Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tips For Working With Distributed Agile Teams

One of the major drivers for the need for organisations to be more agile, is globalisation meaning that, from a personal point of view, I have the luxury of scouring the internet for the cheapest place to purchase my favourite brand of whey protein, or where my next holiday destination may be. From a the perspective of McKenna Consultants, this increasing pace of change means that we are now competing with computer programmers and agile consultants from around the world, bringing it's own advantages and disadvantages.

One of the bi-products of having a more competitive global market place is the increasing number of teams that I work with who are either:

  • Working with at least 1 distributed team member
  • Are a distributed team member themselves
  • Working with a team not location in the same country or region
Even at McKenna Consultants we are working on software development projects as part of a distributed team with our clients and with our own distributed team member!

Making good use of our monitors at McKenna Consultants to manage distributed teams!
Some of the challenges with distributed teams that myself and the teams that I coach and train identify are:
  • Cultural differences
  • Dealing with Time zones
  • Language barriers
  • Easy to blame
  • Lack of trust
  • Misunderstanding of requirements
  • Lack of visibility
Teams that I have worked and still work with have come up with many ideas to overcome some of these challenges, including:

  • Travel - Travel to the office to meet, work and socialise with your distributed team members. If you have a personal friendship with them, you will be more likely to go the extra mile for them, and less likely to blame them! The benefits from building and maintaining these relationships far outweigh the cost of a flight and a few nights in a hotel! If working in a different country, you will also get the opportunity to learn a little about the culture and immerse yourself in it. This works both ways, set up a schedule of when you will make the trip across to see each other.
  • Make Them Part Of The Team - Rather than setting up an entire team elsewhere, that you would be collaborating daily with,  one of my clients had great success by extending the team via an offshore distributed team. The offshore team had 6 members, with each offshore member extending the size of a different UK team.
  • Get In Sync - One client that I worked with had an offshore team and agreed to have them working UK hours. This may seem unreasonable, but so long as you're clear from the outset, this could help to resolve time barrier issues. Other teams have dealt with this by altering their working hours to start and finish earlier or later, whilst another team that I worked with held 2 stand ups a day - one in the morning and one in the afternoon to help with the handover.
  • Use Technology - There are so many cool products out there now to make working remotely so much more easier - JIRA, Trello, VersionOne, Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, I could go on and on. Use these to share information, progress and encourage communication. I once worked with a team who created their own version of a "Sheldon Bot" to wheel around the office into team meetings as and when required! On an agile training course that I recently ran in London, one attendee described how he worked at a start up where they had a continuous live 2-way feed so that the two locations where always just loud noise away!
  • Retrospect Regularly - Point 12 in the Principle of the Agile Manifesto - At regular intervals the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts it's behaviour accordingly. In order to continue to be/aspire to be a high performing team, it is essential that you continue to retrospect regularly and experiment with new ideas. And guess what? Involve the distributed team members too!
This is a common discussion that I have on training courses and with teams that I am coaching, so I would love to hear your challenges and how you got around them!

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