As simple and easy as the first principle of the Agile Manifesto
sounds, "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools" can become a beast of burden for Agile teams in a distributed development environment.
Let's put this in perspective. My client is in Canada, with office hours starting at 8 a.m. ET, which is 5 p.m. IT. Time zone differences can become a painful deterrent to distributed Agile teams if they're augmented by poor communication media. Within a matter of weeks, our client was getting frustrated with the way things were going.
Arguably, things could have gone well from the beginning if we had put the right checks and balances in place to ensure that things did, indeed, go well. By this I mean taking these steps:
- Make sure that there are overlapping times, so that we can establish communication.
- Make sure that we have a rich and robust communication medium.
- Make sure that the proper introductions have been made.
Believe it or not, we did think these things through, but not all of them materialized. For example, the client's company had a strict policy against instant messages or collaboration tools such as Slack. We use Zoom for face-to-face interactions. While it's a nice tool, the client almost always declines a face-to-face interaction. The reasons can be one of many, from being media shy to the tool simply being too obtrusive for their personal liking. Sometimes their requirements are vague -- not because they like to be vague but because they themselves are not sure what they want, or they do not know how to articulate their needs. All of these things are minor annoyances that could have been avoided had we been colocated.
Keep in mind that I work for a start-up. So the gig goes like this: The sales and marketing team does their song and dance and, if everything goes well, they hand over the client to the development team. There isn't too much emphasis on establishing a meaningful relationship between the client and the development team, other than a barely formal working relationship. Now add to the mix the potpourri of other distributed team issues. You can see how things can go sour fairly fast (and I don't even want to bring culture into the mix, because that's for another discussion).
All of this brings us back to the first principle of the Agile Manifesto, "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools." Even though we got off to a rocky start, we were able to smooth things over by focusing on our working relationship, one that is not based on contracts and agreements or on "getting the job done." We now have a great relationship, because we care about the customer's success.