Leveraging Agile in a Nearshore Software Development Environment

Nearshore software development—or working with teams in similar time zones—have different challenges from teams that are collocated. They might find it easier to work in a traditional, hierarchical structure, but agile practices are actually still an ideal way to work through these challenges. Here's how an agile mindset can help nearshore development teams improve communication, organization, and processes.

Nearshore software development comes with a variety of benefits, including cost-efficiency, great talent, and real-time collaboration. However, it doesn’t come without its challenges too. Every project involves multiple moving parts, various team members and responsibilities, and evolving timelinesbut now add multiple time zones and geographical locations.

Given these challenges, introducing agile can result in pushback, or even lack of contract compliance if you are not careful. Sometimes these challenges are due to discomfort with something new or to lack of communication. Even in a nearshore setting, some people might find it easier to work in a traditional, hierarchical structure, just because they’re more used to it.

But the nature of nearshorecollaborative, cross-functional work in teams within similar time zonesaligns perfectly with agility in the on-shore workplace. In fact, I believe agile practices have revolutionized nearshoring, and they are a great part of nearshore development success.

Nearshore teams face a lot of the same challenges other teams do, and an agile mindset can be used to tackle these challenges head on. Here’s how.

Visual Project Organization

Tools like kanban boards have made it easy to see the progress of a project in real time. There are a variety of tools that provide digital versions of physical boards, which are all the more useful for nearshore teams, since they are working remotely.

These tools can help you organize a project based on scope or responsibility and set deadlines. They are also great options for distributed teams that don’t share a physical space but want to collaborate day to day.

The key here is to not get scared off by the term “visual.” It’s not about you becoming Picasso and creating aesthetically appealing graphics; it’s about being able to convey your ideas in a visible way that makes the most sense. With nearshore teams, there are so many moving parts that having a digital board is often the easiest way to get everyone on the same page.

Virtual Face-to-Face Communication

We’re all busy, so instead of messing around in a long, confusing email chain or getting buried under a wave of instant messages, it can be much easier to just hop on the phone. But for dispersed teams who don’t get that in-person contact, why not talk to each other face to face?

Holding daily standups or other regular check-ins via video conferencing tools is just another hallmark of agile methodology, especially with distributed teams. When your team is based in multiple locations, it becomes all the more necessary to have consistent, clear communication with each member.

Visual elements during a standup also offers a sense of urgency that you don’t get with a conference call—it’s hard to ignore an item when it’s right there on your screen in color!

Rules of Engagement

Setting clear expectations is even more necessary when you have multiple people working on different tasks in different locations. Nearshoring is a process that requires people to be moving in tandem. Therefore, it is necessary for people to understand the why, how, and what of each project.

When people are clear about the purpose, then the rest of the processes should naturally align. Properly defined rules of engagement can make sure communication is effective, allowing the team to connect and align expectations across geographic boundaries.

However, when any projects begin, team members often have some doubts about the new situation and the process being followed. It’s important in the early stages of a project to establish a safe space to let ideas and opinions come out in conversation so that each team member can express what they’re feeling.

This onboarding process is best accomplished by gathering the team in the same location for a period of time. Spending time together getting to know each other will make the working process much smoother later on. However, if that’s just not possible, I recommend the team dedicate some days early in the project to work on aligning themselves digitally. This can mean relying on communication tools to hold planning sessions using video conferences, as well as talking with each other frequently to build relationships.

The concept of psychological safety, which is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake or say something contrary to popular opinion, is essential in a nearshore world—and also a challenge. Psychological safety supports moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, and unleashing creativity, which are also just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs. If the team makes a mistake, they must take some time to reflect on it and learn from it.

In the case of a remote team, this can be accomplished by keeping meeting agendas loose during upfront discussions and asking each team member to come up with topics they think are important to discuss with the team. And this doesn’t have to be just work-related, either. With remote members, it’s important to be more intentional about team-building in order to work better together.

Aligning Ideas with the Team

Part of what makes the agile method so effective is open communication. This is how you create team alignment, and once you have that, your project will go much more smoothly.

For nearshore teams, this means keeping those communications channels open and providing psychological safety. Take notes for each meeting and share them with the team. Make sure that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing at all times and are aware of their to-dos. Product owners and ScrumMasters especially can be very helpful in getting the team aligned by addressing doubts, fostering continuous improvement, and reinforcing psychological safety. As always, they should be helping team members overcome challenges and barriers as well.

In the case of a nearshore team, additional communication spaces need to exist, since people are not in constant contact as they would be when sharing an office. Meetings should be more frequent, and teams should use platforms that provide an easy channel for communication at all levels, from important project discussions to sharing inside jokes.

Performing Retrospectives

Retrospectives can take many shapes and forms, but the most important part is learning from the past and applying it to the future. Agility is all about continuous improvement by iterating and iterating again. Nearshoring, likewise, is a process that never looks quite the same twice.

With nearshoring, retrospectives are critical, as any gaps in the agile process between the nearshore and on-shore teams must be fixed quickly. Successful partnerships were not built in a day, and without improvement activities, success will not come! Progress is a human instinct, and the easiest way to discover how to improve is by taking a good, hard look at what you’ve done before and using those experiences as stepping stones to make your process better.

There are also online tools that nearshore teams can use to conduct retrospectives, while making them enjoyable and organized. They provide basic templates that you can customize and then involve multiple people to engage with. This allows teams to accomplish professional work while also building working relationships.

Agile for Continuous Improvement

Teams don’t have to be collocated in order to be agile. If you’re working with nearshore development teams, they’re probably experiencing many of the same challenges as teams in the same office. As long as your teams are performing collaborative, cross-functional work, agile practices can help them improve communication, organization, and processes.

User Comments

1 comment
Dmitri Starikovski's picture

Embracing agile practices in nearshore software development can be a game-changer, overcoming challenges like varied time zones and team structures. This insightful piece sheds light on how agility aligns seamlessly with the collaborative nature of nearshore work, fostering success in development projects.

December 5, 2023 - 4:24am

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