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Q&A with Brad Nelson

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Brad Nelson, Agile Coach, Speaker & Host of The Agile For Agilists Podcast.

How have Agile practices adapted to the challenges and opportunities presented by the widespread shift to remote work?  

When engaging in these conversations, it's important to keep in mind that some organizations have operated in fully remote or hybrid models for years. For these companies, the recent shifts meant adding an extra layer of compassion, recognizing that, as a society, we navigated through a tremendous amount of uncertainty and challenges beyond the workplace.  

With that said, the essence of Agile is responding to change, and organizations that recognized change as not merely a challenge but an enabler thrived when transitioning to a remote setting. Those transitions did accelerate the adoption of software tools for collaboration, reaching a 100% adoption rate in some organizations as teams increased their reliance on these tools.  

Additionally, organizations began to scrutinize which processes and practices were truly benefiting them. Unforeseen constraints can be a powerful catalyst for innovation. 


From an Agile perspective, are there advantages and disadvantages for continuing to work in a remote or hybrid setting?  

Remote work comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, organizations benefit from expanded talent options, with the ability to hire individuals from different cities, states, or even countries. It also presents cost savings for both organizations, with reduced office maintenance expenses, and individuals, who no longer need to shoulder commuting costs. Individuals also report better focus time, where they are less likely to be interrupted by a coworker or they can go on “do not disturb.”  


Remote work allows individuals the flexibility to attend to personal errands or responsibilities, making it easier to balance work and personal life. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for those caring for sick loved ones. It also provides a customizable environment based on personal preferences. Importantly, remote work has proven to be a significant enabler for individuals with disabilities, addressing challenges related to mobility, medical treatments, and sensitivity to stimuli.  


However, the flip side introduces challenges like video and meeting fatigue stemming from constant virtual interactions. The line between work and home blurs, potentially exacerbating burnout. The loneliness and isolation associated with always working from home can take a toll.  


Different time zones, social norms, holidays, etc., can introduce collaboration challenges. Teams miss out on the benefit of overhearing and chiming into team conversations. Fostering team building and consciously promoting organizational culture can be more challenging in a remote setting.  


Moreover, some organizations, leveraging the expanded talent pool, might focus on cost-cutting rather than seeking more talented individuals, potentially setting themselves up for future pains. Lastly, increased technology maintenance for home connectivity, both on the individual's side and the company's, becomes a consideration.  

Hybrid environments often attempt to provide the best of both worlds, but when there is a combination of full remote and hybrid teams, I find this often results in the worst of both worlds. Teams tend to face difficulties in ensuring everyone is included in conversations that occur in the physical office, and the office environment can be distracting for both those physically present and those participating in conference calls.  


Individuals working on-site may experience preferential treatment, gain more face time with leaders, and have a higher likelihood of receiving promotions. This dynamic can create disparities within the team and impact overall collaboration and career advancement opportunities. 

In your experience, what are the key factors in maintaining high-performing Agile teams in a remote or hybrid work setting?  

The key is to remain faithful to the values and principles of Agile. Take, for instance, the principle that states, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” While some might argue that this seems challenging in a remote setting, the question arises: Can a video call be considered face-to-face conversation? If so, it necessitates the use of technology supporting video calls, a willingness to turn on cameras, and synchronized working hours.  


Similarly, the principle advocating to “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done” resonates strongly with me. The prevalent discourse about returning to the office often stems from a lack of trust in employees' productivity.  


Another principle that stands out is the one about maintaining a sustainable pace. This ties back to the trust issue; with remote work, people often find themselves working harder and longer hours, leading to burnout. In some ways, the call for a return to the office suggests, “Because we don’t trust that you’re working hard enough, we want you to come back to an environment where you are less effective and work fewer hours so that I, as a leader, can feel comfortable.” 


Can you share insights on the role of technology in facilitating Agile practices among geographically dispersed teams?  

As highlighted earlier, the role of technology in supporting Agile practices cannot be overstated. Teams have long depended on essential tools such as Git and Jira to facilitate collaboration and manage development processes. However, the evolution of collaboration tools, notably whiteboard platforms like Miro and Mural, along with communication platforms such as Teams and Slack, has been pivotal in enabling more dynamic and interactive teamwork among geographically dispersed teams.  


There remains an opportunity for improvement in enhancing the seamless integration of these technologies across different workflows. The goal is to create a more cohesive and interconnected digital workspace, where tools have increased compatibility with each other and a streamlined user experience.  

Undoubtedly, the most substantial challenge lies in the domain of cybersecurity. With teams operating on a broader spectrum of devices and locations, security concerns have increased. Cybersecurity teams find themselves grappling with the daunting task of addressing threats across a multitude of entry points while trying not to hinder operational efficiency.  


Looking ahead, what do you believe are the critical areas for innovation within Agile methodologies to better support the future of work? 

When looking ahead, a significant area of neglect in the industry revolves around Product Thinking. Many organizations employ Agile as a means to boost throughput and reduce operational costs, yet they often overlook the critical aspect of any business—delivering value. While optimizing systems brings personal satisfaction, the efficiency of delivery becomes inconsequential if a company isn't effectively selling a product or service. The isolation imposed by remote work has prompted some organizations to recognize shortcomings in tracking customer interactions and has encouraged a reevaluation of how they engage customers for feedback. Product Management and Product Operations have been an emerging field for sometime now, and I believe recent years have accelerated their growth. Agile practitioners should prioritize holding space for this need and fostering adoption. 

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