Purists and Scrum hipsters will argue that dispersed teams are a taboo in Agile communities of practice. However, in reality there are many instances where an organization has to outsource due to lack of local skillset or other reasons. Being prepared for what to expect and how to approach and prepare for the facilitation of distributed teams can go a long way in ensuring the success of the Agile initiative.
Decide on how to distribute
- Teams work differently in their remote locations, but the whole team officially syncs up at least once a day, but also ad-hoc as situations call for it;
- Each team in each location has all the necessary skills to execute on the committed sprint backlog;
- Individuals in different cities should be encouraged to work as one team as opposed to one team in country A and another in country B;
Create stickiness or coherence
- We want teams that will stick together which requires a clear vision;
- We therefore acknowledge that cultures in our team differ – we should encourage collaboration and relationship nurturing early on in the project for sub-cultures to form;
- Work actively to strengthen tactical as well as team structures;
- Build trust through early communication of progress
You’re going to have to change how you communicate
- In the Cinderella Project (a perfect project) a team would come together from their disparate locations to meet, socialize and form cohesion;
- We encourage teams to stay together for at least an iteration;
- Learn the lay of the land
- Become familiar with the ‘flavour of Agile’ being used (e.g. all teams estimate, collaborate, execute and communicate differently – get to know these traits – it’s going to make or break your Agile initiative!
- Organize quarterly visits for either the whole team or have people cross pollinate through travelling between locations
- Invest in the concept of having team ambassadors, people that ensure good working relationships
- A Wiki culture, or information sharing philosophy is going to be very important, more so than with co-located teams
- You are going to need more meat on that product backlog to physical counter the absence of key people
- Horizontal communication must be encouraged and driven
- Distance isn’t such a problem, time zones are!
“When transitioning to a distributed team, err on the side of over-communicating.”
Additions you’d need to accommodate in the framework you are using:
- Meetings will require slack time, people are going to catch up (and rightfully so) whether you like it or not;
- Share news as it happens about the project, good and bad
- Honour basic meeting etiquette:
- One conversation at a time
- Everyone must know who is speaking
- Keep to the time-boxes
- Facilitator to set up technology, conference bridge etc. in advance of meeting, and test the connections
- Ensures everyone has the right dial-in information
- You’ll have to ensure your technology supports your dispersed nature
- Use Agile Lifecycle Management tools like Jira, VersionOne etc
- Use proper high quality video and voice tools to video-conference successfully and to bridge the distance gap
- Online whiteboards for design sessions will aid collaboration
- An online Retrospective tool that will ensure the opportunity to improve isn’t lost
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