One of the most important principles to a successful agile implementation is collocation. Agile is based on communication, and nothing beats face-to-face contact. Unfortunately, for many companies collocation is not an option.
It is not uncommon for teams to be dispersed geographically. Team members can be spread over different time zones, states, countries, and continents. These difficulties are amplified when coupled with cultural and language differences.
This arrangement worked well in a waterfall-development world, with its clearly defined requirements and fixed timelines. However, an efficient standup is difficult when you have a twelve-hour time difference. A hand-off meeting over Skype is often the only direct communication between team members. Obviously this is not the most effective form of communication, but cost and resources make outsourcing a necessity. Some companies in the United Kingdom believe they have found a solution in nearshoring.
In Romania and Moldova, IT service providers have proven to be better agile partners by being closer to the UK both geographically and culturally. These two characteristics differentiate nearshoring from offshoring. The cost is not as cheap as comparable firms in India but still cheaper than similar UK resources.
Here in the United States we do not have as many options for nearshoring, but that fact does not reduce the pressure on organizations to outsource. If keeping agile development in-house is not a viable option, Stephanie Overby in CIO Magazine has seven tips for you to successfully offshore agile projects. These tips include the need to be prepared, start small, and manage actively, among others.
When considering a hybrid model, Overby writes that instead of outsourcing an entire team, mix the resources. Standard and Poor's was able to leverage this model and create a successful agile team.
Additionally, when accounting for differences between time zones, Overby explains that in outsourced projects where communication is at a premium, overlapping time zones allows for increased interaction.
When creating an agile team, collocating resources will always provide the greatest impact. If the business circumstances make this impossible, you can still develop a high-performing team either through nearshoring or carefully managed offshoring.
If you are in a geograplically dispersed agile team, how is it working?
Steve Vaughn is a twenty-year survivor of the IT wars. He has worked a variety of organizations as a software developer, architect, and ScrumMaster. Steve has spent the past five years attempting the impossible—managing software developers. He is now using this experience to act as an agile coach and help develop high-performing teams.