(Image Credit: @puttisarn via Twenty20)
Projects, by definition, are unique. Every situation in each organization, is unique. We even say regularly that the only constant is change because our situations change on a regular basis, and responding to changing needs and requirements to keep our businesses going in the face of the SARS-CoV-2 (Corona Virus) threat is really no different.
Many organizations across the world are struggling as they move to remote working environments. At the organizational management level, they’re seeing challenges in technology, tools, and processes, and finding that managing a geographically dispersed team is very different than managing a co-located team. On an individual level, many people are likely to be unsettled by the change in their environments – lack of face time with co-workers and leadership, uneasiness with knowledge of virtual tools and technology, and burnout that can come with trying to balancing the accomplishment of all the work tasks that need to be done with taking care of the family and possibly even having to manage home schooling for a while.
According to a Gallop Poll in 2017, just 43% of the workforce works remotely at varying levels of frequency. Even organizations in knowledge work, where past studies show that 79% of the workforce reports being a remote worker, consider projects to be unsuccessful as much as 33% of the time, falling short of project goals 82% of the time, and failing to satisfy customer requirements 66% of the time (Ferazzi, 2015). Although building and leading high-performing virtual teams may be a little tougher, getting it right could yield as much as 43% more productivity (Thompson & Caputo, 2009). Other benefits of enabling virtual teams include lower overhead costs and access to highly skilled talent that otherwise would be unavailable due to physical location.
Enter Disciplined Agile (Ambler & Lines, 2019), which is a project management governance framework and process-based, decision-making toolkit that was acquired recently by the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. Disciplined Agile enables high-performing teams and true business agility by providing a guided continuous improvement (GCI) and governance framework where teams across the enterprise are able to choose their way of working (WoW) and then evolve their WoW as their situations (the context) change. If an organization had adopted Disciplined Agile prior to the spread of the Corona Virus, the pivot to geographically dispersed teams would be very easy to manage because they would have the culture and guidance in place to do so successfully by evolving their WoW.
If you read through the literature on best practices for leading successful virtual teams, you’ll find some common themes. Successful virtual teams:
1. Follow the same practices of successful co-located teams, although with potentially new tools and processes, and a greater need for stronger leadership
2. Have clearly defined goals and boundaries
3. Have the technology/tools and adequate support necessary to work remotely
4. Develop a shared identity and understanding of team expectations and norms
5. Trust each other to get the job done and hold each other accountable to do their part
6. Encourage open dialogue and experimentation
7. Promote transparency and knowledge sharing across the team (not just top-down)
8. Choose the best tools and processes to get the work done based on the context of their unique situation at any given point in time
(Ferazzi, 2014; Mortensen, 2015; Rayess, 2015)
A Disciplined Agile environment enables all of these features of successful virtual teams through its methodology agnostic approach, pragmatic view of team roles and responsibilities, and guided continuous improvement and decision-making framework. While the Lean and Agile mindset is baked into its DNA, Disciplined Agile takes what we know of these and expands it dramatically, expanding the original Agile values and principles to put customer satisfaction at the center of all activities, include collaboration all Stakeholders (vice just the customer), promoting consumable solutions (vice just working software/systems), encouraging enterprise awareness and how team activities relate to other team activities up and down the value stream, and providing guidance for choosing the correct project and development lifecycles – to include waterfall/predictive, DevOps/continuous delivery, and programmatic lifecycles, not just lean and agile – and customizing management strategies within those lifecycles based on context and capabilities, including descriptions of the trade-offs that are made when choosing any particular strategy for improved risk management.
Specifically, in regard to virtual teaming, Disciplined Agile provides decision-making guidance and an explanation of the trade-offs based on geographic distribution, organizational distribution, time zone distribution, as well as tools and techniques for conducting work, task management, and team development. A Disciplined Agile environment develops a culture that develops trust, provides clear direction to Disciplined Agile teams, and encourages autonomy, open communications and knowledge sharing, as well as the ability to pivot in flight to meet changing needs.
Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, once said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near.” Organizations that adopt Disciplined Agile already know what is needed to switch from co-located working environments to virtual, geographically dispersed teams, giving them superior competitive advantages in their markets, regardless of their industry or function.
Derek Beck is the founder and CEO of Blue Summit Consulting Group, LLC, which helps organizations achieve true business agility and sustainable competitive advantages through training and coaching services to implement Disciplined Agile and project management as a strategic competency across the enterprise.
If you want to know more about how Blue Summit CG can help you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule a free consultation today!
Ambler, S. & Lines, M. (2019). Choose Your WoW! A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working (WoW).
Best Practices for Working in a Virtual Team Environment (2008). Library Technology Reports. https://www.techsource.ala.org
Ferrazzi, K. (2014). Getting Virtual Teams Right. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/12/getting-virtual-teams-right
Mortensen, M. (2015). A First-Time Manager’s Guide to Leading Virtual Teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/09/a-first-time-managers-guide-to-leading-virtual-teams
Rayess, R. (2015). 5 Basic Needs of Virtual Teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/5-basic-needs-of-virtual-workforces
Thompson, C. & Caputo, P. (2009). The Reality of Virtual Work: Is your organization ready? AON Consulting. Retrieved March 24, 2020 from https://www.aon.com/attachments/virtual_worker_whitepaper.pdf