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InfoQ Homepage Articles Software Teams and Teamwork Trends Report Q1 2020

Software Teams and Teamwork Trends Report Q1 2020

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Key Takeaways

  • Remote work is suddenly the new normal due to the impact of COVID-19, and many teams are not fully ready for the change
  • The spread of agile ideas into other areas of organizations continues—business agility is becoming much more than just a buzzword
  • At the practices level, Wardley Mapping is one of the few truly new ideas that have come into this space recently. Invented by Simon Wardley in 2005, they are gaining traction because they are truly a powerful tool for making sense of complexity.
  • The depth of impact that computing technology has on society has heightened the focus on ethical behavior and the move towards creating an ethical framework for software development, as well as growing concern in the environmental impact the industry has.
  • Diversity and inclusion efforts are moving forward, with a long way still to go
  • Practices and approaches that result in more humanistic workplaces, where people can express their whole selves, are recognized as important for attracting and retaining the best people and result in more sustainably profitable organizations

How do we cope with an environment that has been radically disrupted, where people are suddenly thrust into remote work in a chaotic state?  What are the emerging good practices and new ideas that are shaping the way in which software development teams work? What can we do to make the workplace a more secure and diverse one while increasing the productivity of our teams? This report aims to assist technical leaders in making mid- to long-term decisions that will have a positive impact on their organisations and teams and help individual contributors find the practices, approaches, tools, techniques and frameworks that can help them get a better experience at work - irrespective of where they are working from.

The big changes we see in 2020 are centered around more humanistic organizations and remote becoming the way of working for so many people so suddenly, given the impact of Covid-19 on societies, organizations and individuals.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are continuing and there is a long, long way to go for information technology to become truly inclusive and welcoming.

If a topic is on the right-hand part of the graph, you will probably find lots of existing content about it on InfoQ—we covered it when it was new, and the lessons learned by the innovators and early adopters are available to help guide individuals, teams, and organizations as they adopt these ideas and practices.

The techniques and practices on the left-hand side are the ones we see as emerging now and being used by innovators and early adopters. We focus our reporting and content on bringing these ideas to our readers’ attention so they can decide if they want to explore (some of) these now or wait to see how they unfold.

We asked the editors to give their take on the important trends they’ve seen over the last year or so. We also asked Evan Leybourn, founder and Chief Executive of the Business Agility Institute, to give us his thoughts on the state of business agility in 2020.
What follows are the opinions of the Culture & Methods editorial team, looking back and looking forward in 2020 and beyond.

Shane Hastie — Lead Editor, Culture & Methods

Probably because we are focused on culture and methods in this team, I am very aware of the way organization culture impacts peoples’ lives. Over the last 19 years since the Agile Manifesto was written, we’ve seen steady adoption of agile approaches in information technology workplaces. Today the leading organizations don’t talk about agile because it’s just the normal way of working — short delivery cycles, cross-functional teams, empowered people, and technical excellence are the topics of conversation when setting up new IT teams. The best organizations recognize that culture is a competitive advantage — create a place where people can be themselves and find joy in the work they do and sustainable profitability will follow.

Unfortunately faux-agile is still rife — organizations adopting agile practices or undergoing a "digital transformation" without the accompanying cultural shift. The science is clear — organizational performance is directly related to organizational culture, as indicated in this diagram from Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren PhD, Jez Humble and Gene Kim.

Forsgren and Humble also discussed this and related topics during their 2018 keynote at QCon San Francisco.

What’s still missing is addressing some of the structural dysfunctions that have become a part of the technology industry.

We have a very long way to go before tech is an inclusive and diverse environment where differences of every sort are recognized as bringing value to teams and organizations. Again the science is clear — diverse teams are more creative than homogenous teams — but that message isn’t getting through to the people in our teams and organizations.

Ethics in software is another area where we need to catch up. Most professions have a recognized code of ethics which practitioners agree to and abide by. How many people on our teams know that there is an ACM code of ethics for computing, let alone have ever signed it?

But we also see hope — the emergence of ideas around applying agile thinking on a national scale. The Tedx Talk by Dr. Rashina Hoda on the traits of an agile nation stands out to me as one of the most important pointers to what society can become.  The impact of COVID-19  makes this even more important.

The Four Values for an Agile Society:

    People & interactions over protocols and rules
    Community collaboration over closed decision making
    Policies and actions over speeches and promises
    Responding to change over following the status quo

Dr Rashina Hoda -

On a more local scale, business agility is moving beyond being a buzzword with leading-edge organizations from unexpected industries adopting agile ways of working, building on genuine culture shift towards more humanistic workplaces. Agile companies have higher employee engagement, disciplines like finance and HR are adopting new approaches, even procurement is becoming more collaborative. Autonomous teams, self-selection, and dynamic reteaming are examples of how people are being empowered and organizations are getting measurable benefits from trusting their people.

At the interpersonal level, remote teams are more and more the norm, and techniques like clean language and liberating structures have emerged to help remote team members communicate more effectively, overcoming the barrier that being remote often puts between people.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 results in more and more people suddenly having to work remotely, so any tools and techniques which can help remote teams gain cohesion are important. Teams are even using mob programming in remote settings.

Another significant shift is the slow move away from big frameworks to descaling rather than trying to scale up when faced with complex problems. Adoption of #NoProjects/value streams is happening in more and more organizations.

At the practices level, Wardley Mapping is one of the few truly new ideas that have come into this space recently. Invented by Simon Wardley in 2005, they are gaining traction because they are truly a powerful tool for making sense of complexity. Amongst other places, Wardley maps are used within UK government, notably within the Government Digital Service (GDS) for strategic planning and identifying the best targets for government digital service modernisation, and the UN Global Platform.

InfoQ partnered with Map Camp last year, and filmed the talks at the beautiful Sadlers Wells theatre in London.

Ben Linders — Trainer / Coach / Adviser / Author / Speaker and Editor for InfoQ

The awareness of how important facilitation can be is increasing. For team-based activities like agile retrospectives, team chartering, or product refinement, a collaborative and safe culture is essential. Good facilitators that are perceived independently and neutral can greatly improve the outcomes of such events. Practices often used by facilitators are the core protocols, liberating structures, gamification, and self-selection.

Remote working, for example, people working from home, digital nomads, and (fully) remote teams, is on the rise. Techniques that are used in co-located teams are being adapted for usage in remote working settings; examples are remote agile retrospectives, remote pairing, remote mob programming, remote mob testing, and online training and coaching.

The number of certifications for agile practitioners (Certified Scrum Master, SAFe SPC, etc.) and people getting certifications is still growing and companies tend to prefer certified Scrum masters and agile coaches over those who don’t have certification. However, there is a shift where the value of those certifications is now in question. There are discussions about agile certification on social media where people state that certificates themselves  don’t prove a person’s skills or abilities, and the impression arises that the certification industry has become more focused on quantity.

Raf Gemmail — Agile and DevOps Coach, Educator, and Editor for InfoQ

Fully Remote Working

I’ve dedicated much of the past year to remote working and collaboration. This new terrain in the greater history of work is key to competing in the fourth industrial revolution landscape. Remote work has rapidly gotten past the initial hurdle of being seen as second fiddle to co-location, as demonstrated in this year’s State of Remote Work report. Innovators are still working out issues with defining collaboration models across time-zones, finding sufficient face-to-face investment, surfacing learnings and formats for doing this. My own running of remote retros and collaboration sessions has demonstrated that for anything more creative than a fixed format retro, you still have to roll your own.

Tools and methods are going through the same evolution we went through in the physical world when discovering how to best use wall space and the available artifacts to reflect the context of teams. Remote pairing tools, conferencing capabilities, shared boards like google jamboard and planning tools have greatly matured.

The collaboration tools, however, are better than they have ever been. This has been demonstrated by a forced pivot into remote working by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese firms have been forced to use remote working for business continuity and have seen productivity achieved within a short time.

Learning on Demand Equaling Higher Education

I have had a front-row seat, working with a French disrupter, in the evolution of traditional higher education certifications. MOOCs and online learning platforms combine the teaching of traditional disciplines with current industry-relevant application patterns. Further, the delivery mechanism is increasingly changing to one which is pull-based to make learning more accessible to teams and individuals. I have personally found that hiring people with a combination of diverse experiences and Bootcamp training, gives them a good grounding to grow and have a broader set of drivers in delivering customer and business value. This ties in well with Ben’s point that we are improving how we provide remote teaching to remote workers

Situational Leadership

There is continued use of Wardley Maps as well as organizational mindfulness techniques to make sense around the unique context of a particular product’s development. There is also a deepening appreciation of the impact that organizational complexity and cognitive load has on teams and their products, as covered in the recent book on Team Topologies.

I have also been experimenting with accounting for situational context to recognize holistic tensions within teams and organizations in relation to individuals, culture, mental models, and belief systems. I’ve seen a growing desire at the innovator level to apply a broader contextual understanding to coaching, as demonstrated by Spotify’s use of full-stack coaches. Such situational leadership challenges the urge to keep repeating cookie-cutter practices without a contextual insight.

Engineering Patterns

DevSecOps and dev first security continue impacting how we practice a more holistic approach to security, within a world where cybercrime is increasingly prolific.

At QCon London last year, Snyk’s founder Guy Podjarny spoke about DevSecOps being defined by a breadth of shared ownership, collaboration on securing infrastructure, and incorporating security in software methods. In a blog post he published earlier this year, Podjarny defined dev first security as the "majority of security work...done by developers."

I’ve also seen an increasingly early engagement of security teams to pull security considerations in through security by design, lite threat modeling, and ongoing security championship initiatives. In his 2019 QCon New York talk on breaking into InfoSec, Ray Bango described Security Champion programs as the "biggest thing that’s happening right now," for making Security accessible to developers who want to grow into InfoSec.

The role of the architect continues to evolve, in order to help set boundaries and direction for evolution. Deloitte recently wrote about the Architecture Awakens movement which is breaking down ivory towers in favor of collaboration.

My personal exposure has demonstrated a slight resurgence in risk-aversion leading to organizations reaching back for BDUF architectural practices. There is continued importance for coaching and advocacy of those still on the journey of achieving business agility through evidence-based increments.

For the conservative, alongside the existing scaled agile approaches, traditional architectural frameworks are also evolving to provide more boundaries within an Agile and learning-centric context. An example of this comes from TOGAF maintainers, The OpenGroup, who are now defining an Open Group Agile Architecture Framework standard.

Ethics in Software

Rapidly creeping into Early Majority. I have never known a more ethically conscious time in our industry when people across the board feel free to ask about the rights and wrongs of their organizations, projects, and patterns they observe. Shane Hastie recently spoke with Cat Swetal and Kingsley Davies, on the InfoQ Culture & Methods podcast, about ethics and the moral imperatives which come with living in the realm of ethics.

This is increasingly seen in organizations responding to the current whistleblower culture by creating channels for dealing with ethical and legal quandaries.

Last year, The Guardian reported on ex-Googler Jack Poulson starting Tech Inquiry to support whistle-blowing by ethical developers. It is now also completely unnatural to converse about data representations without asking ethical questions relating to the implication of biases, use of personally identifiable issues, and the legal consequence. This has also been hugely driven by legislative initiatives such as GDPR, which are being replicated the world over. Most recently in California, where their equivalent California Privacy Act went into effect on January 1st.

The workplace is becoming increasingly socially conscious. I think this is a good thing.

Craig Smith — Agile Coach and Trainer and Editor for InfoQ

One of the things that makes being in the IT industry and the Agile community so interesting is that there are always new approaches to problems to learn and experiment with.
Innovators are starting to find benefits from the use of techniques such as liberating structures and Wardley Mapping and starting to get back to basics by challenging the use of large scaling frameworks with a focus on simplicity and descaling. This has been led by some of the early adopters who are challenging culture and focusing on creating joy in the workplace as well as the realization that agility thrives in organizations that tackle the wider organizational challenges of business agility and #noprojects.

33 Liberating Structures

Given the number of organizations that struggle with their agile and digital transformations, a spotlight has started to emerge on the roles that support these new ways of working, specifically the ethics around software development and Agile coaching as well as the maturity of true product management.

Interestingly, as the majority have well and truly embraced Agile techniques and the practice of cross-functional teams and full-stack development, we will hopefully start to see some real change as organizations realize that the principles at the heart of modern agile are more important than a strict adherence to Agile frameworks and practices.

Shaaron A Alvares — Agile and DevOps Coach and Editor for InfoQ

Inclusion and Belonging

While the focus has been on hiring diversity, it is moving towards developing cultures and management that prioritize inclusion and belonging. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of HR, it is owned by everyone at the workplace and teams are starting to understand the importance of inclusive collaboration. More organizations and product teams are leveraging agile practices and facilitation techniques to develop more inclusive teams. Managers and teams are also exploring the psychology and biology of fear to create more sustainable and authentic safe workplaces. Organizations recognize belonging as a basic safety need, and employees are invited to bring their whole self at work.

Situational Mapping

In an effort to understand and navigate complexity, only a few organizations are exploring sense-making and situational organizational practices such as value stream mapping, value chain mapping for strategic decision making (or Wardley Mapping), and customer journey mapping, in order to keep the focus on the value for the customers and end-users. These practices also aim at better analyzing internal organizations’ processes and at breaking down silos, inefficiencies, and decrease end-to-end lead time.

DevOps Upskilling Culture

DevOps, although always known as a culture, is focusing on team culture of collaboration and cross-knowledge sharing across the organization to drive better outcomes between development and operations. DevOps upskilling and cross-skilling are becoming integral part of organizations’ digital strategy.

The Five DevOps Ideals of Locality and Simplicity: Focus, Flow, and Joy; Improvement of Daily Work; Psychological Safety; and Customer Focus, proposed by Gene Kim in the Unicorn Projects, confirms the importance of the DevOps movement as a better way of working and delivering better value, sooner, safer, and happier.

DevOps Dojos, still very few, started to break into organizations, as a safe place to try, test, train and onboard onto DevOps technology and culture. Few include product management and agile coaching.

Bad Agile versus Human-Centered Ways of Working

Too many large corporations prefer to keep their organizational structure and hierarchy status quo with large teams and products. They leverage out of the shelves large scaling frameworks heavily focused on known practices and techniques based on doing, rather than exploring unknown ways of working that can help them unlock their organizational culture, people, and human-centered potential and innovation.

Doug Talbot — Engineering Leader, Organizational Dynamics Leader and Editor for InfoQ

Although it’s not the biggest tech trend at the moment, I feel the relationship between Climate Change and Technology is a topic that is hugely important for the planet. We are starting to see the pressure increasing for the Tech industry to take responsibility for their code, infrastructure, the climate cost of their end product and which 3rd parties they use. Sal Freudenberg and Chris Adams spoke about this at MapCamp. Paul Johnston at Qcon London pointed at the relative costs of using different cloud providers if you consider Climate cost as well. He demonstrated that Wardley Mapping (another emerging method) was useful for this cost analysis. Henrik Kniberg of Spotify Agile fame has been championing the climate cause and TED has recently started a huge campaign. Microsoft’s recent announcement that it aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 can also be seen as a signal in this context. The issue has also started to seep into the public consciousness as this series from the BBC demonstrates.  Paul Johnson and Anne Currie were both sources for the series.   

The key emerging trends in technology leadership are focused on two main scenarios. Trend one: that leaders must now understand how to support the human community that they lead. Mairead O’Connor spoke on why people are more complex than computers at QCon London 2019. To really be excellent as a leader now means understanding systems thinking, psychology, sociology, and anthropology and effectively starting a new career path that  involves many years of learning. Trend two: the leaders must be actively creating aligned organizational structures and services such as HR and Finance that do not break the new humanistic paradigms for knowledge workers. Both Spotify (Spotify Career path blog) and ING (HR change at ING) were early innovators of these trends in larger organizations but we are now seeing many more companies adopting these ideas.

Traditional HR practices such as CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) are needing to shift to allow for deliberate culture design,whether it is for Holacracy or more commonly for Agile practices such as cross-functional teams and empowerment. We have seen radically different HR models and the HR Agile manifesto moving into bigger companies such as ING, and this trend is accelerating.

I wanted to discuss one last trend — almost every organization has now declared they are doing a Digital transformation or "done" one. I would now put Digital transformation in Late majority. Digital transformation originally indicated restructuring the organization, its workforce, and processes to maximize the benefits of using new digital technologies and minimize costs by eliminating mechanical work and allowing customers to enjoy a modern digital interaction. However, as many organizations discovered their limited capacity to change old and entrenched structures, the Digital transformation became solely Digitization and we have seen a correlated trend in RPA implementations since 2017. The Digital transformation of an organization is tightly coupled with the trend of business agility as a concept which is the ultimate extension of Agile and DevOps / DevSecOps where all elements of a value stream are brought together and organized cross-functionally together.

Guest Contribution — Evan Leybourn

We spend more time at work than we do with anything else—including our family. This is not a Bad Thing™ in itself, but rather a fact of modern life. And yet, if work is the biggest part of our life, it should also be the best part of our life. Joy. Engagement. Purpose. These are the cultural ideals that employees and employers alike should be striving for.

In the Culture & Methods Graph above, there are some great ideas: liberating structures, self-selection, [Socio/Hola]cracy, coaching, even old-fashioned Agile. And there are hundreds more ideas out there. Every one of which has been created by people with the intention to make your workplace better. Put all together, this collective set of ideas, frameworks, methods, practices, and principles is referred to as business agility — and the possibilities are endless.

The Domains of Business Agility

Every department can change; from HR to sales to procurement to finance. You can change technology, healthcare, and even manufacturing companies. Product creation focuses more on the customer, team, and end-to-end flow of value. People can truly be engaged and incentivized to be their whole self at work.

So, let’s go back to the business agility cultural ideals I outlined above; Joy, Engagement, and Purpose. If you are doing Agile but it doesn’t bring you joy, if you have adopted self-selection but without a sense of purpose, if you are being coached but are not engaged—stop it and try something else.

Because that’s the secret to all of this; it doesn’t actually matter what you do, just do something. It’s not about following the rote ceremonies and practices. Take a look at all these ideas and, in service to your customers and colleagues, find the way that works for you. How will you make work one of the best parts of your life?

-Evan Leybourn
Founder and CEO, Business Agility Institute

At the Business Agility Institute, we believe the next generation of companies has arrived. They are agile, innovative, and dynamic — perfectly designed to thrive in today’s unpredictable markets. Our mission is to advocate for, connect, educate, and inspire people within these organizations, encouraging them to create an environment of shared knowledge and trust that will usher organizations around the world into the future of business.

About the Authors

Shane Hastie is the Director of Community Development for ICAgile, a global accreditation and certification body dedicated to improving the state of agile learning. Since first using XP in 2000 Shane's been passionate about helping organizations and teams adopt sustainable, humanistic ways of working – irrespective of the brand or label they go by. Shane was a Director of the Agile Alliance from 2011 until 2016. Shane leads the Culture and Methods editorial team for

Ben Linders is an Independent Consultant in Agile, Lean, Quality and Continuous Improvement, based in The Netherlands. Author of Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, Waardevolle Agile Retrospectives, What Drives Quality, The Agile Self-assessment Game and Continuous Improvement. As an adviser, coach and trainer he helps organizations by deploying effective software development and management practices. He focuses on continuous improvement, collaboration and communication, and professional development, to deliver business value to customers. Ben is an active member of networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer. He shares his experience in a bilingual blog (Dutch and English) and as an editor for Agile at InfoQ. Follow him on Twitter: @BenLinders.

Rafiq Gemmail is a freelance technical coach, teacher and polyglot who has coached the principles of fast-feedback with leading firms in New Zealand. He is a passionate advocate for mob programming, having supported cross-functional teams through over a year of mobbing at New Zealand's largest news site. Raf is also a champion for DevOps culture and one of the organisers of New Zealand's DevOps days. He is also an ICAgile certified coach.

Craig Smith has been a software developer for over 15 years, specialising in a large number of technologies in that time. He has been an Agile practitioner for over 10 years, is a Certified Scrum Master and Certified ICAgile Professional and a member of both the Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance and currently works as an Agile Coach, fulfilling technical lead, iteration manager and Agile coaching roles on technology and business projects. He has presented at many international conferences and is a reviewer of a number of Agile and software development books. In his spare time, Craig is an avid motorsport fan.

Shaaron A Alvares is a News Reporter and Editor for DevOps, Culture and Methods at InfoQ and works as an Agile Transformation Coach and Trainer at T-Mobile in Bellevue, Washington. She is Certified Agile Leadership, Certified Agile Coach from the International Consortium for Agile, and Agile Certified Practitioner, with a global work experience in technology and organizational transformation. She introduced lean agile product and software development practices within various global Fortune 500 companies in Europe, such as BNP-Paribas, NYSE-Euronext, ALCOA Inc. and has led significant lean agile and DevOps practice adoptions and transformations at, Expedia, Microsoft, T-Mobile. She focuses on introducing the Agile mindset and customized value-driven practices aligned with organizational performance goals. Blogger, writer and speaker at local organizations, she is board member, advisor and contributor to global agile organizations such as Scrum Total, Agnostic Agile. Shaaron published her MPhil and PhD theses with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Evan Leybourn pioneered the field of Agile Business Management; applying the successful concepts and practices from the Lean and Agile movements to corporate management. He keeps busy as a business leader, consultant, non-executive director, conference speaker, internationally published author and father. Evan has a passion for building effective and productive organisations, filled with actively engaged and committed people. Only through this, can organisations flourish. His experience while holding senior leadership and board positions in both private industry and government has driven his work in business agility and he regularly speaks on these topics at local and international industry conferences. As well as writing "Directing the Agile Organisation", Evan currently works for IBM in Singapore to help them become a leading agile organisation. As always, all thoughts, ideas and comments are his own and do not represent his clients or employer.

Douglas Talbot is an experienced technology and product leader, specialising in creating and leading teams building complex, innovative products across tech, engineering and science boundaries. He has scaled agile and digital approaches to over one thousand people, distributed internationally, with 24/7 operations. He is known for a strength in building teams, great cultures, and attracting great talent.

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