How can Agile working practices be served by a remote access solution? Can the right tools make a distributed approach to Agile more viable and effective?
What is Agile?
Not to be confused with more general ‘flexible working’ practices - “Agile” is an approach to software development pioneered by engineers working on vast military projects in the USA. It is an approach to project and development work later adopted by other industries and business functions beyond IT.
In Agile, work is fast, fluid and interdependent. The technique is intended to make teams more productive, accountable and collaborative, while at the same time fostering greater innovation and customer focus.
The Agile Revolution
The governing principles of the Agile approach were set down in 2001 by a group of independent software developers in the now famous ‘Agile Manifesto’. And, of course, one of the key demands of this approach was a commitment to co-located working and an unswerving belief in the power of ‘face to face’ interaction to share problems and insight. In fact, article number 6 of the agile working manifesto states precisely this.
“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
The other workplace revolutions
However, since the Agile revolution came about and its manifesto was written, there have been other revolutions in the workplace. The information revolution that has facilitated more enlightened, flexible working practices and handed back control to employees over how and where they work. It has given companies a global reach when it comes to choosing staff and finding customers, too.
So, while the power of Agile remains highly prized the arguments about how remote working fits into its methodology rages on.
For many companies ‘Distributed agile’ has already been shown to bring huge benefits, even though it requires specific tools and strategy to make it work.
Remote access and an agile approach
Remote access solutions mean you can draw on talent from anywhere in the world and get them logging into and working on devices that you own as quickly as is necessary.
Often a scalable, specialist and project based workforce is what is required for Agile development, so supporting a flexible but secure remote working solution is a very sensible move.
As remote access solutions can support a 24/7 development schedule, it means you can work faster and more efficiently, scaling up and down with third parties or teams in other time zones with ease.
Simulating real world interaction
One of the key elements of Agile is the high value placed on face to face problem solving. And it’s true it's often easier to show a problem than to explain it.
A software engineer coding a solution might want to have their colleague look over their shoulder at their screen - as they walk through a UX flow, diagnose a bug or attempt iterative solutions to a persistent problem. But with a remote access solution a colleague in another office can simply take over your computer to see your work.
With specific Agile techniques like pair programming, where two developers work simultaneously at the same computer, a remote access solution can be deployed with great success.
A hybrid approach to technology
For Distributed Agile teams - using the right tools is key to their success - specialists recommend using a blend of communication and video conferencing technology, to ensure information and knowledge is shared in the same way as if colleagues were co-located and seated at adjacent desks. A remote access solution, for screen sharing and flexible and secure distance working should certainly be part of this equation.
As many commentators have noted, the dogmatic insistence on face to face interaction as part of an Agile process is at odds with the realities of the modern working world. However, the extraordinary revolution in connected technology in the last few years have provided a pretty good proxy for a real world connection between colleagues. Given all these possibilities, objections to remote Agile working solution might be sounding pretty hollow. As journalist Christopher Null has pointed out:
“If people running into each other in the hallway is the only way problems are solved at your business, you've got bigger problems than whether someone works at home one day a week.”
Using remote access tools to support a ‘Distributed Agile approach’ might require a little more planning and strategic thinking to implement, but it brings the enormous benefit of supporting more diverse teams, comprised of the best and making for a better life/work balance for those in the throes of an intense Sprint.