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The async-first playbook: remote collaboration techniques for agile software teams
Moghe S., Pearson, Hoboken, NJ, 2023. 368 pp. Type: Book (0138187533)
Date Reviewed: May 14 2024

In early 2001, frustration over unproductive software development projects led a group of professionals meeting in Utah to declare a manifesto for agile software development, proposing interaction between individuals over formal development processes and working software over detailed documentation. The agile methodology for software development grew quickly in the following years, with many works such as Highsmith’s [1] (one of the original 17 manifesto authors) describing how it can be successfully employed.

Drawing on his experience in leading distributed development teams, along with the recent pandemic that forced development teams to use remote working, Moghe describes issues with conventional agile approaches that are too “synchronous” for today’s remote teams. He notes that cultural and communication issues, the impact of multiple time zones, poorly written communications, and the dominance of some individuals in meetings can all conspire to reduce the effectiveness of agile processes. In this book, he presents “asynchronous” (defined as the practice of team working that doesn’t require multiple people to be online simultaneously) techniques and tools to make agile development, and remote working in particular, more efficient, inclusive, and effective.

The book is divided into six parts. Part 1 introduces the issues as seen by Moghe, describing the value of asynchronous collaboration and how to shift teams to an “async-first” way of working. The elimination of long hours commuting to the office (although I found this time useful for planning and reviewing my workday), the overdependence on meetings, interruptions to concentrated work, and a lack of good written records are all discussed.

Part 2 lays out the fundamental elements for an async-first approach to team working, and looks at the tools, skills, and behaviors needed for asynchronous collaboration. Details show how to structure the workflows, decision-making, and communications needed to deliver an effective development environment. Not limited to theory, Moghe draws on his practical experience to provide actionable and pragmatic steps for agile teams to implement an async-first approach.

Following on, Part 3 forms the largest section of the book--“A Practitioner’s Guide,” with each of its 15 chapters addressing common collaboration practices that software development teams follow, examining async-first alternative approaches as well as ways to improve those practices that may need to remain synchronous. Discussion covers meetings, team handbooks, team onboarding, messaging, coding, written communications trails, and more, with each chapter being standalone, allowing the reader to select only those practices that they need.

Part 4 provides advice to team leaders on the mindset shift needed to set up and effectively manage development teams, facilitate efficient meetings, and create effective team communications. The three chapters of Part 5 provide advice on successfully navigating common pitfalls with using async-first. Case studies are used to illustrate issues, including personal workstyles, preferred working arrangements, managing organizational change, and guarding against building toxic work patterns. Useful and practical experiences from Moghe’s past are employed for illustration.

Part 6 summarizes the book and brings it all together. An example five-step plan that could be used to move to an async-first way of working is presented, along with a “starter kit” collection of useful tools and templates to guide progress and helpful, practical advice and suggestions. The final chapter considers five future trends in team development work using a hypothetical case study for illustration.

Each part begins with a short introduction and each chapter concludes with a succinct summary. The book is well structured, and the detailed table of contents, endnotes by chapter, and thorough index make it accessible and useful as a reference. Moghe’s inclusion of valuable experience from his long career makes this work indispensable for any agile team, particularly those that involve geographically dispersed remote working.

More reviews about this item: Amazon

Reviewer:  David B. Henderson Review #: CR147763
1) Highsmith, J. Agile project management: creating innovative products. Addison-Wesley, Boston, MA, 2004.
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