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Distributed Scrum

"The future of work is global. Companies that want to stay competitive need to be able to hire the best people from anywhere in the world." - Sundar Pichai

In today's global digital landscape, distributed teams have become the norm, offering comprehensive benefits like round-the-clock productivity and access to the global talent pool. According to Gartner, by 2022, 90 percent of agile development teams will include remote work as part of business continuity planning. By embracing diversity and inclusion, you can tap into the full potential of the global workforce.

Managing these teams effectively requires more than traditional project management approaches. That's where distributed scrum comes in. This chapter explores the world of distributed scrum, delving into its principles, practices, and the unique challenges it addresses.

Distributed Scrum

Today, most online-leading businesses have distributed teams. Distributed teams can work on projects around the clock, and strong talent can be found in less competitive markets. Not to mention, talent is easily retained by not requiring an unwanted relocation. The best tech companies have geographically distributed, self-organizing, cross-functional agile teams.

Distributed scrum is a project management framework that enables teams to collaborate on projects regardless of their geographical location. It is an extension of traditional Scrum, a popular agile methodology software development teams use. The critical difference between the two is that distributed scrum allows team members to work remotely, while traditional scrum requires all team members to be in the exact same physical location.

In distributed scrum, team members use video conferencing tools and collaboration platforms to communicate and share information. This increases flexibility and productivity, as team members can work from anywhere globally. It also presents some unique challenges, such as time zone differences and cultural barriers, which must be addressed to ensure effective collaboration.

"In order to compete in the global economy, businesses need to be able to attract and retain top talent from all over the world." - Satya Nadella

Distributed Rituals

As more companies have teams with at least some remote workers, scrum offers a framework to collaborate effectively. It's essential, however, to adjust the general agile and scrum practices and use the right tools for a distributed team to be successful. Because of constraints on ad hoc collaboration and informal communication, remote teams need to be even more disciplined about their scrum rituals.

  1. Teamsize: When working remotely, it's often best to have smaller teams, especially since a video conference with 5 to 6 people is much easier to manage than 10. The traditional scrum roles are just as crucial with a distributed team but need to make adjustments for the specific challenges of remote work. Remote workers, however, may feel isolated, have less team unity, and miss social interaction with work colleagues. Developing a sense of camaraderie among work-from-home teams may also be more challenging.

  2. Informalities: Since quick water cooler chats disappear with remote work, it's essential to allow for these informal communication channels to exist. If you use Slack, you can create specific channels with different intents. The scrum master should keep open communication channels to each part of the team and facilitate communication with the group. Without informal hallway chats and impromptu in-person meetings, remote teams must communicate more and sometimes overcommunicate.

  3. Time Zones: Video conferencing calls must be adapted to cover different time zones. If a team is distributed in different time zones or geographies, it's important to schedule regular video conferencing. You can also hold asynchronous stand-ups where team members use Slack to check in or comment on their work board to share updates. This provides a quick forum for a distributed team that helps with focus, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving.

  4. Ownership: It's essential for remote team members to take ownership of work and expand that to the entire team. You can provide visibility by online documenting expectations and agreeing on how to hold each member accountable.

  5. Culture: Team members may have different work styles, communication norms, and expectations. It's essential to be aware of these differences and find ways to bridge the gap. This can include establishing clear communication channels, setting expectations for work, and encouraging open dialogue between team members. A remote scrum team should follow the core scrum behaviors of clear communication, transparency, and a dedication to continuous improvement. A remote team's success depends on mutual trust, communication, and collaboration.

Distributed Teams

The benefits of distributed teams aren't without some heavy trade-offs to close the distance gap between local and remote offices. All the teams must adapt coherently, learn how to share work between offices, communicate effectively, and grow a consistent culture across geographies.

Structure: Good software architecture dictates modular design. Structure your development teams accordingly. Every office should be self-sufficient in developing a single piece of technology, which minimizes the collaboration required with units in other time zones and makes them generally autonomous. When a project does need teams in different locations to pitch in, they can focus on their integration points and APIs.

Golden Hours: These are the hours when the local and remote teams are simultaneously in their respective offices. This is an excellent time for stand-ups when all units are in the office.

Communication: Make sure that everyone understands that when decisions are made, they need to be communicated. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be remembered. Often, important decisions are made in hallway conversations, informal local team meetings, or by individuals. It can be easy to dismiss small findings as unimportant.

Encourage team members to have weekly 1-on-1 video chat sessions. These can be less formal and help facilitate knowledge sharing. Tone, voice, and posture play a significant part in communication. In-person face-time allows the team to get to know their remote colleagues more quickly, making future video conferencing more effective.

Decision Making: When decisions are made, everyone in each office must understand the decision and, ideally, why it was made. Take your time with email. It's too easy to lose crucial contextual information. Use an online forum where team members can easily browse for updates across the team (and get notified via email or the Slack group chat tool). Use Slack to create channels for individuals and teams to communicate and see updates.

Camaraderie: Foster a sense of camaraderie and trust among team members. Use icebreakers, team-building exercises, and other activities to build relationships and promote collaboration.

Online Tooling

Video conferencing software is a crucial tool for distributed scrum teams. It allows team members to communicate face-to-face, even in different time zones or locations. Popular options include Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet.

Project management tools such as Jira, Trello, and Asana can help keep your team organized and on track. These platforms allow you to assign tasks, set deadlines, and track real-time progress.

Collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Discord can be used to facilitate communication and teamwork. They offer chat rooms, file sharing, and video conferencing features.

SAFe Framework

SAFe: The scaled agile framework is popular for guidance on distributed roles and responsibilities, planning and managing the work, and values to uphold.

SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large agile teams. It was formed around three primary bodies of knowledge: Agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking. SAFe's core values describe the culture leadership needs to foster and how people should behave within that culture to effectively use the framework.

Alignment: SAFe requires that companies put planning and reflection procedures in place at all levels of the organization. With these in place, everyone should understand the current state of the business, the goals, and how to move together to achieve those goals. By synchronizing people and activities regularly, all portfolio levels stay aligned. Unlike traditional top-down command and control structures, information flows both upward and downward in a timely fashion.

Quality: In the SAFe framework, agility should never come at the cost of quality. SAFe requires teams at all levels to define what "done" means for each task or project and to bake quality development practices into every working agreement. According to SAFe, built-in quality has five critical dimensions: flow, architecture and design quality, code quality, system quality, and release rate.

Transparency: SAFe encourages trust-building behavior, including planning work in smaller batch sizes so problems can surface sooner, providing real-time visibility into backlog progress across levels, and inspecting and adapting rituals.

Execution: Program execution is the heart of SAFe and powers everything else in the framework. Teams and programs must be able to deliver quality, working software and business value regularly.

Leadership: SAFe requires lean-agile leadership behavior because only leaders can change the system and create the environment necessary to embrace all of the core values.

Spotify Model

Another popular and widely adopted distributed agile to consider is the so-called Spotify model. This model is a people-driven, autonomous approach for scaling agile that emphasizes the importance of culture and network. It has helped Spotify and other organizations increase innovation and productivity by focusing on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

Here's its gameplay and rituals.

Squads: Similar to a scrum team, squads are cross-functional, autonomous teams (typically 6–12 individuals) focusing on one feature area. Each squad has a unique mission that guides their work, an agile coach for support, and a product owner for guidance. Squads determine which agile framework will be used.

Tribes: When multiple squads coordinate with each other on the same feature area, they form a tribe. Tribes help build alignment across teams and typically consist of 40–150 people to maintain alignment. Each tribe has a tribe leader responsible for helping coordinate across squads and encouraging collaboration.

Chapter: Even though squads are autonomous, it's essential that specialists (e.g., Javascript developers, DBAs, etc.) align on best practices. Chapters are each specialist's family, helping to keep engineering standards in place across a discipline. Chapters are typically led by a senior technology lead, who may also be the manager of the team members in that chapter.

Guild: Team members passionate about a topic can form a guild, essentially a community of interest. Anyone can join a guild, and they are entirely voluntary. Whereas chapters belong to a tribe, guilds can cross different tribes. There is no formal leader of a guild. Instead, someone raises their hand to be the child coordinator and help bring people together.

Trio: A trio combines a tribe lead, product lead, and design lead. Each tribe has a trio to ensure continuous alignment between these three perspectives when working on feature areas.

Alliance: As organizations scale, sometimes multiple tribes must work closely together to accomplish a goal. Alliances are a combination of tribe trios (typically three or more) that work together to help their tribes collaborate on a more extensive plan than any one tribe.

 

Summary

Distributed scrum is paramount in today's digital landscape, as managing remote teams has become the norm. It offers numerous benefits, such as round-the-clock productivity and access to global talent. Adapting agile and scrum practices for remote work is essential to effectively managing distributed teams, utilizing the right tools, and encouraging open communication.

Fostering solid camaraderie and trust among remote team members is crucial for effective collaboration. Implementing frameworks like SAFe can promote alignment, quality, execution, and leadership in distributed teams. Considering the Spotify model, which emphasizes autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality, can further enhance the agile approach.

Open communication is critical to overcoming time zone differences and cultural barriers. Optimizing agile and scrum practices for remote teams and utilizing project management and collaboration tools can significantly facilitate productivity and teamwork. Building a culture of trust, communication, and collaboration among remote teams is vital to ensuring a sense of camaraderie and inclusion.

Embracing the potential of distributed teams requires courage and a proactive mindset. By adapting to the challenges and staying motivated, you can create successful remote teams that thrive in the digital landscape. Prioritize open communication, foster a culture of trust, and remain courageous in the face of obstacles.

Reflections

As a CTO ask yourself the following:

  1. How can we effectively address the challenges of managing distributed teams in a scrum framework?

  2. What strategies can be implemented to foster a strong sense of camaraderie and trust among remote team members?

  3. How can we ensure alignment, quality, execution, and leadership across distributed teams using the SAFe framework?

Takeaways

Your takeaways from this chapter:

  1. Distributed scrum is important in managing remote teams and increasing productivity and flexibility.

  2. Adapt agile and scrum practices for remote work, utilizing the right tools and encouraging open communication.

  3. Foster a sense of camaraderie and trust among team members to facilitate effective collaboration.

  4. Implement the SAFe framework to promote alignment, quality, execution, and leadership in distributed teams.

  5. Consider the Spotify model a distributed agile framework emphasizing autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

  6. Prioritize open communication to overcome time zone differences and cultural barriers.

  7. Optimize agile and scrum practices for remote teams and utilize project management and collaboration tools.

  8. Build a culture of trust, communication, and collaboration among remote teams, ensuring a sense of camaraderie and inclusion.

  9. Structure development teams, schedule regular video conferencing calls, and encourage informal communication channels.

  10. Embrace the potential of distributed teams, be courageous in facing challenges, and stay motivated to create successful remote teams.

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