My Top 3 challenges working in Distributed Teams

My Top 3 challenges working in Distributed Teams

1. Denial

Whether we are trying to acquire new skills, vowing to kick bad habits or making a new year’s resolution, the oldest most effective defense mechanism preventing us from achieving our goals is denial. Scrum is one of the most used project management methodologies but often enough companies tend to change parts to fit their needs. Some teams still do waterfall but use “Agile” jargon. Others have few Scrum principles apply to some team members while the rest of the organization still operates with a waterfall mindset.

Remedy for Success – Take the SCRUMBut Test

Take the ScrumBut Test, also called the “Nokia test”. Thankfully this scoring system exists to help teams validate if they are truly SCRUM.

2. Communication and Schedule Differences

As we all know, not working face to face, even with team members working in the same continent or region can complicate communication. The complexity proliferates with distance, time zone, cultural and language differences.

Remedy for Success
Collocated teams (in the same location):

Face-to-face meetings (daily scrum) nurture stronger communication between team members, put pressure on team members to deliver on their commitments and encourage the Scrum Team to self-organize.

Distributed teams with overlapping hours:

Finding a time during the overlapping hours to meet every day at the same time and on the same teleconference number for the Daily Scrum is ideal for distributed teams with overlapping work hours.

An alternative to a teleconference is to do a videoconference instead. The benefit of this approach is that is it fosters better collaboration between the team members and minimizes nonverbal communication loss. This option obviously requires supporting hardware, software and some reasonable bandwidth. Disruptions or poor video quality can be very disruptive.

Distributed teams with no overlapping hours:

Schedule alternate meetings times. Unlike having a fixed time always outside working hours for some team members, every team member has an opportunity to attend at least part of the time.

Another approach that I often see in projects is to conduct two different Daily Scrums and to have a designated team member/lead/scrum master attend both. The appointed person shares the information between the two teams. This approach gives a degree of visibility however it might be beneficial to get the entire team in a meeting occasionally and consider rotating the appointed person’s responsibilities to minimize the burden.

Finally, over communicate and use standardized communication tools and templates.

Though note taking is not common during the Daily Scrum, when working with a distributed team, it can be helpful to have the notes available in a common repository.

Screen sharing and instant messaging apps should not be overlooked as they can greatly bridge the gap between teammates.

3. Non Equal Talent distribution across teams
Remedy for Success

Allocate work across cross-functional, isolated “Feature” teams. This improves the teams’ velocity by minimizing most dependencies between teams and by ensuring that teams in different time zones are fully self-sufficient.

Allowing teams to self-organize and manage their own time increase their Focus Factor. Senior resources tend to spend more time on other unrelated organizational tasks and meetings instead of focusing on their actual work, leading, mentoring and supporting the team.

Defining design guidelines and best practices can go a long way in improving consistency and quality while improving the team’s velocity in the long run.

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