Agile Offshore Software Development: Best Practices

The article was updated on March 19, 2021.

Outsourced software development services are a global trend with a market size of $92.5 billion, and a great part of this number is offshore development. Business owners have their reasons to opt for it: they save their time and money optimizing the workflow most effectively.

But are there any flies in this ointment? Yes, managing a remote team from another country implies several challenges, such as culture and time zone differences. At first, it can set off alarm bells, but all of them are eliminated with the best practices of the agile approach. 

Do you want to get the most out of the partnership with an agile offshore development team? Here we have a comprehensive list of tips and advice that you can start using at any moment and attain your business goals quicker.

What’s so special about Agile development and how do you benefit from it?

You may find lots of interpretations of the agile approach on the Internet. Many of them are true but only to some extent.

Agile software development is a catchall term that includes frameworks and best practices originated from the 12 principles of the Agile ManifestoThe core idea of this approach is the collaboration of several self-organized teams. The work consists of several iterations, and the result of every iteration is a finished part of the product.

Read also: Agile vs. Waterfall Project Management: Which One to Choose?

 

And what does it mean? There are several distinct advantages:

  • A higher level of control over the development process. After one iteration is finished, you can already see and “feel” work results and make changes in the requirements if necessary.
  • Quick problem-solving. A collaborative environment allows the whole team to be aware of emerging issues and readily cope with them.
  • Highly adaptive process. Agile development inherently allows a team to quickly adapt to changing market conditions and, subsequently, mitigate possible risks.
  • Flexible costs and timeframe. If you have a complex software solution on your mind, it is extremely difficult to predict the project’s end date. Instead, your team can move with short iterations, and you’ll be able to control investments of time and money.
  • High-quality products. With Agile development, minor and major improvements can be made swiftly. Your team will be ready to make necessary changes as soon as you gather feedback from users.

Top 3 challenges of Agile offshore development

Why would some entrepreneurs have doubts about hiring an agile offshore team? These are the main challenges that may hinder their decision:

agile-offshore-development-challenges

  • Time zone differences

Agile offshore programmers usually work many hours ahead of your country. That’s why it is important to develop the meetings schedule accordingly, taking into account the local time of both (or more) parties.

As an example, here at Eastern Peak we’ve found that the best time for meetings when working with US customers from California is 8-10 A.M. PST. This allows us to complete all the daily tasks during the customer’s night. Next morning they get the report and continue to work without any interruptions.

  • Cultural differences

Different cultural concepts impact the team’s work style and dynamics, as well as work etiquette. In the beginning, it may lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, but you won’t face it if you take some precautions. You should carefully translate project documentation, discuss the work schedule and number of working hours in a week, state holidays, and regular reporting.

  • Communication difficulties

When your team is far away, the lack of face-to-face communication is an obvious disadvantage. But it’s not an issue with dozens of modern tools for video calls and online messaging. And you’ve probably had enough experience with online communication even with your onshore team in the context of the world pandemic.

Agile offshoring: 8 best practices

The three challenges above represent a few of the adjustments that should be made concerning work organization structures when partnering with an offshore team. There are, however, more than that, and issues can easily be averted by following these 8 best practices:

1. Determine the scope of work (SOW)

In short, the scope of work is a document containing the info about the work to be done on the project. It’s the initial agreement on the tasks that should be finished on a defined date. The instructions are not meant to be detailed – it rather looks like a reference point for both parties: a software development team and a client.

Read also: Global Software Development Prices Overview

 

What to include in the SOW document:

  • project milestones with dates,
  • list of deliverables for each milestone, and
  • the reporting scheme.

Each milestone will then be divided into shorter parts called iterations. It allows preparing a rough plan with specific tasks for each iteration, and then it’s easier to prioritize those tasks and rearrange them if needed.

At Eastern Peak almost all projects use iterations of one or two weeks in length.

app-development-process

2. Build a product roadmap

A product roadmap is a strategic document that serves as the project’s step-by-step guide consisting of long-term and short-term goals and how to achieve them. It is an overall visual representation of your project that can be transformed over time in case of any changing requirements, tech stack, or deadlines. 

By having a roadmap, you get a clear representation of the project’s process. At this stage, an agile development team can divide each iteration into several sprints (its standard length is one week). Now you see the plan and workflow clearer.

3. Communicate effectively

Agile methodology promotes regular short meetings for the entire team. When managing offshore development teams, these meetings are extremely important, allowing teams to coordinate their work with each other.

Below you will find three types of meetings most common for scrum offshore development.

  • Daily stand-up meetings. They are usually held in the morning and they last for 15-20 minutes. During the meeting, each team member should answer three questions: What was done yesterday, what will be done today and what are current obstacles for performing the task.
  • Sprint planning meetings for preparing the next sprint. Sprint goal and sprint backlog are the outcomes of this meeting.
  • Release planning meetings, on which release plans are created. Release plans are in their turn further used for development of iteration plans.

But the fundamental question is how to set up effective communication if your team is far away from your office? It’s not a problem given the numerous advances of the modern era.

You know all of them, but you should consider using them wisely in different circumstances:

  • Instant messaging is the first vital point of the project’s communication. Slack is the most popular corporate messaging tool to create chats (channels) for different teams (designers, testers, or front-end developers). Here you can add everyone involved in the project including both onshore and offshore teams, along with stakeholders. 
  • Voice calls become of use when you need to discuss something in detail and messaging becomes inconvenient. You can make calls via Slack or use a popular app like WhatsApp.
  • Video conferencing is most appropriate for strategic or other types of group meetings (Skype, Zoom, Google Meet). Real-time video calls mean the world for remote collaboration because they create this feeling of real presence regardless of miles and miles of distance.

software-as-a-service

4. Use work tracking tools

Work tracking tools allow you not only to follow the status of your sprints and iterations but keep track of each developer individually. Plus, the team can communicate within these apps on a particular feature, task, or issue.

Some of these apps have a broad set of features, so you can cover numerous management and communication needs using them. Additionally, you can integrate many of them with Slack, which makes the work process even easier. We recommend checking Jira, Asana, Trello, Podio, or Ryver.

5. Provide user stories

Offshore agile development requires more attention to communicating requirements, since the risk of understanding them in a wrong way increases with the distance and culture differences.

Before starting an iteration, make sure to have user stories that will give your offshore development team a concrete target to aim at.

Here at Eastern Peak we apply this technique with the help of a sketchy story prepared by the customer and concrete use cases prepared by our project managers based on this sketchy story. We’ve found that this approach also helps both PMs and customers to really understand the requirements, since this is when the most of right questions are asked.

6. Stick to common agile standards

There are well-known practices used in agile software development: common coding standards, a source-control server, continuous integration, bug tracking and design patterns. These practices become more important with offshore development teams due to the reduced face to face communication. Thus, they must be applied to distributed teams more strictly than to local teams.

Make sure that you are working with the source code service, that allows both onsite and offshore teams to work smoothly. It’s worth spending time on finding another source code control systems if you’re stuck with one that doesn’t handle remote working very well.

When managing agile offshore development teams, you also have more need for active collaboration tools: wikis, issue tracking tools, prototyping tools and other.

cross-functional-teams

7. Document everything

When working with agile development teams, it’s important to have well-defined specifications of your product. When working with offshore agile development team, it is vital.

Make sure to spend a lot of time to define your product specs and requirements. Here at Eastern Peak we assign a project manager to each of our customers for this purpose, so that upon the project completion we can ensure 100% customer satisfaction. This makes us happy too :)

All the changes to existing documentation need to be done in the track changes mode, so that you don’t need to communicate directly to each member what changes were made. Otherwise, make sure you have a properly defined version control system.

8. Hold regular demos

A demo is a meeting where teams present the results of their work. Usually, these meetings are held after each sprint – in other words, when certain functionality is ready for use.

When rushing towards a bigger goal, it’s easy to neglect a weekly review of what has been accomplished. Taking the time to check the team’s progress will result in higher product quality in the future.

During these meetings, teams get constructive feedback from a product owner and can coordinate their efforts accordingly. Also, a product owner can regulate the workload more effectively considering the team’s work pace.

And finally, it’s a splendid opportunity to gather all teams in one place (i.e., via one conferencing call) and analyze the project together in a collaborative environment. 

Offshore development has never been so close

Agile approach is especially valuable for managing offshore development projects, since coding and testing in geographically distributed locations requires a flexible approach, prompt feedback and a consistency in teamwork. However, not all common Agile practices are found to be fully reasonable when working with offshore teams. Make sure to adjust agile principles to the extent you find appropriate.

The Eastern Peak team has been successfully applying Agile software development principles, while adopting them in the way that is comfortable for all parties of development process. We would like to share our knowledge and experience with you.

Do you want to know more? Feel free to ask us questions and share your ideas on agile software development.