Managing Effective Agile and DevOps Teams in a Hybrid Work Model

Across the country, employees are heading back to the office for only a few days per week. This “hybrid” model is widely viewed as an excellent way to maintain work-life balance. But for project managers, DevOps professionals, and team leaders, this hybridization of the workforce can present some challenges, particularly when half of a large team might be working from home at any given moment.   

Adjusting Agile ceremonies, increasing the level of documentation, and formalizing Agile planning practices to develop road maps and deliver on customer expectations are just a few of the ways teams can effectively adopt the hybrid work model. To achieve success, however, a good framework needs to be in place. This framework should help define what is high priority/high impact so teams aren’t wasting valuable time.

Culturally, organizations must become more conscious in their team building; with numerous employees working from home at any given moment, these connections likely won’t happen naturally. That being said, a hybrid model can strengthen teams by allowing technologists and other employees to do their best work (providing it’s really delivering benefits such as work-life balance). 

Hybrid DevOps and Agile

Rich Lane, Chief Strategy Officer at Netenrich, a digital IT and security operations company, explained that DevOps and Agile-centric teams should place an emphasis on responsibility. “DevOps and Agile make the individual far more responsible for the code they implement,” he said. “The ‘own what you push to production’ mantra is key to the success of these teams, as it keeps the environment stable and, with the proper metrics, shows how you can improve the delivery of digital services.”

When teams (and team members) operate independently don’t share knowledge with other groups, it can lead to miscommunication and longer times to complete key processes. A hybrid environment can potentially exacerbate those issues. 

“Not being able to huddle around the same screen while troubleshooting an issue is a huge change for some teams, but this is where implementing proper tooling comes into play,” Lane said. “Some of the old, datacenter-centric tools simply cannot support DevOps and Agile’s use of cloud native services nor support teams distributed around the world.”

Pascal Borghino, vice president of engineering and architecture at Automox, a cloud-native endpoint management solution, said it is impossible to overstate how important over-communicating and sharing information is—not only with your team, but also with your internal customers. “Time is of the essence for Agile and DevOps teams,” he said. “Clear and regular communication with others will save you a lot of meetings and time and ensure alignment.”

In addition to communication, he added, there are a few key things organizations can do to best support their Agile and DevOps teams. At the top of the list is time management. One way to do this is to designate certain times in your teams’ schedules as “meeting-free” so they have the space to focus and work. 

Borghino also recommended frequently auditing meetings to make sure that they are all relevant: “Ask yourself, do I need a status update meeting or is a simple end of the sprint status email enough?” Teams might also consider embracing pair programming, a technical practice where two developers work together to accomplish a task, and swarm programming, an ensemble programming style where a team decides on work to be done, then breaks into groups to complete tasks. 

“It helps with the sense of team while working remotely and contributes to knowledge-sharing and combating siloed knowledge,” he said. “Knowledge is harder to share in a hybrid work model so tools, workflow, and automation will be a safeguard.”

Caitlin Johanson, director of the Application Security Center of Excellence at Coalfire, a provider of cybersecurity advisory services, said this hybrid evolution is ultimately about the ability to deliver value faster. “DevOps is supposed to be the leading, bleeding edge of practices and productivity,” she said. “These teams are enabled to work in a hybrid environment because the supporting, ongoing processes—from quality to security to deploy—are automated, which naturally drive this flexible collaboration between your release engineers and security team.”

Communication and Support

As Johanson also pointed out, engineers are some of a company’s most intelligent and expensive resources, especially considering their ability to innovate.

“Communication will always be the key to success of really anything,” she said. “Some of the best ideas come from the water cooler, so where we can’t always have those unpredictable run-ins in-person, setting up forums that foster open, transparent discussion and a general environment of honest candor will naturally encourage innovative behavior.”

Teams have to feel supported by the whole organization. That’s especially crucial with DevOps, which often starts as an experiment with a small group of people working on one application.

“All of IT needs to understand what the end goals are for this new methodology so that, when they finish the project and push to production, any support models or integrations into other systems are accounted for,” Lane said. “Remember, with legacy systems still being the norm for delivering digital services, teams cannot disrupt the day-to-day by trying to fit a new support model in place as a whole.”

Instead, Lane suggested, teams will have to learn to work “in kind” depending on the particular service and how it is delivered. Collaboration tools are a must for a hybrid workforce. “Having alerts generate tickets and auto assign to the correct team instead of Level 1 support trying to process everything on their own is a huge help,” he said. “Having good tooling that can monitor both legacy and cloud native technologies and give deep insights into where problems lie are key.”

The success of the hybrid work environment, Johanson added, relies upon the ability to meaningfully cultivate a sense of totality. “Engineers need context, such as business strategy, business objectives, roadmaps, and the details on how each story in their backlog fits into this picture,” she said. Automation (particularly automated testing and tracking) is a key element to it. 

“There’s no more partying like it’s 1999—the modern tools and practices we have available already support hybrid or fully-remote businesses,” she said.