Software managers fear draining the batteries on their teams. But they cannot miss deadlines on work that can't slow down.
With his software development team working remotely, Lloyd Closson, CTO at G&A Partners, says one of the things he misses most about the office is hosting whiteboard sessions.
"They're my favorite things to do, to sit down and architect a system in front of a whiteboard," said Closson, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Nostalgia aside, the sessions helped the team assess new ideas and improve the company's HR outsourcing tools. Amid the pandemic, a whiteboarding feature within Microsoft Teams — the companywide collaboration tool — became an adequate proxy.
Equipped with iPads as virtual canvasses, home-bound team members recently bounced around ideas digitally on how to solve a freshly discovered bug in the company's HR outsourcing platform.
Pushing the work forward in uncharted territory has made IT execs lean into their collaboration platforms, expanding their use and exploring new features, as agile methodologies help teams iterate in quick bursts with increased communication.
Fresh, challenging context
Three pandemic-induced changes are impacting application development and delivery work, according to a Forrester report:
- Work and life shifted online, pushing home-bound employees to rely solely on digital tools and retooling business processes.
- Teams became more distributed, creating new patterns for collaboration.
- Organizations clamored for digital products to oversee business-critical processes such as controlling building access or supporting public service processes under strain.
Development teams that entered the pandemic using modern distributed development tools, including integrated collaboration platforms, are faring better than their laggard counterparts.
For cloud engineering company DigitalOcean, early reliance on collaboration tools eased the transition. Its engineering team was 90% remote, while the rest of the company was roughly 65% to 70% primarily remote.
"When it came time to go 100% remote as a company, that change was relatively painless," said Al Sene, VP of Engineering at DigitalOcean, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Agile methodologies have proven their worth at DigitalOcean, allowing the team to work in batches, deploying smaller snippets of code frequently. If there's an issue, the approach lets the company address it quickly, with minimized impact to the broader infrastructure.
A successor to the traditional waterfall model, the approach helps shorten decision times, letting teams iterate quickly and bring "velocity" to the process, Sene said.
Increased communication allows remote teams to build trust, which makes agile methodologies a good match for distributed teams to operate smoothly. Among the 12 principles of agile are face-to-face conversations between the development team and frequent reflections on how to increase efficiency, according to nonprofit organization Agile Alliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic is driving up agile adoption at the enterprise level. In May, 55% of IT leaders said their company planned to increase the use of agile over the next 12-14 months, according to a survey published by Digital.ai. Momentum for agile adoption has increased over the past 90 days for 43% of companies.
"There's a very clear following of agile practices in how we do all of our projects internally as well as for customers, which means frequently scheduled communication" said Malcolm Ross, VP of product strategy and deputy CTO at Appian, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Following the structures of agile methodology means Appian adheres to 15-minute daily standups, sprint reviews and use case definition sessions as part of its workflow.
"Agile methodology is not really about doing things faster, it's about frequent communication to the key stakeholders and constituents involved in an application development project, as well as remaining agile to change as different conditions arise," Ross said.
Companies which adhere to a waterfall model amid the pandemic risk devoting resources to projects that won't fulfill the needs of end-users, potentially sinking resources into dysfunctional products.
The urgency of collaboration
Sustaining the pace of work at DigitalOcean has required reliance on the collaboration tools the team adopted well ahead of the pandemic.
"The engineering team makes use of all the tools at their disposal for communication and collaboration," Sene said.
The toolkit at DigitalOcean includes screen sharing, tools for social development and shared development environments for code reviews.
"It is really a great time in terms of the technology that is available for us to collaborate in these ways," Sene said. "I could only imagine 20 or 30 years ago, would we have been in the middle of the pandemic, how would we have done the collaboration?"
But the deployment of tools for collaboration, even in the midst of challenging circumstances, does not guarantee team-wide adoption.
To ease any type of change into dev team dynamics, a clear understanding of needs and requirements is a critical starting point, according to Closson.
"I think that if you can clearly articulate what you're trying to solve with the new technology, and how the technology solves the problem, that facilitates change much easier," Closson said.