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8 myths (busted) about leading virtual teams in Agile software development

Q: What scares Agile purists more than the thought of using a distributed national workforce to build software?

A: Sourcing international talent

Since 2001, we’ve managed offices in Minneapolis and across Bulgaria — leading virtual teams for over 15 years. Now, we’re expanding again, this time to Sweden. So why Agile? And, can it play nicely with a distributed team? While some of the concerns about offshore software development are genuine, the majority are more myth than reality when voicing opposition. We bust 8 myths we’ve learned along the way.

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Myth 1. Busted: There’s enough technical talent in the United States to satisfy demand.

By 2024, the United States will add 9.8 million jobs to the economy. One in four will be in the technical or healthcare-related fields, further increasing demand in an already strained industry. The competition to hire and retain technical talent already plagues some areas of the county. Just three years ago, marketing software firm HubSpot was reportedly offering “a $30,000 bounty for software engineers and designers,” according to the Boston Globe. While some proponents of keeping work in-country argue it poses risks to the national workforce, the simple fact is, many technical occupations are already short people to satisfy the demand. The same situation currently exists in Sweden with an estimated 60,000 FTE shortfall by 2020 in the broader ICT (information communication technology) sector.

What happens when a thriving industry can’t fill seats? It loses momentum. Proponents of leading virtual teams or offshoring software development consider its use one of the major contributing factors in the growth and diversification of the IT industry over the past two decades.

Myth 2. Busted: Offshore development poses insurmountable security risks.

This myth represented one of the oldest and most often-stated myths about offshore development. While not entirely untrue, this statement is the exaggeration of a known fact: Sometimes you have to be more creative when managing an Agile distributed team.

Case in point, one of our most recent clients. This client manages highly sensitive patient records. Thus, all development generally must happen onsite, on computers secured to its network. Big problem if your development team must be remote. How did we enable our distributed development team? We setup computers for the team client-site and had them remotely connect to and “work on” these machines. In this way, the team was compliant with the organization’s security needs.

A trustworthy partner will formalize every process with comprehensive documentation to alleviate legal, data management and security concerns. Sourcing community references not provided by the company can be extremely telling about its past track-record of success. Word travels and a solid reputation is not possible to fake. Reference experiences can tell you TONS about what you can expect and, equally important, the REAL value as opposed to looking only through the lens of hourly rates.

Often concerns about the security of offshore teams are related to legal sanctions upheld by each country. Hiring integrity people and treating them with respect will boost any security protocol and legal protections already in place.

Myth 3. Busted: Software product quality suffers when leading virtual teams.

Product quality depends on a number of factors including communication and team coordination. Running Agile enables greater success on both of these dimensions. Why? Agile encourages teams to practice daily ceremonies to increase collaboration, expose blockers, discuss next steps, check assumptions and make meaningful decisions along the way. Miles and timezones no longer need to serve as a barrier for your team unless you let it. Slack, Jira and Google Hangouts to name a few of the many communication channels now available for distributed teams serve to bridge the distance and intimately connect teams much like sharing common space in the office would.

This myth shows just how little naysayers of Agile distributed teams know about the integration implicit in the methodology. Regardless of office location, the daily ceremonies also serve to integrate ideation, UX/UI and development in a way that increases the elegance of the result.

How do we help teams prioritize development? Get our guide.

Myth 4. Busted: Offshoring is a career-killer.

Opportunity lies in offshoring for employees of a company transitioning to a distributed model. The reality is, no iOS developer will retire an iOS developer. They will go on to become solutions architects, product owners, IT directors or CTOs.

For United States-based teams, it represents a chance to advance, lead and expand beyond just a technical skillset. The best distributed teams are organized by progress toward given features with managers directing them from the host company. For former developers, remote project work offers the opportunity to advance into that manager or product owner role.

Myth 5. Busted: You can make distributed Agile software development work from any low-cost geography.

Wrong on all counts. Choosing the location of your distributed team is often one of the best predictors of long-term success and sustainability. Depending on the location of the host team, it’s more difficult to maintain a few hours of overlap than others. Our Bulgarian office, for example, works 12-8PM. That way project teams have four hours of overlap to meet and collaborate. In our new Swedish location, officing in the Astrazeneca BioVentureHub, we will have 6 hours of overlap with the Bulgarian team sans any work time adjustments. The Swedish team will interact with our development team from 11 AM to 5 PM Swedish time (or noon to 6 PM Bulgarian time.

Myth 6. Busted: The cultural gaps are simply too broad to overcome when leading virtual teams.

This myth seems increasingly antiquated in today’s connected world where new partnerships grow through LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora and Slack overcoming national and cultural differences everyday. Though, being able to find commonalities with your new team is important. If you’re working for a US-based organization with a predominantly Western mindset, choosing a European location to source your remote team likely requires less cross-cultural education than other talent hubs like India or China. Either are viable from a cultural standpoint.

Myth 7. Busted: You should expect your remote team to work when you do, even if it means they work at night.

Organizations are powered by their people. They are only as strong and consistent as their talent is. Burning out your remote team won’t accomplish any of these objectives and may jeopardize your value proposition. There’s no reason to think this talent pool would want to live a lifestyle any less sustainable than members of the host organization. Instead, look to source remote team members from geographies that require the least shift to maintain cohesion and work/life balance.

For example, staff in our BG office work through the rush-hour traffic and can still accommodate a late dinner with family.

Myth 8. Busted: Cost is the only reason to offshore development.

Cost is certainly one of the primary drivers to offshore development, but it’s certainly not the only reason. Finding the right talent is another. Combination onshore/offsource models offer companies the highest holistic value enabling them to maximize value and expertise via a remote satellite team/office while still having the convenience to meet stateside. The right partner will work with you to make this model successful and sustainable.

Companies may also choose to pursue leading virtual teams to expand their operational reach, maximize productivity and reduce delivery times.

Conclusion

Competition for consumer attention is global. To meet demand, businesses must engage the best resources anywhere in the world to meet expectations and protect (or grow) their market share.

Not location, but rather value and the adherence to rigorous discipline (not overly process-heavy or light, just right or “lagom” as we’d say in Sweden) is the determinant of successful technology development leading virtual teams.

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