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Troubleshooting in distributed Agile teams

Distributed Agile teams had a secret weapon when we were all home to work: they’d been successfully managing remote and distanced working for months or even years.

Simply put, a distributed team is one that’s spread across numerous locations. This could be two offices in the same city or two homes halfway across the world. A distributed team has to work without a common physical space and relies on digital methods of communication to get their tasks done.

And even as social distancing restrictions ease, distributed teams could very well be here to stay. Workers are increasingly questioning if the traditional office environment is relevant anymore — after all, technology has evolved at an incredible pace to support remote working, making it easier than ever to collaborate from the comfort of your own home.

Despite the benefits, it can still be difficult to manage a project remotely. Not to mention that remote work and Agile workflow tend not to go hand in hand. For a great Agile project manager, the issues caused by remote working provide an opportunity for growth; every issue has a solution, if you know how to approach it.

Good practice = great teamwork

In order to make the best out of a (sometimes) difficult situation, your main focus should be on how your team will communicate and collaborate.

By this stage, most of us know which tools work well and which don’t. We’ve had plenty of time to adjust to the various instant messaging, video calling and collaboration platforms available to us. However, that doesn’t mean everyone understands the best practices for remote working.

Distributed working can take away the personable experiences that we take for granted in an office space — this can make teams feel isolated and robotic. Little changes and breaks in workflow can provide a huge boost to morale, making the team feel like a team again.

Encourage everyone in your distributed Agile team to turn their cameras on during video meetings and take time to allow the team to discuss personal, “small talk” topics — much like you would expect in an office.

It’s also good practice to try and replicate actions you would normally do during an in-person meeting. Most video conferencing tools allow for screen sharing that allows Scrum Masters to use a platform like EasyRetro to display idea boards, brainstorming sessions, workflow trackers and hold retrospectives.

Challenges of distributed Agile teams and how to solve them

Of course, even with the best practices in place, distributed Agile working can throw up its fair share of issues. Here’s how to solve them:

Communication

Communication is the most common issue that teams face with distributed working — Agile or not. You can’t just walk up to a coworker’s desk to ask for advice or give updates, and connecting via IMs can be difficult in busy periods.

To improve your Agile team’s remote communication, consider the following:

  • Agree one way of staying in touch: This could be as simple as asking your team to download Slack. As long as everyone on the team is using the same software, communication can be effortless.
  • Keep on top of IMs: Waiting on another team member to respond to a simple question via IM can be extremely frustrating and disruptive to an Agile team. Equally, you don’t want to promote a culture of “always being on”. Agree on a workable and reasonable reply window, and stick to it!
  • Daily standups: The daily standup could be the only time you communicate with the team as a whole. It’s vital to make the most out of these quick meetings, so Scrum Masters should be making sure that everyone is attending and participating.

Time zones

Time zones can be an entirely new issue to try and navigate for those switching from traditional work to distributed teams. Even teams working in the same country can still have to juggle with time-zones — the USA alone has six time zones!

That makes finding the right time to get everyone together for meetings a very difficult task, never mind organizing more complex, day-long collaborations. To help combat the issues caused by a team stretched out across different time zones, we’ve put together a few tips:

  • Ensure requirements are crystal clear before starting a sprint: Without defined objectives that the whole team understands, the first couple of days are going to be spent clarifying everything to every team member individually. Not a very Agile way to start a sprint!
  • Delegate where appropriate: There may be a need to delegate tasks at certain points. Say the product owner and core team are working in different timezones, it can be helpful to have an individual assume the role of product owner to reflect their viewpoint in the event of scheduling conflicts.
  • Place emphasis on flexibility: It’s not always possible to stick to a rigid schedule while working as a distributed Agile team. Before transitioning to this style, make sure the team you’re working with are comfortable and able to adjust to last minute schedule changes.

Partial distribution

As the office opens up again, new problems start to present themselves. It’s possible not everyone is ready to come back to the workplace, or maybe you’ve taken on a new hire who lives in a different state.

This can mean some of your team is remote and some are not, making organization a little difficult. You can combat this with the tips we’ve already mentioned, but there are a couple of extra things to consider in a partial distribution setting:

  • Commit to the daily standup: We stressed the importance of the daily standup earlier, and that still stands in a partial distribution setting. However, those not in the office may not feel like they are as important. Scrum masters need to make sure that standups still happen with digital support, to ensure those working at home don’t feel out of the loop.
  • One team member, one screen: It may seem like an easier plan to have everyone working in the office come into one room and stream the video and audio from there. But this can cause issues for those working remotely, as it’s hard to identify who in the room is talking when. Those in the room can also forget about those on call and end up talking between themselves, excluding the remote team members. It’s much better to have everyone take part in video calls from their own desks — that way everyone is using the same methods to communicate.

Distributed Agile teams can collaborate easier with EasyRetro

You need the right tools to make distributed models work. Platforms must be easy for everyone in the team to use, must update in real-time and must be accessible from anywhere in the world.

EasyRetro can do all of that and more.

Get started for free and see how EasyRetro can support remote Agile working.

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