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Agile Teams: Co-location - 21st Century Challenges

July 27, 2018

I live and work in Tampa, Florida. The majority of my AgileDad team lives across the country. We are highly efficient and results driven for our clients. How do we make it work? First off, we do a DAILY standup. Yes, 10am on the east coast and 8am mountain time, EVERYDAY. It starts the day on the right foot and motivates everyone.

For you and your co-located teams, take heed. You will run into a number of roadblocks, but these can be overcome. There will be technical challenges, questions about communication and human interaction, accountability and expectation issues, consistent interjections of stakeholders and finally the ability for the entire team to have all scrum ceremonies run efficiently.

 

Let’s take a look at these issues and opportunities:

 

Technical Challenges

 

Everyone appreciates the convenience of a conference call. Listen to the dialogue, put yourself on mute and answer a few emails in the background…..sound familiar? An engaged team is an effective team. Instead of setting up a call for your sprint planning and retrospective, think about other options that allow you to look in the eyes of your colleagues. Use a video conference solution whenever possible with remote teams. The difference in engagement between voice and video will astound you. Now, don’t get me wrong, I take part in a daily standup via Uber conference everyday for my stand up, but when planning is in order, Zoom is the way to go.

 

Communication and Human Interaction

 

Among agile teams, communication is KING. For teams, especially colocated teams who can figure out this delicate dance, it will result as highly functional. As discussed above, there are technical and logistical challenges (those tricky time zones).

 

There is a delicate balance and need for cultural understanding when working with colocated teams around the country, much less the world.

 

Periodic all hands in-person meetings are critical for team success. Yes, this may mean team members fly to one location on a periodic basis. We will address this further in the ceremonies section below.

 

Accountability and Expectations from Stakeholders

 

  • Team - Never forget, everyone on the team is a valuable and contributing member. Know your backlog, know your current sprint items that are in progress, know what you have committed to complete. Your team members do, so don’t let them down without a reasonable impediment. Show up everyday for those that count on you.

  • Leadership - This layer of the corporate onion is a delicate layer to peel. It is the Product Owner who is responsible for the communication between leadership and the team and also their responsibility to know the velocity of the team when communicating the other way. This doesn’t discriminate if you are at a home office, across the country or world. The team must find the best way (for them) to communicate with their Product Owner and Scrummaster so everyone in the pipeline is pleased with forward progress.

  • Managers - It is a very interesting balance with individuals in this role. They MUST trust the process, the Product Owner and the ScrumMaster AND the team doing the work. By a team improving the timeline to products to market and increasing velocity, this will help instill that trust from the managers to the scrum team.

  • Customers - While this base will rely heavily on the Product Owner and thief communication to the team, it is still the teams responsibility to communicate to the PO what is feasible that is able to be worked on and completed “right now”.

 

Ceremonies

 

These are the logistical kinks that can become tricky even for colocated teams. Yes, in an ideal world, everyone on the team stands in a room and participates in these ceremonies. But let’s be honest, this isn’t an ideal world. So, how do we adapt, be nimble and most of all, be agile.

  • Daily Standups - critical for the cadence of the team, but if needing to do so on a voice call, all will be ok in the world.

  • Retrospective - I truly believe this is the life blood for a team, self examination. Ideally in person, but if a member is remote, try this one with a video because we are calling out success, fails and giving shoutouts. It’s nice to see the face of the individual you are saying kudos to.

  • Sprint Planning - Similar to my feeling above regarding the retrospective, if not feasible to be done in person, a video call will cue the engagement of the entire team.

  • Release Planning - This should be an event that happens quarterly so if adjustments need to be made, done so in a timely manner. This is the one ceremony I mentioned above that should be done IN PERSON! Fly your folks to one location. Spend time on the planning and utilize the colocated team members presence to overcome impediments and humanly connect with colleagues.

Some recent experiences with clients have shown how they intertwine the use of technology to approximate that face-to-face conversation. Take for example a team that flies their colleagues in from Costa Rica once a quarter for 2 weeks to work onsite with the rest of their team to not only build camaraderie, but also to help sync the efforts of the team going forward. For the in-between times, video conferencing is the staple whenever the team needs to communicate or collaborate together.

Yet another team when using the same type of avenue for video conferencing has a team member that has a green screen behind them in their home office. The running joke about this team member’s work presence is where will he be working from today. Is he in the office, on the beach with palm trees swaying in the background or is there some other exotic background where he will be calling in from today. Making that communication more real and personality driven helps build the trust and relationships within teams that gets them towards success.

 

Colocated teams can be highly efficient, please just take with you a few of the highs and lows discussed above to achieve your definition of success!

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