I was looking for inspiration for my next blog post when I found a notification telling me that I had an article sitting in my drafts section. Distributed Scrum Teams was the title and it took me back to 4 years previous when this topic came into my head. I was going to tell you about the successes that I had using distributed teams but I deleted all that. As I began to edit the post I realised just how far we have come in just a few years and decided to highlight that instead.
When I started out in 2006 there was a lot of chatter about how distributed teams were not Scrum. If you were using distributed teams, you were breaking the values of Scrum and that was bad.
“Scrum best practices indicate you should be physically near the rest of your team members, actually located in the same area of your work space. How can you effectively apply the tenets of Scrum when working with a distributed team, if you are breaking one of the key best practices? Or deal with the challenges of trying to detail a spec, but keep an agile and open development flow? or Communicate to a remote team the business priorities?” Jessica Johnson.
Fast forward to today and the landscape is so much different in 2018. A massive change for me has been the way businesses work nowadays. Businesses have moved with the times by introducing flexible working. Some have decided to save in business rates by introducing rotas on when different teams can work within the office space to save them the cost of having to buy bigger offices. This means that teams will be working from home more. So your colocated team now becomes distributed to an extent. It may not be possible for businesses to be fully colocated these days.
My previous company had distributed teams that had team members based across all of our UK offices. Not only that, there were people working from home too. We had daily standups via Skype where everyone had their camera turned on and one person shared the board to make it visible to everyone. The team gave their updates just like they would in a physical standup and to facilitate any follow up conversations that occur from the standup, we had a parking lot after the call where people would would stay to discuss anything that they felt needed discussed. We used Skype for all of our ceremonies and tried to have the whole team together once a fortnight for planning. This worked well for us.
I recently worked with a colocated team who were using a digital and physical representation of their Scrum Board. The main physical wall worked as a big information radiator for the team and anyone else in the department who would take an interest. The digital board was used to mirror our physical board. This meant that people could work from home or Flexi time if needed. The level of collaboration within this team was on par with the level of collaboration within my distributed team. Each team had found the best way to work for them and improved upon this as they worked together.
In my personal experience it does not make much difference if a team are colocated or distributed these days. The main barrier is the team themselves. They must be committed and willing to collaborate with each other to make things work. Maybe in the past the tools that we have to help us collaborate weren’t as powerful as they are today and I think this may be a huge factor in why it was considered bad practice to have a distributed team. But now there are so many avenues open to teams to aid collaboration when they are not in the same office. It is all inspecting and adapting along with your team and continually improving the way that you work together. It will be hard to begin with but if it was easy, it would be boring 🙂
It was interesting writing this article. It highlighted to me that not only is out teams constantly changing and improving but the business landscape too. I wonder if all of those people who were complaining about distributed teams in the past are now embracing the change or even realise that this has happened.