How to overcome challenges for the effective integration of agile with offshore teams
The transition from waterfall development to agile methodology has been far from straightforward for many companies, with reports of successful agile adoption often proving exaggerated. Using an agile software process with offshore development, businesses have realized the potential cost-savings by leveraging offshore teams for their development needs – yet they are often apprehensive about this switch due to the challenges posed by using offshore teams with an agile approach.
It’s no surprise that disparate time zones can impede successful communication, but when coupled with cultural and linguistic differences, trust also becomes a difficult element to achieve. It can thus feel like an uphill battle for companies hoping to employ agile development processes. However, it is possible to surmount these obstacles and demonstrate that distance-working and agile development don’t have to be a recipe for disaster.
Here are 3 ways to overcome the issues of communication, trust, and differing cultures when embracing agile offshore software development.
Problem #1 – Your offshore team is on the other side of the world, which puts a damper on communications.
Agile offshore software development companies rely heavily on communication to be successful. By cutting through the bureaucracy associated with traditional development processes, agile emphasizes daily collaboration between all stakeholders, including business people, developers, and testers.
Teams can then focus on what truly matters: getting straight to the core to build working software quickly. To make it happen? Teams concentrate more intently on face-to-face conversations, allowing time for productive debates with vital questions asked daily during meetings—helping create a plan through discussion instead of excessive paperwork or unread requirements lists.
Make available suitable video conferencing and instant messaging tools. Due to significant time differences, sometimes up to 12 to 13 hours, between your offshore agile software development team and other collaborators, members should agree on a sensible meeting schedule that allows efficient collaboration without overwhelming any involved parties; setting up a meeting at 2:00 PM for example, may not be the most productive solution given some regional locations.
Ditch the audio-only conference calls and opt for video conferencing to strengthen relationships between members. Positioning a camera so each person can see the other fosters trust. Moreover, ensure Sprint plans are web-based to allow real-time access once agreed upon; while promoting team collaboration with the shared information through Wikis or other applications.
Another determinant of success is onshore and offshore employees meeting daily in their respective offices or conference rooms. Working from home may present logistical issues such as background noise, slow internet connections, or difficulties with multiple video feeds, ultimately leading to confusion rather than clarity.
Problem #2 – How to account for cultural differences?
In the workplace, there is a stark contrast between East and West. While Western companies typically foster open dialogues and welcome dissent from their staff members to rapidly achieve successful results, much of Asia still operates under an ethos that prizes deference over discourse. This hierarchy-focused mindset can hinder offshore agile development when seeking rapid working software solutions – making it essential for firms to adapt to compete at optimal efficiency.
Make sure to cultivate a culture of engagement with your offshore team. Doing so requires actively requesting input from the members – encouraging dialogue with leading questions during meetings or rewarding those who make high-quality contributions. Silence during SCRUM or a lack of initiative, in general, is a warning sign – it could mean they require more support than usual in understanding the scope of work necessary for any new features introduced, proactively capitalizing on opportunities presented within each sprint cycle.
Great ideas can come from unexpected sources – never underestimate the value of tapping into new perspectives and input. When addressing suggestions, be honest yet respectful with all members to foster an atmosphere where everyone feels heard and appreciated. Listening beyond traditional channels empowers teams to unlock potential solutions that may otherwise go unrecognized – often leading to meaningful savings or brilliant features on projects.
Problem #3 – How do you build trust between the offshore team and the onshore team?
Although agile development is becoming increasingly popular among organizations, a lack of trust remains the core issue that makes companies hesitant to integrate offshore teams with this approach. They are, unfortunately, often stuck using an inefficient waterfall process. The waterfall approach is suboptimal at times due to its inflexibility and non-collaborative nature, which results in poor relationships with no foundation for profitability – reinforcing an “us against them” mentality incompatible with modern approaches like Agile.
Establishing and nurturing successful long-term partnerships requires more than just virtual or remote contact. At the outset of a project, it is critical for key players from both sides to meet in person. This initial interaction builds trust and facilitates helpful knowledge transfer between teams. Face-to-face contact can also help bridge potential cultural divides by providing an opportunity to understand each other’s work environment through firsthand experience.
In an ideal scenario, members of offshore teams would spend 4-8 weeks working alongside their counterparts to gain an intimate understanding of office politics, such as individual roles benefitting issues resolution or hierarchy among staff. Then, those unique insights are brought back home for others’ benefit at large.
Through reciprocal visits, team members from all sites can bridge the gap between cultures and ideologies. Encouraging socialization during these visits—in addition to work time—goes a long way toward creating strong bonds that develop trust among colleagues.
Having a good time through recreation lays the groundwork for forming positive working atmospheres, where understanding replaces suspicion – allowing us to create richer dialogue through the line of communication established during such inter-site visits. For everyone to have a chance to share meaningful stories and understand one another better, it would be helpful to rotate the people visiting as well as the employees that interact with the visitors. Ultimately these robust relationships enhance both productivity and morale, creating invaluable returns.
When working together as one large team, onshore and offshore workforces can maximize the value of agile processes. An integrated organizational culture makes the offshore personnel feel appreciated as part of a larger entity. By spending that little bit more effort building social relationships, organizations can yield rewards far beyond expectations with better performance and quicker product launches.
About the Author
Kaushal Amin, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), leads KMS Healthcare’s long-term technology vision, processes, people development, university collaborations, and industry thought leadership.
He also facilitates and promotes the HealthTech community within KMS Healthcare. Kaushal joined KMS in 2011, seeking a more agile company with smart people, a customer caring culture, and profitable business. He works out of the KMS Atlanta office.