27–29 September 2017, Churchill College, Cambridge

Offshore agile

A 45 minute Case Study by:

Will Lord


About this Case Study

Offshore software development presents many financial benefits to businesses, but also offers numerous challenges to agile delivery. The usual expectations of close collaboration, continual feedback and individual autonomy are hampered by differences in timezones and culture or by the contractual nature of the client/agency relationship.

In this session I will share my experiences of leading 2 separate offshore teams at EdPlace.com, an online education start-up based in London. Both offshore teams were based in India, but the lessons from our experience have application for remote teams as well as nearshore and in-country outsourcing. I will cover both process and tools.

The session includes the following:

  1. Background - why EdPlace uses an offshore team (even though it's a bit of a dirty word in start-up circles) and why it might make sense for others.
  2. How we started out - what our systems looked like before I arrived as the first technical hire - no defined project management methodology, limited knowledge of agile at offshore partner.
  3. Where we wanted to get to - as close to the 'traditional' agile set ups of kanban and scrum I was used to as possible, but with knowledge that with an offshore team a 'pure' implementation would not be possible.
  4. Early experiments - introducing 'scrum-lite' to our offshore team.
  5. Finding the right partner - picking a team that gets agile (even if they're not that great at it yet) and whose processes fit with the agile model.
  6. Refining our agile model - implementing scrum for feature development and kanban for production support.
  7. Lessons learned:
    • hierarchical cultures do not lend themselves to agility - finding the right people to work with is critical (and even then you have to work at it)
    • your main role is coaching, but sometimes you'll have to impose agile practice (which feels very counter-intuitive)
    • kanban is easier to handle than scrum and is a more natural fit for offshoring
    • creating guidelines for autonomy (ie 'make your own decision but within these confines') is required because autonomy and freedom will always be limited in client/agency models
    • estimation in non-standard measures (like story points) is difficult in environments where time tracking is the norm
    • user stories don't translate as well as you might like - sometimes you just have to tell the team how you want things done
    • offshoring product ownership is dangerous
    • Skype is your enemy
    • Slack and JIRA are your friends

There will be time for questions at the end of the session.

About the Speaker

Will Lord is former CTO and currently Board Adviser at EdPlace, a London-based EdTech startup. Prior to joining EdPlace, Will worked on a range of digital projects for charities including the Royal Horticultural Society, UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee and War Child. He spent several years living in Zambia and Zimbabwe, where he worked in design and communications roles for charity and business clients.

Will holds an MSc in internet systems from Liverpool University, where he studied (amongst other things) IT project management and completed a dissertation on the effective display of learning data to parents and educators. He is currently a full-time dad and is taking a well-earned break from looking at computer screens all day.


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