benefit from regular facetime. Annual retreats are highly welcome.
  • Use a content management system where team members can easily browse for updates across the team.
  • Your remote team can use virtual coffee breaks, which are video calls, to take breaks and socialize. It’s a great way for employees to share what they’ve been up to lately outside of work.
  • Have you tried internal blogging? This practice has brought many colleagues closer together.
  • Celebrate accomplishments. There are many tools for showing appreciation and acknowledging employees for a successfully finished task. One such tool is HeyTaco.

Encourage Over-Communication

Although you might sound like a broken record, over-communication should be part of your strategy. At the end of the day, it’s better to tell someone something they already know than to not tell them something they needed to hear.

The art of over-communication is highly-respected by team leaders. When you repeat an important detail about the project, people start to better understand what and more importantly, why you are doing things.

Communicate even minute details until you’re certain each and every one of the team completely understands the mission of the agile project.

To make sure everyone on the team understands the mission, make sure you:

  • Communicate a focused strategy clearly throughout the company.
  • Make sure everyone on the team has access two the sprint backlog.
  • Have a simple framework as this is the quickest way to structure your points and give updates.
  • Sync often if you are unclear of a direction.
  • Ask lots of follow-up questions, challenge your team members, and arrive at the best possible idea.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to communicate the news, regardless whether they're good or bad. Think of possible solutions before communicating the news.
agile teams communication tools

Code Reviews Matter

Code reviews are a must for your agile remote team. Why? Because in agile teams, no one is the only person who knows a specific part of the code base. In a nutshell, code reviews help facilitate knowledge sharing across the code base and across the team.

For example, once a developer finishes working on an issue, another developer analyzes the code and looks for any logic errors, makes sure the new code conforms to existing style guidelines, and inspects if all cases are fully implemented.

When managing agile teams remotely, team members are online at different times. Code reviews are even easier to perform as if an issue appears when the team is not online, another office can step in to resolve the issue.

In order to ensure your agile remote team has a way to easily access shared code in an organized manner, you can:

  • Use version control tools like GitHub or Bitbucket.
  • Use code review tools that allow you to review code after a remote developer has submitted it.
  • Take advantage of collaboration tools that can keep the project moving forward even if the author of the code is asleep in another part of the world.
code reviews Agile teams

Regular Testing is Highly Welcome

Software testing is one of the most important parts of the development process. It’s the part when the agile remote team’s efforts get put to the test. If any issues are found, they can be handled before the launch of the software. An effective testing methodology is critical.

The majority of agile remote teams use automated testing just because it helps them align better with the faster development cycles of Agile. Automated testing also helps developers test the code more efficiently. Manual testing is also an option even though it’s more time-consuming.

With automated testing, you can complete a full round of unit testing in much less time, but manual testing enables you to test the system as the customer would. Whatever your choice is, make sure to never skip the testing.

agile testing

Divide up Single Branches of Code

Instead of deploying large features of your software at the same time, divide them into smaller batches to reduce release risks. If you want to apply agile processes when working with remote teams, this step is crucial for better accountability and quality of code.

How do you break up your workload? You can divide it by task, by module, etc. You can even use a feature-driven methodology, breaking software down into features and adding these to the backlog.

Agile teams use the Agile Methodology which is a particular approach to project management. The Agile methodology helps teams respond to the unpredictability of developing software.

Some of the best agile methodologies that your agile remote team can use include:

  • Scrum. Scrum divides complicated tasks into user stories and visualizes them on a workflow.
  • Kanban. Kanban teams use a visual planning tool, the kanban board, that shows each project on a card. The cards are moved through columns as the project progresses.
  • Hybrid. Hybrid is the mix of Agile methods with non-Agile techniques.
  • ScrumBan. Scrumban is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban.

Hold Agile Team Meetings

Team members need to stay synced up. Agile-style team meetings can help a project be successful and can keep all team members fully aligned.

Here are some of the meetings you should hold with your team, based on the SCRUM methodology:

  • Sprint planning meeting. This meeting is between the Development team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. It should take place at the beginning of a new sprint and the goal is to set up prioritized worklist.
  • Daily scrum meeting. These are brief 15-minute meetings that cover what each team member completed yesterday, is working on today, and plans to do tomorrow. The team also addresses any roadblocks they came across.
  • Sprint review meeting. This meeting is held by the Development Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. The goal is to show the work that the team has completed in the last sprint.
  • Spring retrospective. This is a longer meeting that helps the agile remote team find out what worked well and what didn’t.
agile team meetings

Your Team Should Use Some of the Best Agile Scaling Methods

Today, a number of large organizations want to move toward more agile methods, too. If your company is one of them, here are four simple and effective techniques for scaling agile methodology to suit your larger organization.

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). SAFe continues to be the most used scaling method. It’s a set of organization and workflow patterns that help companies in scaling lean and agile practices.
  • Scrum of Scrums. This is a technique that is used when multiple teams are working on the project. Its goal is to help teams collaborate and coordinate their work.
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). This is a process decision framework that offers lightweight guidance to help agile teams streamline their processes.
  • Large scale Scrum (LeSS). LeSS is a framework for scaled agile and scaling Scrum that reduces organizational complexity. It can be applied to an agile team that has ten, hundred or even thousands of members.
Less Framework

Keep Your Team Agile With the Best Software Project Management Tools

To run agile projects remotely and keep teams aligned of each stage of the development process, you need to use an agile project management tool. There is a large number of different software for various industries and needs, and you need to choose the one that meets your team’s requirements.

These agile project management tools will assist you in creating and arranging tasks, and setting out the priorities. Some of the most commonly used tools are:

  • Jira: a great agile tool for planning, tracking, and managing your agile and software development projects.
  • Trello: an amazing task management app that gives you a visual overview of what is being worked on and who is working on it.
  • Axosoft: a highly popular Scrum software for managing software development projects.
  • Bugzilla: an open-source issue/bug tracking system that allows developers to keep track of outstanding problems with their product.
  • CA Agile Central: a smart tool for tracking and managing delivery, and leveraging data to accurately measure performance.

In Conclusion

All teams need to adapt, learn how to communicate effectively, and embrace working remotely across geographies. The most effective agile teams don’t just hold on to their office culture. They strive to find and share successful agile practices across all locations.

To sum up, the secret to leading agile remote teams is:

  • Establishing solid rapport across the team.
  • Encouraging over-communication to help team members better understand what and more importantly, why you are doing things.
  • Performing regular code reviews to help facilitate knowledge-sharing across the code base and across the team.
  • Regular testing is crucial so that any issues can be handled before the launch of the software.
  • Instead of deploying large features of your software at the same time, dividing them into smaller batches to reduce release risks.
  • Holding agile team meetings to keep all team members fully aligned.
  • Using some of the best agile scaling methods, including Scaled Agile Framework, Scrum of Scrums, or Disciplined agile delivery to apply agile processes to large organizations.
  • Using an agile project management tool, such as Jira or Trello, to run agile projects remotely and keep teams aligned of each stage of the development process.