The Three C's of Distributed Scrum Teams: Communications, Communications, Communications

[article]
Summary:
The 3C's of a great Scrum meeting comes down to communication, communication, and communication. This becomes more pronounced as a team becomes distributed. Distribution can be on the other side of the floor or the other side of the globe. Balance in communications methods is the key

The 3C's of a great Scrum meeting comes down to communication, communication, and communication. This becomes more pronounced as a team becomes distributed. Distribution can be on the other side of the floor or the other side of the globe. Balance in communications methods is the key

Agile processes are successfully executed based upon a strong Scrum process, the team focal point for daily interactions. The key concept behind the Scrum is to have a self-organizing group that can come together, understand what has been accomplished and focus on what still needs to get done.

The concept is simple; however the process gets complicated when applied to a distributed or global Agile project in which parts of the team are physically local and part of the team is geographically in another time zone or venue. This article will present a "day in the life"; of a typical Scrum meeting that has been successfully used with corporate IT projects as well as county government projects. The article will discuss how US and Indian Scrum teams interact within the context of an Agile project.

The Right Balance Between Formal and Informal Communication Methods
Co-located team members meet more or less impromptu. A point not generally noticed is that visual cues enable each person to determine when (or when not) to interrupt the other team members. The visual cues provide the flow for a team in reading each other and the status of the project. This preserves the rhythm of everyone's work while maximizing the personal communication and reducing delays.

The absence of the visual cues in distributed teams causes the situation to be more complex. A completely free-flow policy about making telephone calls, for example, may seem to maximize personal communication and reduce delays but unintended interruptions of the work rhythm for the recipients of such calls may overshadow the benefits quite soon. The absence of the visual cues may also place strains on the cordial relationships among the team members.

The situation thus calls for some structure around this type of communication while preserving the low-ceremony paradigm of the agile approach.

In our experience, this is achieved by reserving a certain "band" of time during the day when people can freely call each other on the phone or instant messenger. The overlap of a set of core hours is the key idea. Outside of this band, unscheduled calls are to be avoided and discouraged. When expectations are thus set, each team member soon tends to organize his/her schedule around this band so as to minimize interruptions.

For India-US teams, for example, such bands typically would be in the range of 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM IST which corresponds to a convenient time for the US time (depending on the US time zones, of course) while not being inconvenient to the offshore team. With a time difference of 9.5 to 10.5 hours, depending upon the time change in the US, the band becomes a key enabler for communications.

On a related note, the practice of working "overnight" either by the onshore members or the offshore ones to maximize their common work time with non- collocated team members is uniformly harmful. This “solution” typically comes up in the context of looming milestones for code deliveries and impatience with the communication gaps during the related discussions.

But this practice soon puts the overnighters out of touch with their collocated colleagues and managers. The productivity during these off hours is generally much less than during the regular hours. We recommend using this practice rarely, if at all. The need for doing this generally indicates a

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