How Can a Remote Developer Team Thrive in Your Agile Environment?

Some Remote Developer Teams struggle in agile environments, while others seem to thrive. But how can you predict which teams are more likely to succeed? Identifying any “Agile Gaps” within a prospective remote development team upfront is critical to your dev team scaling efforts, especially if you can’t afford an “Offshore Vendor False Start”. 

Remote Developer Team

Table of Contents

Beware of the “Waterfall Trap”

As early as possible, you need to determine whether your prospective remote development team can thrive in your Agile environment (with its multitude of changes, dependencies, and processes), or if they are limited to Waterfall (with its clearly defined tasks and clear boundaries between development teams).  

remote software development teams

This “Waterfall Trap” has bitten many unsuspecting Engineering Managers as they scale their remote teams, only to be disappointed with the results.  Keep reading to discover the root causes of remote developer team failure and how to prevent falling into the “Waterfall Trap”

“Agile At Speed” Should Be the Standard

“In the time it took me to explain things, I could have coded it myself.”

-Typical complaint about remote developers

US customers usually expect their offshore dev partners to be an extension to their internal agile team. With the multitude of changes, dependencies, and processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction, and concurrency is required. 

This “Agile at Speed” is difficult to achieve unless your offshore dev team’s communication culture matches yours.  Without it, project schedules will slip, and your offshore partner will be a source of inefficiencies, causing a rippling effect across your entire dev team. 

Effective Cross-Cultural Communication

An excellent article detailing the cultural communication differences across the world, which summarizes Erin Meyer’s ground-breaking novel:  The Culture Map, can be found at Tech Tello.  A brief summary is provided here.

high context vs low context communication
Image Source: Tech Tello

Low-Context Communication Cultures

“Low-context culture requires stating it as you mean it.”

In low context communication cultures, effective communication must be concise, straightforward, and explicit for the message to be passed on successfully. 

The rule-of-thumb for low context communication is as follows: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them”

This process is designed to quickly identify and correct misunderstandings before they become problems.  It also serves to reduce pointless, time-consuming debates.

In low context cultures, communication occurs assuming that knowledge of each other’s histories and backgrounds is not present. Neither is most of the communication shaped by long-term relationships between speakers. In low-context communication, the meaning of messages is more dependent on the words being spoken rather than on a shared understanding of subtle cues.

High-Context Communication Cultures

“High-context culture requires reading between the lines.”

In high-context communication cultures, effective communication is nuanced, layered, and sophisticated.  High-context cultures rely upon shared history and experiences to communicate.  A high percentage of words can be interpreted in multiple ways, depending on how and when they are used.  This can be very effective and efficient if all members of a team have the same background, history and experiences to understand these subtleties. 

However, when this shared history and understanding is absent, as is the case when people from high-context cultures communicate with people from low-context cultures, the communication breaks down.  In fact, the highest chance of miscommunication exists when two people from different high-context cultures try to communicate.  In this scenario, both parties try to communicate using nuances that neither is aware of. 

Communication Cultures by Country

Image source: Tech Tello

As you can see, the United States is the lowest context communication culture in the world, with most of the westernized countries leaning towards the left of the scale. 

All the countries that speak the Romance languages, including European countries like Italy, France, and Spain, as well as Latin American countries fall in the middle of the scale, while Asian and African countries are solidly on the right of the scale.  Japan is the highest context communication culture in the world. 

Clearly, excellent software engineering can be found along the entire low/high context continuum.  This scale is not meant to measure communication effectiveness.  It merely points out how well people from two cultures can relate to one another. 

The Secret to Agile With a Remote Developer Team

If clear communication is the goal, multi-cultural teams need low-context communication & processes.

What matters isn’t where either culture falls on the scale, but rather the relative position of the two cultures that must work together, in this case on Software Development.  The larger the gap, the harder it will be to communicate with your Software Development Partner, on average. 

When US-based companies with low context cultures work with SW Development partners from high-context cultures, there is often little basis (context) for shared non-verbal, nuanced communication, causing frequent miscommunication. 

Agile development programs will suffer if half your team is communicating non-verbally, with assumed shared understanding, and the other half is not.  Even moderate time-zone differences between geographically dispersed teams can magnify this problem. 

Read our full article The Secret to Agile with Offshore Software Development Teams here.

How to Ensure Low-Context Communication When Selecting a Remote Development Team

The easiest way to ensure low-context communication is to pick a development partner from a low-context communication culture. 

But you may have other reasons to outsource from a country that is not low-context. In this case, pick a Remote Development Team who:

  • Understands the importance of crisp, clear, low-context communication
  • Has put in place the proper screening, testing, and training to ensure low-context communication, and
  • Understands that it is the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adapt a low-context communication style to aid in communication.

In our opinion, it’s the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adapt to their US-based customers’ communication culture. 

It’s not about who’s right and wrong, but rather about workability. The high/low context communication combination usually does not work unless low context processes and communication are established.  This is especially true in Agile Development Environments.

About Cloud App Developers, LLC

With a team of 1,500+ Engineers from 6 countries, we provide multiple options to optimize what’s most important to our customers. Need to scale a large team rapidly? Need same time-zone development? Looking for particular tech skills? We have you covered.

We also offer IT Staff Augmentation Services for Software Development and Data Science Engineers.

Our Architects, Developers, Data Scientists, and Data Engineers are extensively screened and have domain expertise in several industries, including Telecommunications, Financial Services, Insurtech, IoT, Logistics, Industrial Automation, etc.

Developer Screening, Testing & Training

With the multitude of changes, dependencies & processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction & concurrency is required. Our screening processes ensure our teams can deliver “Agile @ Speed” in your development workflow.

Technical English Proficiency

For Agile, “English At Speed” Is The Standard

Communication Excellence

Developers Trained For “Low-Context” Communication

Problem Solving Aptitude

Our Customers Expect Engineers

Code Testing

Code Quality

Code Reviews For All Developers

Interested in Agile Remote Development at Speed?

If you’d like to experience “Agile at Speed”, we’d be happy to schedule a brief call to discuss how we can help you.