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


weakness in other areas and should be addressed accordingly. The same is the case with staying late at work into the evening.

On occasion, there is a need for offshore members to be on call with the client personnel too. Such meetings are typically required when, for example, the testing team offshore needs access to a client' testing environment onshore and so some infrastructure-related discussions may be necessary. Another example would be the occasion when senior onshore members are on leave. In our experience, the clients have invariably helped in this area and have made themselves available during the standard band.

Scrum meetings in distributed settings are more like the conversations between a bench of people and the field players, to use a comparison with sports teams. On collocated teams, cross-communication among members in these meetings in a collocated setting is generally quite useful. In a distributed setting, since these meeting are held using conference calls, cross-communication among members may be confusing.

Over the phone, these meetings tend to degenerate into status-reading by the senior offshore manager/team lead and others remain mute spectators. Engaging everyone' active participation is that much more difficult. Care needs to be taken to actively ensure that each member talks about his/her area of the work. There is a need for more structure in these meetings. How much structure is sufficient without rendering the meetings into a high-ceremony event?

Placing a time limit on the meetings' duration, ensuring the discussions between any two persons (whether manager-to-manager or architect-to-designer) do not dominate the meeting, and finding a way to move from person to person (passing the "token") are some of the ways to address this challenge.

Of course, Scrum basics remain the same. Scrum meetings should be limited to a discussion on the status and should avoid getting into technical and functional discussions of issues. Generally, these Scrum meetings will end with identification of the need for follow-up discussions on technical and functional areas among the related team members. As pointed out, this is best done by designating a certain time band for these discussions. Unlike the Scrum meetings, these follow-up calls can be almost completely informal, save for the time limit aspects.

Upfront determination of templates–for key documents and other artifacts, related to exchange of clarifications, for example–is not necessarily high-ceremony overload. In a setting where most of the communication is phone-, messenger-, or email-based, this upfront determination works to alleviate the gaps to a large degree. Videoconferencing is good as a periodic communications mechanism to establish an initial "Hi." Over time, the tool can be a distraction and should be leveraged cautiously.

Periodic Visits to the Onshore Team by Offshore Team Members
Even with all the above, the difference between the perceptions of non-collocated teams tends to increase as the time progresses and given a certain duration, tends to become pronounced enough to be disruptive.

In our experience, this duration is around eight to 12 weeks. One would presume that this duration would be variable–initial low activity phases may seem to require less communication than the later high activity ones and hence a longer duration for noticeable communication divergence. However, the reality is to the contrary. Initial stages of a project may be low activity in the sense of participation by fewer members of the teams.

But these stages tend to be more communication-intensive since the emphasis is on transfer of critical business logic and requirements-related discussions. Later stages, while less focused on this type of exchange of information, have greater team participation and hence more communication channels. These effects tend to balance each other

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