Agile with Remote Work — What’s Changed in “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”?

JimmyLv_吕立青
6 min readMay 27, 2022

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1. “Individuals and Interactions” in the remote work scenario

Since I joined Parabol and started working remotely, I’ve been thinking about these questions below for a while.

Going back to the Agile Manifesto, my perspective is actually how to look at “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” remotely?

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

Especially in the scenario of remote work, “individuals and interactions” are naturally reduced, and I also face the reality of cross-regional and cross-time-zone conditions.

In the Agile China Chronicle, it is mentioned that:

This “solidification of processes and practices into software tools” has contributed to the widespread adoption of Agile methodology, especially iterative development.

By 2016, the TAPD platform was used by more than 3,000 project teams, with more than 30,000 users, including not only Tencent’s R&D teams but also those of external partners.

In May 2017, Tencent opened TAPD to the public as a cloud service, which served more than 1.2 million users and supported more than 200,000 projects in the following year. The service companies cover more than 20 industries such as e-commerce & new retail, corporate services, finance, education, games, and life services.

(It is worth noting that the data here is before the pandemic)

Now there are a lot of SaaS selling “tools with processes and practices”, as opposed to the Agile consulting is actually just selling to the “boss”.

If I may put my two cents in, “employees” who are really using Agile are usually in contact with these software tools, and those too high-minded concepts of Agile might be useless and cannot be fully implemented.

2. SaaS tools, the more general the less competitive

In the area of SaaS tools, there are too many kanban/whiteboard tools, but there is no technical barrier to these tools, and they all fall into a misconception that the more generic they are, the less competitive they are.

Just like the no-code/low-code track, the more generic the capabilities provided, the more you want to solve all the problems at once, and the worse the solution is.

The reality is: these Airtable-like products in China, e.g. hipacloud was acquired by ByteDance, the Notable team of DingTalk (China’s №1 Enterprise Collaboration Suite) was also disbanded, and Lark (№3) is heavily invested in vertical SaaS tools, not the so-called generic multi-dimensional data tables.

A screenshot from Airtable’s homepage

I think there is a lot of potentials to really internalize the practice of Agile into the tools.

Agile is about those few principles, but for each practice, I believe if we carefully sort it out, there are really a lot of details and how it reflects the values.

3. Agile meeting processes that can be “productized”

From this point of view, every meeting of practice can be turned into a small product.

Let’s take the Retrospective meeting as an example: the process before, during, and after the meeting can be turned into an online product, which is actually quite challenging.

As our CEO Jordan mentioned in this podcast (How to create a healthy meeting culture | Building Remotely):

You want to have just few enough (meetings) to stay cool, coordinated and not so many that people feel their time is wasted.

Most Agile teams can accomplish this with three rituals, with minimal meeting costs.

  1. have a Standup or Check-In ritual to clear the blocks, just weekly (or daily)
  2. have a Planning(Sprint Poker) meeting that allows the team to reprioritize the never-ending list of things you need to get done. Because the team can only focus on the most important parts of it.
  3. have a Retrospective meeting for just looking at the last work period, the last two weeks that you’ve been sprinting. Share the fields, share data, and share the observations so that there can be a critical discussion on how you improve as a team.
Better Meetings, Less Effort

This doesn’t include the vast majority of time other than meetings, more time is needed for other engineering practices, etc. For engineers, Scrum has its value but is still limited in its power without Extreme Programming (XP).

So I think that’s why a lot of SaaS tools for engineers, for example, Warp, Fig, Graphite, and Raycast, to name a few, have all recently received funding.

In addition to this, Agile practices place great importance on interpersonal communication interactions, for example, the three greatest functions of interpersonal interactions: empathy, resonance, and win-win.

From the perspective of LEAN, what kind of waste do these interactions are eliminating, that might be the direction of building the value of the product.

Finally, how to integrate this interaction into a system that is easy for users to use up and generate the value we expect is the direction we have been thinking about.

4. “Processes and Tools” are enough to make more value

Perhaps even with a very simple Retrospective meeting process, whether or not attendees understand the meaning behind it and follow the process can make a big difference in the final output.

For team members who already understand the core values of Agile, the so-called “elite individuals”, they can follow “Individual and Interaction” as a priority.

But for the average team member who has not yet been introduced to Agile, that is, the “general public”, they can actually rely on “Process and Tools”.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

Don’t forget the following sentence: while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

What must not be forgotten is this sentence: developing software by doing it and helping others do it!

Especially these so-called “elite individuals”, should help the rest of the team to better accept Agile through “Processes and Tools” and help the whole team to achieve “Individuals and Interactives”.

“Processes and Tools” are a means to achieve “Individuals and Interactives”. The point of individuals and interactives is to always deliver maximum business value, and the use of processes and tools or not is to achieve this. When doing agile processes, we need to really think about the “delivery value” thing.

It may be too hard to get everyone to understand the meaning of Agile Software Development, but “Processes and Tools” can help the whole team see the big picture and visualize the “Why”.

This will help the “majority” to be grounded and free up time or “learning by doing” to understand the why behind it, that’s enough.

5. Tools of “Agile” are actually an “inclusive” market education

Not everyone can access the guidance of “masters”, nor can they afford to hire expensive consultants. These Agile SaaS tools on the market are actually a more “inclusive” market education.

If the tool can’t let people experience the concept behind it, which means that it is not “productized” enough, and then it is just reduced to a “tool”.

Now most of the “tools” on the market, there is still a lot of room for improvement 😉.

When the consultant leaves, the team may be restored to its original form. As soon as the consultant leaves, no one knows the purpose of these daily meetings, and then no one could facilitate a good meeting.

So, the future of SaaS products may be to a “consultant as a service”, so that service is not interrupted and practice is continuous.

Parabol.co — Build the Future of Work

Thank you so much for reading this, I will continue to share more content around remote work at Parabol, so stay tuned for subsequent updates if you like what I’ve written. (Twitter)

See you next time!

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