When hiring an offshore software development team, businesses tend to see it as a handful of engineers in some faraway land whom you send detailed requirements or designs to be constructed. And while Agile frameworks are widely used for in-house development, there are still concerns if Agile is compatible with offshore development teams.
We’ve talked to experts in Agile software development who have shared the lessons they’ve learned on their journeys and explained how to leverage Agile frameworks while cooperating with an offshore software development team.
Using Agile frameworks in working with offshore development teams
Given the context the past year has put us in, working with offshore development teams doesn’t differ much from having a team of inhouse developers working from home. This means that if there had been even slight concerns as to the compatibility of Agile methodologies and offshore teams, they have vanished with the arrival of the new normal — which is a good starting point for implementing Agile.
1. What is Agile? What methodologies are used?
The Agile philosophy is embedded in multiple methodologies and frameworks, and Scrum is the most widely used one in software development — around 80% of software development projects are delivered through Scrum.
The fundamental unit of Scrum is a small team of people, a Scrum Team. The Scrum Team consists of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and Developers. Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.
Using Scrum when working with offshore development teams provides more freedom of movement for engineers. If Scrum is used wisely, offshore software development team members can individually decide how to allocate their time and efforts to achieve the goal, how they plan to achieve it, and what resources they need for it.
2. The benefits of Agile software development
- The main benefit of Scrum for business is the clarity of the result, a precise picture of what to expect, when to expect it, and how to achieve your business goals.
- On an Agile project, the close proximity between the customer and the developer allows the former to monitor progress much more frequently and spot misunderstandings more quickly.
- The other benefit of Agile is that you don’t necessarily need to follow the canonical Scrum methodology and are free to customize it to your own needs (a widespread practice, however it can not be called Scrum anymore).
- The main principle of Scrum lies in flat communication with no hint of hierarchy. There’s always room for dialogue and no blind instructions.
3. A Scrum team
A basic Scrum team consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master and a Development Team (programmers, testers, admins, DevOps engineers, etc.). A business Stakeholder indicates the goals, the Product Owner performs the role of the Voice of the Business and translates these goals for a development team, while the Scrum Master ensures that a project follows the Scrum methodology. Ideally, the Scrum Master is a happy medium between the Product Owner and the development team.
Scrum Master Vs. Project Manager. These are two completely different roles. The Project Manager’s role lies more in communication with the client, handling required documentation, budgeting, signing SOWs, etc. The Scrum Master’s mission is more about transferring the importance of the Agile mindset, ensuring that it’s shared by each team member and the development team as a whole, coaching business and developers and claiming the team’s right for Agile development.
4. An Agile development process
The client communicates business value and their vision of the product to be developed to the Product Owner, who then leads the goals of the offshore team further. The Development Team (no matter how many different people and roles it includes) is given instructions on the goal by the Product Owner. Next, the Scrum Master minimizes the risks of not following the defined timeline or any kind of distortion of guidelines, roles, etc.
The Scrum Master’s role is not only to ensure the rules are followed by the offshore development team, but by the client as well — so that they don’t interrupt sprints with rapidly added features, etc. If there are any changes to be implemented, they should be addressed to the Product Owner and added to the Product Backlog if there are no other agreements set.
5. Using Agile in working with offshore development teams
Agile methodologies can be implemented with both inhouse and offshore teams. If your inhouse team works with a different methodology but you want to stick to Agile, your offshore development provider should be able to consult you on the way.
6. Tools for Agile development
The most widely used tools in Agile software development are JIRA, Clickup and Trello. They’re often combined with other Atlassian tools like Bitbucket and Confluence. You can also opt for other products like Microsoft TFS and VSTS.
Clickup provides opportunities for good task visualizations and progress tracking for each team member and the project as a whole. The Clickup’s main feature is a variety of widgets that could be customised to show the transparency of Agile processes (Burndown chart, Team download, different diagrams, etc). These visualizations add an extra level of motivation for developers.
7. Essentials to kickstart Agile development
A few must-reads: the Agile Manifesto and websites Scrum.org and ScrumAlliance. These will help understand if Scrum is a good fit in your case. Good news is that Agile can be applied with no regard to the size or complexity of the project. Agile will ideally match those cases pursuing sustainable development, e.g. adding new features regularly.
8. Agile vs. Waterfall
Some developers refuse to follow the Agile philosophy and tend to stick to a simple waterfall plan-driven approach, where detailed requirements or designs are sent offshore to be developed. The development team is there to complete the tasks following the “first in, first out” principle.
Such tendency to avoid Agile in offshore development roots from a fairly common misconception which states that physical proximity of teammates is necessary for successful Agile development. However, given the modern communication tools and clearly outlined processes, Agile will bring more value and will do it faster than Waterfall.
How to Find and Onboard Agile Savvy Offshore Developers
If you’re going to build an Agile team, use these tips to find offshore developers capable of meeting the goal:
1. Who to look for: senior or junior developers?
Seniors and above are usually closely familiar with Agile. They won’t sit around waiting for the task to be thrown at them. And this is where motivation comes in. Good Agile developers are there not only because of compensation, but also because of an interesting and challenging project. However, any junior developer can also grasp Agile seamlessly if they’re motivated. To start with, they should at least have read the Agile Manifesto.
2. Don’t be stingy and hire a Scrum Master.
If you hire an offshore development team, the availability of a Scrum Master or an Agile coach in a team will simplify the onboarding process for those not deeply involved in Agile before. Scrum Masters need to get certified. This can be done through a variety of online courses like ScrumAlliance or Scrum.org.
3. Ensure knowledge sharing.
With offshore software development, senior professionals could share the Agile philosophy with juniors, showcase pros and cons, and teach the given methodology using hands-on experience. The Agile knowledge transfer can be best achieved by pairing a developer with an Agile professional in a mentoring relationship, where the two will meet regularly and discuss the goals and achievements of the mentee.
Good Agile developers must be grown-ups. Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity.
How to Manage an Agile Offshore Development Team
The good news is that an Agile team is self-organized and knows how to manage itself even being offshore. They function on their own, everybody knows their role in achieving the common goal. And how this goal will be achieved is decided by the team too. The only manager of an Agile team is their goal.
Any team’s duty is to deliver improvements to the product for the benefit of the end user. As a result, there can be cases of unplanned fixes, alignment meetings or even rollbacks - and this can be easily handled if the team is physically in one room.
This is how we avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication in remote development at Grid Dynamics:
1. Release planning. A release plan contains precise points from and to, with regard to deadlines and objects, and also possible risks and known ways to anticipate and/or manage them. This document is available to all members of the team for self-control and prompt actions to solve possible problems.
2. Testing plan. This is a separate plan which is synchronized with the release plan to enable the QA team to follow close by and test every small piece of functionality instead of losing time and efforts on global testing of everything at once later on (of course, if this is technically possible).
3. A Kick-off call organized before the release start date allows to ensure that everyone’s in position for the game, everyone’s got a cup of coffee and are ready to start. More often than not, such calls can spot a number of stoppers that could affect the development of the whole release.
Also, we keep a permanent process monitoring in text and voice formats in a separate Slack/Skype section in order to have a full picture of the events for a Sprint Review and Retro (Retrospective meeting).
4. Meetings, meetings, meetings:
- During the Sprint reviews the project is assessed against the sprint goal that was defined during planning. Ideally, before that the team completes all the tasks from the Sprint Backlog, but the most important thing is that the sprint goal was achieved.
- Retrospective meetings to give team members a chance to inspect themselves, to figure out goods/bads of their cooperation and set necessary improvements.
- Daily 15 minute stand-up meetings within the team to align on who does what and does everyone get the sprint goal.
5. The value of a Scrum Master.
To keep the balance between the business and the developers — this is the responsibility of the Scrum Master. He/she works closely with the Product Owner, a person who sets goals, translates the voice of business, sustains the understanding of what and why the development team is doing, sparks interest in the product itself by outlining the roadmap, product values and the ultimate goal. The Scrum Master, in their turn, keeps an eye on the atmosphere inside the team, mitigates any issues that may arise and facilitates necessary actions to keep the team healthy and productive.
To play Scrum, you don’t need to sit physically in one room.
Where to Hire an Agile Software Development Team: Onshore vs. Offshore vs. Nearshore
When looking for an Agile software development team and deciding whether you want to hire them onshore vs. offshore, pay attention to these key factors: average offshore rates, the maturity of the tech industry, time difference and cultural fit.
Here’s a comparative analysis of onshore, offshore and nearshore software development.
Agile onshore, offshore, nearshore software development
Offshore software development
In comparison to onshore software development, in offshoring you’ll benefit from lower labor costs, more favorable economic conditions, convenient time zones, or a larger talent pool.
Extreme time differences (6 hours and more) can definitely come in handy for companies that need to provide uninterrupted tech or customer support, as well as for those who run constant updates and maintenance work.
Onshore software development
Onshoring refers to delegating a number of business processes to a different location within national borders. Usually the chosen location has lower labor and operational costs.
While cost saving is the main reason to onshore, skill shortages can also drive businesses to look for talent in alternative locations.
Nearshore software development
If offshoring sounds just too risky, and if you’d rather work with a development team that is located in Europe, shares your approach to work, and still is reasonably priced, consider building your own nearshore software development team in Eastern Europe.
Grid Dynamics has been helping clients from all over the world hire skilled remote nearshore & offshore developers for 15+ years. We know exactly what it takes to set up an efficient offshore development center in Ukraine.
Why Set Up an Agile Offshore Development Team?
Set up a Scrum offshore development team with Grid Dynamics to:
- Drive ROI Faster
Build an Agile offshore team of developers to reduce time to market and get instant revenue from new features.
When you hire offshore programmers, you don’t have to wait until the product is completed. Roll out new features each sprint and immediately generate income.
- Introduce Transparency
Make your development process transparent and keep all stakeholders informed about the most recent updates.
Communicate with your Scrum developers directly and track development progress using the tools that suit your needs.
- Improve Product Quality
Ensure high quality of your product by making regular reviews and addressing issues on time.
Scrum developers in your Agile offshore development team will fix bugs within a sprint, which means that each new pack of features you roll out will be market-ready.
Our mission at Grid Dynamics is to help your business grow through remote collaboration with software developers. Reach out with any questions by contacting us through the form below, and we’ll get back to you very soon.
Special thanks to Sergei Riabtcev, Scrum Master at Grid Dynamics, for his invaluable input, years of successful Agile practice and deep expertise.