Agile Lifecycles for Geographically Distributed Teams: Using a Project Manager with Kanban, Silo'd Teams

[article]
Summary:
This is a product development organization with developers in Italy, testers in India, more developers in New York, product owners and project managers in California.

This organization first tried iterations, but the team could never get to done. The problem was that the stories were too large. Normally I suggest smaller iterations, but one of the developers suggested they move to kanban.

This is a product development organization with developers in Italy, testers in India, more developers in New York, product owners and project managers in California.

This organization first tried iterations, but the team could never get to done. The problem was that the stories were too large. Normally I suggest smaller iterations, but one of the developers suggested they move to kanban.

The New York developers had a problem biting off more than they could chew. So nothing moved across their board. The Italy developers had a board where the work did move across the board. The teams took pictures of their boards every day and shared the work across a project-based wiki. That allowed the New York-based developers to see the work move across the Italy board. And, that encouraged the New Yorkers to call the Italians and ask some questions. That helped the New Yorkers to change the size of their work by working with the product owners.

Now, why did the New Yorkers have such trouble originally? Because the developers “knew better” than the product owners, so they changed the stories into architectural features when they had originally received them. (Now they don’t. They leave the stories as real stories.)

Release planning: Management in California plan with agile roadmaps. They have features planned specifically week-by-week for the next 6 weeks, and have more of a quarter-by-quarter approach after that.

Iteration planning: No iteration planning because they are using kanban.

Daily commitment: No daily commitment needed because they use kanban. They do have a checkin a few times a week with each other as a technical team to make sure they don’t create bottlenecks and that they respect the WIP (work in progress) limits.

At one point, both the New York and Italy developer teams created automated tests so that the testers could catch up and stay caught up with regression tests. They add a story like that every couple of weeks, and they are paying down their automated testing debt.

The Project manager keeps an eye on the WIP, work in progress. Project manager also shepherds the product owner into keeping the queue of incoming work full and properly ranked. The product owner is notorious for changing the incoming work queue all the time. Project manager makes sure the team does retrospectives and is a little unclear how to do them in such a distributed team. The project manager is not so sure their retrospectives are working, and has started an obstacle list, to make sure the team has transparency for their obstacles.

Measurements: cumulative flow, average time to release a feature into the product.

(Want to learn to work more effectively on your geographically distributed team? Join Shane Hastie and me in a workshop April 17-18, 2012.)

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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