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Offshore Agile Testing…a Request from Management

Last night, a friend of mine asked me for some advice about how to run an Agile software development team with the developers and business users working in the US and the testers working for an outsourcing company in India.

My short answer was, "You can’t".

The Agile Manifesto and Offshore Testing

I’ve actually had similar requests a number of times over the past few years. Managers want to be "Agile" and want to use "Offshore resources" so they ask their project teams to implement the combination of the two hot concepts. In the cases that I’ve seen, management has tried to send only the testing portion of development offshore. They wanted the onshore, local team to be "Agile", but they also want to send code "over the wall" to an offshore test team. Unfortunately, these two concepts do not work together.

The Agile Manifesto principles include "Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project;" "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done;" "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation;" and "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams."

These 4 (out of 12) principles are very difficult, if not impossible, to implement in an environment where the testers are separated from the rest of the team by geography and time zones. In addition, when only the test team is outsourced to another company, the testers often are required to communicate with the rest of the team via a single point of contact rather than directly with developers and business people.

To make things even more difficult, I’ve found that offshore, outsourced teams are typically set up to run a full, lengthy regression test for each build. In one case, I worked with a team that was trying to do Agile development with a test team that insisted on running a 6 week regression test for every build. This ran completely counter to the Agile Manifesto principle of "Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale."

Can Agile Work with Offshore Teams?

I believe that Agile development can work with offshore teams if the teams are structured correctly and significant effort is put forth in building trust. Here are some techniques that I’ve used effectively to help build an Agile, globally distributed team.

  1. Have a full team consisting of all roles in each geographic location. This means that developers, testers, and business experts must be physically located in each location. The business expert may be a Product Owner Advocate rather than the actual Product Owner.
  2. Ensure that everyone on the global team has time to work together in person early in the project. This means flying people around the world which can be costly, but it makes a huge difference in the ability for team members to trust each other and work together.
  3. If the team is divided into drastically different time zones, schedule specific weeks throughout the project where the global team will work at the same time regardless of time zone. During these weeks, the team should make a concerted effort to communicate in real time with their counterparts around the world.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some additional techniques that are not specific to Agile that I’ve used to make global teams more effective.

Effective Global Teams – Recognizing the Individual

Effective Global Teams – Conference Call Etiquette

Further Reading

Over the years, I’ve found these articles helpful in understanding the issues related to Agile distributed teams and how to address those issues. Maybe you’ll find them useful as well. To me, the two articles available for purchase from IEEE Computer Society were definitely worth the small cost.

Agile Strategies for Geographically Distributed Teams

Global Development and Delivery in Practice

Agile Offshore Techniques – A Case Study (Available for purchase)

Making Offshore Agile Work

Follow the Sun: Distributed Extreme Programming Development (Available for purchase)

Your Experiences

I’d like to hear any of your experiences with global Agile software development. What worked and what didn’t?

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