#AgileAfrica: Distributed Teams

Posted: August 29, 2016 in Agile
Tags: , ,

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

agileafricaSam and Karen started by clarifying what they meant by distributed teams: teams that don’t sit in the same location. They then categorised distributed teams into three main categories:

  1. Teams that work in the same time zone and/or the majority of their working/office hours overlap
  2. Teams that work in different time zones but there is some overlap of working/office hours
  3. Teams that work in different time zones or have different shifts so that there is no overlap of working/office hours.

For each, they then shared some common characteristics and where best to focus energy.

Full Overlap

These teams are characterised by synchronous communication. Here the best focus would be on technology and tools to ensure that communication is as easy as possible when people are distributed. They suggested some ideas like a video wall (expensive option) or running Skype continuously in the background (cheap option) to allow synchronous communication and cues to happen as naturally as possible.

Partial Overlap

Communication in these teams is largely asynchronous (e.g. email), so time together is valuable. Rather than use this time for things that can be communicated is an asynchronous manner, focus on using team time to create understanding. A practical example in the Scrum world is rather than use overlapping time for something like a stand-up (which can also be done via an update in most cases), use it for things like Grooming and Planning where more complicated conversations are required to flesh out understanding and work through difficult problems.

No Overlap

Their main ideas here related to being creative with

  • Tools e.g. creating a video for reviews and stand-up that can be distributed to the other team(s)
  • Rotating a team member who “takes one for the team” and changes their office hours so that there is some overlap with the other team(s).
  • Planning work to try to keep work where there are dependencies in teams that are working in similar time zones.

Besides the advice above, they also had the following general tips:

  • Use Good Technology
  • Have and Use Working Agreements
    • “Bottom Line” – a phrase used when people start to waffle and need to get to the point
    • Talking Over – agreement on what happens if people talk over each other. One idea is to give the facilitator permission to provide the order of who speaks in what order.
    • Multiple back-up plans – So if (when) the technology fails, everyone automatically knows which one to try next (and it doesn’t need to be discussed)
    • Silence – Silence is OK
  • Good Voice Trumps Bad Video
  • Same Experience for All
    • If one person needs to dial in, then everyone should dial in
  • Prepare
    • Prepare for sessions more than you would for face-to-face: agendas, tools, pre-reading, etc.

You can find more tips at RemoteAgileCoach.com.

I’ve shared some of my thoughts on distributed teams in a previous post. What have your experiences been with working on a Distributed Team?

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