Remote agile software development

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Getting into your car every morning, standing in traffic with a coffee in your hand. Enjoying exactly 2 minutes of fresh air during the walk from your car to your desk. Sitting there at your ‘home away from home’ for 8+ hours a day, hammering away at your keyboard. You are emailing with the people around you that also have traveled into that same building this morning just to read your messages and to sit in on a few meetings. When the time is there you finally get that fresh air again while walking back to your car to go home. This usually results in endless backlight staring to the car in front of you. Hopefully you get there in time to throw a ball with your kids in the garden or maybe walk your dog together with your spouse. And do not forget to go to bed in time, because tomorrow morning the alarm will sound for just another one of those days in the grind.

How different can the days of you and your team members become when we break free of these normative approach to working.

Remote agile project management

The unnatural side of having to show up

Although most managers are used to measuring productivity based on seeing the faces on the floor every day from 9 to 5, having to show up actually kills productivity. About a million years ago, a group of our ancestors descended from the trees because the rainforests in Africa started to disappear. All of a sudden we had to search for food instead of just reach over to take some from the tree we lived in. All of a sudden we were running on the flat plains to keep from being eaten by other animals. An average workout of 12 miles a day formed our body by evolution. Outsmarting the much stronger animals around us to survive made our brains grow into the Homo Sapiens that we became about a hundred thousand years ago.

Exactly that combination is what makes us human. We have to be in motion and we have to be able to peak our brain-power in a spread in time all over the day to be optimally productive. Only since the industrial revolution did we change our ways. Companies grew larger and with that the supporting staff did. But being boxed up in cubicles for a few decades does not break the evolutionary chain of the last million years. We are not build to sit 8 hours a day and our brain cannot flourish when we stare at a monitor for that same timeframe.

Then what? Go remote!

The quality of our output becomes much better the moment we are able to alternate between work and playing with the kids. Our ideas become more creative when we can ponder a solution for a problem while taking the dog out for a walk. We are built to continuously break free and move around while doing the work that is expected from us. And please note the word ‘expected’. Managers usually hold back on remote working because they do not trust that work is being done, while nature suggests otherwise. The third part of being a human, besides a physique to move around and brains that are wired to perform best while moving, is the fact that we used that brain to collaborate. We never hunted alone, we always made social connections and worked in groups. For a hundred thousand years humans are used to finding out what is expected from them and can usually be trusted in performing that task. It was clear pretty soon that when you are the one breaking the chain, you are the one that will not get food, shelter, protection. The ancient hunter/gatherers required no manager to monitor the output of their efforts from the entrance of a cubicle. We just need clear insight in the goals we are trying to achieve as a company and a clear understanding of your role as a professional and we are off. No matter where we work, we can be trusted to do the work.

Remote working is the ultimate Agile Software Development method

Developing software in an agile environment is all about getting productive pieces of code shipped while responding to the changing dynamics around you. Now think for a while, in which of the below situations do you think the best software is developed:

Situation 1: one hundred developers sit side-by-side on a development floor in the hippest part of San Francisco. The rec-room is available all day (but usually empty) and the management is very modern, walks around whole day and is there to serve. Twice every year a customer board is organized in the large conference room where 10 customers are grilled under a luxurious lunch about their experiences with the software. Off course there is a state-of-the-art ticketing system that registers issues of clients with for example currency- and agenda-problems in the software. A tool which is used by clients in 124 of the 196 countries in the world I might add.

Situation 2: same tool, same customer base in 124 countries and same amount of developers. Only this time they all work remote, divided over 7 time zones in 4 continents. Not the hippest part of SF, but some in the den of a regular home in a sleepy US-suburb, others go to the nearest coffee shop in their Berlin neighborhood. They live in different agenda’s (USA starts the week on Sunday, Europe on Monday for instance) and on different Currency themselves. They walk around and meet real people, all day long.

The key to developing great software is diversity in your firm. A mix of men and women creates a better logic then only men can. A mix of old and young creates a better UX then only young can. A mix of cultural background creates a better adaptability of the software then only one culture group could do. Etcetera. But of course that does not stop in the office. The more diverse the daily experiences of the people creating the software, the more inspiration and pragmatism finds its way in. Generating ever better ideas and growing on all aspects based on real life. Combined with that natural effect of remote workers behaving, on average, more responsible than tightly managed office workers, teams created by these kinds of mixes are the ultimate execution of the agile mindset!

Hubspot and Basecamp were founded on remote work, Twitter and Facebook now join the herd. Why? Because recruitment matters

For a while I have followed the trajectories of both Basecamp and Hubspot with interest. More and more it becomes clear that the success of these companies was (partly) founded on their remote working philosophy. The best people in the world doing great stuff together that matters. Where is that different from your firm? The fact that they can work with the greatest minds in the world where you are bound to the best people on the block, in your neighborhood and perhaps in your city. When you are looking for the best UX-designer to solve an issue in your globally used software, why should that perfect candidate per se live in your hometown?

Silicon Valley wake up: not every talented developer wants to move to San Francisco! And on top of finding the best talent, they also stay longer. When you recruit someone from Perryville, Kentucky or Arnhem, The Netherlands, chances are that they will be less easily tempted to leave then when he or she walks the streets of Northern California and gets a matching job offer on every corner.

Triggered by the sudden temporary move to remote working forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, some see the light. Already Facebook and Twitter announced that their workers will not be forced back to the office afterwards. They see that the culture can be changed into a successful remote working one and once you have bridged that gap, the full benefits of remote working become clear.

So what should you do now?

For starters I would recommend that you as a tech leader see the full picture. Working remote of course also has challenges, but the positive side drives the business case of course. The business case behind remote working is based on 5 benefits:

  1. More motivated people that have time and freedom left to develop a life and be healthy
  2. Better access to the global talent pool of best techies
  3. More tenure, less job-hopping
  4. Lower payroll cost because a developer in the Valley certainly earns a way more hefty wage then one in Issoudun, France.
  5. Lower office building cost because less square footage is used

(And of course items 1 and 3 translate into lower cost as well, ask your HR advisor!).

During the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of companies were forced to move to remote working. A lot of them just picked up their shit, went home and started working there. For the long run this won’t cut it. You will have to be open to change your ways of working. A lot of tips and tricks can be found online when you start reading into the successful cases that are out there. I am also working on an overview of 10 hacks for effective “Remote Agile Project Leadership”. If you want to receive them free of charge, just send me a message.

Dream heavy, build lean, grow fast

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