Friday, September 27, 2013

Enabling Distributed Agile Teams

I recently did a talk on enabling distributed agile teams for the Atlanta scrum users group.  Check them out, it's a great group.

Here's the slide deck for the talk with some talking points, lessons learned, and pictures of the games that we played during the presentation.  Before getting into it, I have to admit that I do have a point of view on distributed teams.  I'm biased.  I had to put myself into a certain middle of the road view point where I was neither for nor against distributed teams.  I am so glad I can do that (it's a talent), because I was able to let this session change my own viewpoint.  That's pretty powerful.

We started the session with a brief definition of distributed teams.
Then a 10 minute discussion of the complications of distributed teams.

I then asked the audience to stand up and split them into thirds due to the size of the audience.  I had them form three separate lines arranging themselves from one to ten where one represented that they never used distributed teams and 10 meant that they always used distributed teams.  I then took an "equal" sampling from each group to represent the entire belief spectrum.

Then we facilitated a 20-ish minute game session where two games were played.

The first game was a negation game.  This game used four scenarios to give different points of view.  The idea was to have several different scenarios for distribution.
  • Team augmented with an offshore resource
  • We were the augmented team members in the US for a resources based in a London project
  • Each team member was a distributed resource
  • The individual had a paired twin resource that was distributed.  This was a last minute game I had to throw in because of the size of the audience.  It was a take off of My Worst Nightmare from
During the game, I gave a scenario to each of the split out teams.  They would ask the question, "How can we make the resource's life miserable and less productive?"  After a brief session of answering that question the team members prioritized their results.  I then traveled to each scenario and negated the top two items.  This led to potential "working agreements" like "The team will not schedule meetings when the distributed team was asleep." I am paraphrasing because I didn't take a picture of the output of the teams... boo... next time.

Here are the game pics:
Negation Game - Team Augmented with Offshore Resources

Negation Game - Foreign Team
Where we are the Augmented Offshore Resources
Negation Game - Team  Fully Distributed
Negation Game - Pairing Twin
(Loosely based on My Worst Nightmare innovation game)

In the second game, "King for a Day", I had two teams imagine they were CIO's considering outsourcing.  One team took why they would like to outsource and the other took why they wouldn't.  They discussed for about 5-10 minutes.  They prioritized their results.  When I traveled to these two boards I had a realization and ran with it.  

The team that had the "Wouldn't consider outsourcing" scenario had come up with the traditional "complications" that we had partially discussed.  They came up with a few more in the game and some common issues with distributed teams like "they need more documentation up front."  

The other team came up with Business Needs like "Global workforce for hiring", "lowering costs", etc. 
The place we ended up was fascinating.  I could relate the complications back to a business driver.  Basically, if our complications were worth less than the business driver, we should rightly be distributed.  It was powerful.  It also quickly disarmed the "business is outsourcing all of our jobs because it's cheaper" notion.  That's often not the case anyway.  However, the business intent became apparent  even in our fake business.  Good stuff!  Maybe this would be a good way to have teams with outsourcing needs accept it more readily.  Again, I'm not an advocate, just pragmatic for the business.

Here are the game pics:
King for a Day Game - CIO wants Outsourcing 
King for a Day Game - CIO does not want Outsourcing 
After the games we discussed several enablers we could implement like the communication kata.  I went over a few tools that I know that are collaborative whiteboards, mindmaps, etc.  That seemed to also hold the attention of the crowd.

Overall, the discussion was a great success.  I learned a lot and other said they did as well.  Both myself and the crowd wanted more time for collaboration on the games.  Hopefully I can better time it in the next iteration.  I also realized that another discussion was potentially needed for patterns of structuring distributed teams.  This talk focused on enabling distributed teams and I am of the opinion that although the structure is important, most structures can be successful in certain contexts.  It's a tool in your toolbox, you don't always use them, but it's nice to know that you have them if you need them.