COVID19, Agile and remote working


In my previous post (only italian language, sorry) I hypothesized an immediate possible strategic response to the Coronavirus black swan and its present and future impact on our economies. In today’s post, however, I describe how Agile processes and mindsets support remote work even if remote work – sometimes improperly defined agile work – does not support the Agile approach. No pun intended :).

Agile and remote working

Today, here in Italy, it’s almost one month of COVIT19 epidemic and pandemic. Those who had the chance, my teams first, moved to remote working. The benefits of remote working for employees and businesses have long been known. These include cost-cutting, no commuting, autonomy and flexibility of employees, being close to loved ones and also, alas, in recent times, fewer opportunities for contagion. There are also widely known disadvantages. For example isolation, the lack of social interactions, lack of boundaries between work and private life etc.

However, there is a little-known disadvantage: remote work is an Agile antipattern, something that instead of improving the quality of Agile processes, makes it worse.

Remote working anti-patterns

Who says that? The very definition of Agile, with the Agile Manifesto of 2001, clearly states face-to-face interaction between individuals as the preferred way of working.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation

Studies measured increases in productivity of co-located teams and the reasons for this improvement.

Agile supports remote working

Does it mean that it remotely working Agile teams are not possible? Of course, not. Examples of displaced agile teams are quite common and have multiplied in recent weeks. Consider for instance, a Scrum Team with, In order of decreasing efficiency:

  1. Only the Product Owner is displaced with respect to the Team. This rather common solution remains highly efficient,
  2. PO and some members of the Dev Team are colocated,
  3. The whole team is dislocated, working from remote.

The solution #3 is typical of these weeks where socialization is reduced to prevent the contagion from COVID19 and while being the least efficient, still benefits greatly from the Agile approach.

Agile can give structure to remote interactions, help in defining shared daily goals and a clear purpose for iterations and sprints, as well as constant feedback from the market. The loss of focus is thus avoided and a “normality” is restored even in emergency conditions such as that dictated by COVID19

Recurring, structured and time-boxed events typical of Agile frameworks, promote interaction, alignment and cooperation between team members. Explicit formalization of priorities favors better understanding of the activities to be carried on as well as decision making process. Transparency, continuous improvement, simplicity and other Agile principles continue to be valid in creating value also in a remote working context.

Agile Practices and Remote Working. A Systems View

There are also other systemic factors. Home working and other forms of remote working can make people happier because they’ve got more time available hence, improving their mindset and day to day work. On the contrary, a possible scarcity of social contacts, due to the home-working approach, can also be a pain for home workers, making them unhappy and less proactive.

In essence, teleworking does not help Agile work, but Agile can provide a great context for achieving objectives avoiding loss of focus and vision for remote workers. The Balance of the two really depends on the context and implementation of the system.