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Agile Series, Part III: Agility with Distributed Teams

By: Peg Haustetter

Your organization has successfully delivered projects using Agile Methodology with your collocated teams. Collaborative work areas were created, teams moved in, they self-organized, worked with testers, and delivered quality software that added value more frequently than ever before. The product owners have seen increased customer satisfaction. The experience has been very positive. Excitement is growing! Now is the time to expand to other teams.

But, the resources that are needed to deliver the other projects sit in other locations. How can Agile work with distributed teams?

Barriers for Distributed Teams

Some of the barriers that are present with distributed teams include:

  • Managing across time zones
  • Lack of understanding of business drivers and requirements
  • Missing team trust and transparency
  • Cultural and language differences
  • Lack of coordination
  • Disjointed communications
  • Sharing the same code base

Overcoming Barriers

With effort and hard work, these barriers can be overcome by implementing some of the following ideas into your team meetings:

  • Schedule the daily stand-up during a time when all team members can be available, rotate early or late meeting times
  • Add video conferencing to your daily stand-up, nothing is better than face-to-face communication
  • Have rules in place: only one speaker at a time, speak loud enough for everyone to hear, give team members an opportunity to ask and answer questions
  • Chat it up! Yes, small talk builds trust!
  • Improve communication and understanding by providing clearly written user stories, acceptance criteria, diagrams, wireframes, and other visuals
  • Capture meeting minutes and distribute responsibility for what and when

Scrum of Scrums

Even with all the best efforts, sometimes it is not possible to find common time zones or break down language barriers or the teams are just too large for a daily stand-up. When this happens, implement scrum of scrums. Scrum of scrums is an approach that allows each team to work as a collocated team, sometimes sharing the same code base, oftentimes having project dependencies between teams and delivering the same product across the organization. Each team has their daily stand-up and answers three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • Am I encountering any issues that are blocking my progress?

The scrum of scrums attendee is selected by the team based on the current activities or who has the most knowledge of the issues: BA, tester, developer or scrum master. The questions that are asked in the scrum of scrums are similar to the team’s questions plus, a 4th question is recommended for discussion:

  • What has your team done since we last met?
  • What will your team do before we meet again?
  • Is anything slowing your team down or getting in their way?
  • Are you about to put something in another team’s way?

The agenda should follow the daily stand-up agenda – 15 minutes to answer the questions and time as needed to resolve the problems and issues on the team backlog.

Try implementing a few of these suggestions with your distributed teams to help improve communication and understanding. And keep delivering value to your customers!

Peg Haustetter

Consultant

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