5 Tips To Keep Projects On Track When Everything Changes

Last Updated Jul 5, 2011 10:06 AM EDT

The term "agile process" is thrown around a lot in the world of software development. Agile software development (as well as project management) basically assumes that things change so fast that you can't rely on a plan to stay on track--teams need to be constant communication to stay focused on the goal.

You can ignore the "scrums", "essential unified processes", or EUPs and other mystifying jargon, but if you can incorporate this idea of being agile, you'll find it extraordinarily helpful.

A recent blog post from the software developer Agilewords gives 5 tips for leading remote teams that might originate in "Agile" theory, but all team leaders need to implement no matter what process the team uses.
  1. "Communicate". Whether they're all in the same place or scattered around the globe, it's critical that information flow back and forth. Not only does it have to be clear, it has to be proactive. As a leader, that's part process (do you have an agreed upon process for communicating and an explicit plan) and part attitude (are people reaching out to share, or do you have to chase down information from each other?).
  2. "Have an ambassador". This position is unique to Agile, and some argue if it's even necessary. After all, if managers do their jobs and teams are empowered to reach out and speak out, a single ambassador role is redundant. But the concept is clear: are the people working remotely as informed and connected as the people at the home office? Do they know who to go to with questions and concerns? If your team is divided between people who work in one location and others out in the provinces, an "official" voice for the remote workers can prevent misunderstandings and unintentional lapses in communication or context.
  3. "Share collaboration tools". For every team to have up-to-the-minute information they all have to have access to what each member knows. Waiting for a weekly update meeting and relying on the team members to share everything that might be relevant often leads to unpleasant surprises and hurt feelings that can damage productivity. (Arguments like "why didn't you tell me", and "I didn't think you needed to know" are not uncommon.) Shared file sites, access to calendars, blogs, discussion boards and more are important. Not only do teams need these tools, they need the training and coaching to use them properly.
  4. "Generate confidence". As a leader, a big part of your job is keeping up morale and people's confidence. This means confidence in themselves as well as with each other. If you're spending all your time on tasks, and not on the "softer"side of leadership the process can falter badly.
  5. "Constantly assess, analyze and adjust". Agile teams are built on the assumption that a project plan is necessary, but mindless adherence to that original plan can often create problems when scope changes or the team needs to adjust to reality. Whether you are slavishly devoted to everything this sometimes arcane school of thought teaches, this is the big lesson. Stuff changes on a regular basis. By consciously analyzing the data, sharing it with everyone and giving the team permission to make reasonable adjustments quickly.
Remote teams are easily thrown off by information gaps and silos. By setting up a plan that holds people accountable for sharing information and allows them to get the data they need to make smart decisions--then acting on those decisions quickly, your team can become more productive and, yes, more agile.

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  • Wayne Turmel

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