Distributed Team Challenges
1st Feb, 2020
“Let us say you are the Scrum Master for a distributed team. A couple of developers are from Europe and 4 of them from us and 3 of them in India. What are some of the challenges that you foresee? What are some of the ways to overcome? If you have faced such challenges before, how did you overcome it?”
On 24-Jan-2020, in PlayScrum WhatsApp groups, there was a discussion on the below topic. Many of the practicing Scrum Masters from PlayScrum group participated in the discussion in WhatsApp and below are some of them.
1. Perfect schedule for Daily Scrum. For all.
2. Increased Wait time in case of any dependency or bug fixes.
1. For Daily Scrum, we can have it as per time zone convenience on a weekly basis.
2. Have a chat channel/group to overcome the communication barrier.
Developers need to have knowledge of multiple modules. So rather waiting for the updates/dependency, handovers can be given from one person to another...in order to maintain continuity.
We have a distributed team (Europe and India) and we are trying to keep it self-organized as much as possible. We have Slack and communication is open constantly. Work tracking happens in JIRA. We are just beginning on a deliverable that is a collaborative effort between Europe and India.
Keeping fingers crossed to aim for minimum clerical work and maximum productivity.
Few learnings from my past experiences
1. Schedule meetings considering availability and time suitable for all of the team members.
2. Set ground rules in the very beginning requesting engagement / active participation.
3. Follow up with meeting minutes containing action items with timelines immediately after the meeting (sometimes this may get delayed)
4. Ensure that the meeting agenda is well documented with the goal of the topic to be discussed and the prep work that needs to be done prior to the meeting
5. Follow up with the stakeholders on their action items outside the meeting time, so that the meeting does not become mere AI status checkpoints.
6. Follow an open decision-making approach, be inclusive and appreciate diverse perspectives.
PO is in Europe (German)
1. Culture -3 different culture
2. @India – afraid to say No always, not asking questions,
3. PO; Talks straight, sometimes his way was taken as arrogance though it was like that in the part he is from.
4. Three different time zone
5. Meetings were to be scheduled so minimum time get wasted
6. Impediments were to be removed, so SM had some extended hours
7. Decision making, hampered a bit
8. It took time for trust to be developed
9. In initial days dependent tasks across different team had a lot of idle time
10. It was three teams for an initial 3 sprints.
Team Points to remember
• English not a first language, it acted as a blessing because all spoke simple sentences and the pace was slow.
• Members We were disconnected, so the spirit of the team was missing.
• Team members have traveled less, they were not into reading (including PO) in their life, so knowledge of other culture and religion and festival, were governed by stories, movies, news and some family member who had visited that country.
Going beyond Role
SM did all possible ways so backlog can groom with details, this include, wireframe, pencil sketches, Realtime coloration, google translator.
PO used Google translator so the team gets the crux and thought and importance for the backlog Item, so stories can be evolved. Props, sketches were used to explain and answers if things got stuck up.
The team started communicating beyond working time to help each other after two-three sprints.
Stories were taken in a way that interdependencies can be reduced
1. Though it was a versatile team, all were excited to work in different cultures.
2. Team on Monday and Thursday had extra daily where team members shared some personal story, that increased the bonding.
3. Sharing pictures of family or weekend story
4. Love for food came as common things between the team.
5. The team started respecting each member and stories that were discussed as mentioned above helped as ice breakers.
6. Members validated the assumptions they had about other cultures
7. Retroes were done in early hours with rotation based on the time zone
First, I will facilitate a conversation with the entire team together to figure out the challenges they see. And let them figure out what and how they fix it. I step into Servant leadership in this situation. This activity needs to be triggered at periodic cadence hopefully at retrospective so that team being a Self-organized team they find and fix their issues.
Challenge: collaboration and dependency between people
Plan all ceremonies during overlapping time slots.
Plan the working time to have 2 hours of overlapping for all time zone.
Example: US EST 8 to 10 AM will work. Indian team to extend the day. UK Team will be available during 2nd half of the day
Let me give u an example if my current project. I work with a client in Canada, my tech lead is in NY (EST same time zone as Montreal), another onshore resource is at Montreal, the other entire dev team is in India but spread across Pune, Bangalore, and Chennai.
We have a daily call with the customer at EST time where the offshore team is asked to start the day late to attend the day's effort. We changed the daily scrum manner from what happened the previous day to what happened today due to the geo challenge.
During the absence of our offshore team, the onshore lead and dev resource will handle the tasks and blockers if any. We have another internal stand-up with onshore and offshore teams to update their status and discuss dependency, impediments towards the backlog and sync with each other.
This internal call happens an hour before the client daily stand up so that we all r on the same page. This solves our issue of communication with distributed teams. With this, the client has appreciated that they have a smooth workflow and communication happening.
Is followed one for Europe region
Us time zone
Overlapping timings are utilized
In case the overlapping is less
Introduce twin roles to run the show
Like associate Product Owner
Set calendar events norms
Self-provisioning of environment test data etc
Let say India's team working time can be shifted to 5 am to 2 pm. India team and US team can have a call where the US team can handover the details to the India team at morning 5 Am.
Similarly, the India team and UK team can have a call around 1.30 pm where the India team can handover work to the UK. We can have a common scrum call at 7 pm IST where the India team can attend from home.
Then UK and US teams can work together and the US team to get the handover from the UK when they are leaving. This way, works happen 24x5 and we should have minimum bottlenecks
A major challenge we could face is cultural differences and communication. Usage of words. The same word may have different meanings in 3 countries. As most of the conversation and discussion happens over the calls, understanding the info becomes difficult with a different accent.
People with different moods. One may have just come to the office and fresh and will be interested in long calls and another will be about to leave the office and may not be much interested in long calls.
But distributed teams are good if we say work and utilization ways... Work gets done faster as we have people round the clock. Deployments become faster as no dependency on waiting for the onsite team etc.
Communication is a Challenge. When we are co-located we talk, we meet but with the distributed team, we have less communication. With the distributed team we need more communication we need to find ways to have more talk-time and consciously seek out tools and ceremonies that facilitate communication.
Collaboration with PO, SM, and the team will be one challenge we can use online collaboration tools for the same, ensure ALM tools are duly updated, can have agile ceremonies conducted using online tools and better using video conferences in common time.
For dependency resolutions having a proxy SM and Proxy PO could be explored. Third is technical on how we could ensure code is kept updated, for which DevOps needs to be adopted which is integrated with versioning tool
Scrum master shouldn't decide when daily scrum should be held, instead enable the team to arrive on consensus for scheduling the daily scrum and other ceremonies, so we can have maximum participants.
Our goal is to build a self-organized team and achieve sprint goals. We can suggest video conferencing or voice call, but let the team decide what's best for them, rather than imposing our guidelines.
At my office we have a US and India team, we have daily scrum scheduled in evening IST time. India team (can attend from office or from home) provide information on the items they have worked today, and what will be working tomorrow, whereas the US team about yesterday and today.
For other events, again the goal is maximum participation.
1. For Sprint planning & Backlog grooming + Retrospective: Dev team and PO presence should be a must. So accordingly, we have to schedule it.
2. Sprint review: PO + Stakeholder presence is a must, so have to schedule accordingly.
Our focus is maximum (All) participation, and as a scrum master, we have conveyed our scrum team about the importance of this.
I have always seen that the availability of the PO is always a challenge for project-driven from other locations. It's always advisable to have local SME if you can't hire then develop one of the team members who can understand the business side also.
Even SM can do that. As again as SM we should know the purpose WHY of our project/product and we have to pass on the same to the scrum team.
We are a coach to PO as well and help to provide more clarifications as needed if we see this as a problem.
I had a team distributed in multiple locations. One of the issues I have seen is the lack of openness between the team. As they have never met personally so they don’t put their issues openly.
Last day of the sprint becomes hectic and long for people in India because of one or other reasons. And a lot of emails exchange
1. Co-location: Can be solved by WebEx meetings, video conf calls
2. Time zone difference: Scrum calls can be scheduled during the overlap times
3. Cultural differences: Solved by giving training n awareness
4. Advance communication mediums help in eliminating the gaps.
Coordinating, collaborating, time zone conflicts, not enough face time to instill trust or camaraderie - part of my current ecosystem. It can be managed by getting the team to meet once or twice if budget permits - to put faces to names.
The scrum master will need to play a bigger role here in encouraging participation and healthy dissent. Also, one thing that's working well for me is to encourage video conferencing on calls.
good option & leverage technology to overcome challenges like face to face...In our project, we got laptops with webcam & headsets to everyone for better communications & collaboration...WebEx or Zoom
Way of working
And to overcome this first need to understand each and every individual and instill the value of the team in each of them! Here and there some feedback also works!