Recently I was part of a focused group panel on Distributed Agile and its challenges at IIMB. As the discussion progressed and we kept talking about agile at scale, and distributed agile, I was stuck with what is happening closer. In Bangalore, work from home is becoming de reigueur for most organisations. Even service organisations are offering work from home options to most employees. What does this mean for Agile? On a personal note, I have found a burning need to be in office every day to make an impact and move things forward. As Scrum Master/PM most of my interactions actually happen with people outside of the team. And we never have ideal situations. Environments are down, client management suddenly wants to change priorities or other dependencies are not going smoothly. In most cases an IM or an email is not sufficient. We need to nudge a bit here, resist a bit there and in general do all of those things that cannot be articulated accurately.
Let’s face it, our systems are not mature yet. Builds are not stable in most places. Access rights from home as against in office is different. And more importantly, we have power cuts at home. This is still a reality in India. I have myself heard team members saying they are stuck as power is gone. Developers when they work from home, pick work that can be done without dependency. This many times, may not be the highest priority work. And often, during development, they may need to chat with a peer, who may not be at his seat. All of these bring in interruptions.
Work from home is essential. People lose motivation travelling 90 minutes one way to work. All of that energy can be better utilised to write some code. At the same time, with inefficient systems (both on the project and at home infrastructure) there are compromises made. Teams need to have an open discussion about this at the start of projects. I don’t think that ever happens today. And I believe the youngest member in the team should propose how to approach this situation and stay on top of this. If the scrum master or the PM suggests, it will look top-down and all types of baggage gets added.
Key to all of this, is creating a true sense of ownership. Ownership is different from accountability. Accountability is when you do what your boss asks you to and report back to her. I still believe, we have not created environments where collective ownership and true goal congruence exist. The start to that is team bonding. Not everyone is going to be passionate about meeting a stiff timeline or launching a killer feature. In fact some may even think that feature is not worth it. But, if everyone feels for the team passionately, it is 95% of the battle won. That 90 minute of commute will not look that bad, if you look forward to meeting your friends every day.