Part 2: Should internationally distributed Teams be avoided?
Stephanie G.: So now that we’ve discussed reasons for and against setting up internationally distributed Teams as well as analysed their efficiency, I would like to get down to the more practical questions. Imagine that you’re a ScrumMaster for an internationally distributed Team and you were given a reasonable budget – what would your Scrum Spaces (meaning: Team offices) look like and what would you equip them with?!
Is this a trick question? Can I also use the budget to fly the Team mates in? Because that is what I would do! I know that we have already discussed this, but it‘s important enough to be mentioned over and over again: face-to-face meetings are absolutely vital for building up trust amongst Team members. If – however – that’s not an option and I am really only allowed to use the budget for furnishing the Scrum Spaces, I would make sure that all artefacts are present in all locations. Also, a decent webcam is an absolute must, as it kind of makes up for the lack of face-to-face time.
Yes, anything that you do should really lead towards resembling a co-located Team. I would put up large photos of the other Team members in order for everyone to know that they‘re always there – even if they physically aren’t. As a Team member, I would probably also appreciate it if my ScrumMaster were to set up a desk for me in each location, so that whenever I fly over (for a sprint change or at other times), I always feel welcome and can settle in right away. This empty desk can also be seen as symbolic for those who aren‘t physically in the same room. Now, if the budget were truly large enough, I certainly wouldn‘t hesitate to buy a proper conference system, where people can be seen and understood well and tasks on Post-Its can be zoomed in on. Of course, this leads us to the next step of putting up a huge screen (the bigger, the better) that always shows the image of the webcam(s) in the other location(s). If I could also choose the Scrum Space itself, I would make sure that we have a large enough room to stand in front of the conference system and screen as a Team as well as to manoeuvre around a flipchart or a desk.
I would take this money-spending a step further and actually put up two screens in the Scrum Spaces. One for showing the other Team members at all times and another for permanently depicting the Taskboard. These screens would have to be turned on every day all day … after a while, it would just become a habit that the first person to arrive in the office turns them on along with the conference system. I find it a great idea to actually put up a static webcam that permanently shows the other Scrum Space(s). That way, the Team can really feel connected as it provides the feeling of working in adjacent offices. Sadly, these gigantic screens together with an expensive conference system are often not an option, as – in reality – budgets are limited and tightly supervised. However, Skype sessions (which are free) or comparable programmes could always be kept on, too – thereby conveying a similar feeling of „togetherness“. The sound of the others being there and the possibility of talking on the phone or chatting to each other in any location at any time conveys the same idea.
Stephanie G.: I like the idea of the screens, but wouldn‘t the noise of constantly leaving the telephone conference on loud speakers become slightly irritating?
Not necessarily. I think it‘s a great idea, as I would have loved to leave on the telephone system at all times. However, I would try to get a separate, adjacent room next to all Scrum Spaces, which can be used for meetings or pair programming. The room would simply ensure that no Team member feels bothered. Also, I love Bernd‘s idea of the additional desks. I would at least expect one more desk in every location, as the Product Owner of an internationally distributed Team should be a frequent traveller. This way, he can come and go whenever he wishes and there‘s no additional effort.
And always make sure to involve the rest of the Scrum Team in your ideas and plans. Perhaps they are completely against leaving the telephone on, so then another option would be to have a speed dial installed in the conference system, with allows the reaching of the other Team members upon pressing one button. Generally, the numbers of the individual Team members as well as the conference systems in the other Scrum Spaces should be found on the wall. I also like Bernd’s idea of putting up photos of the other Team members. And, of course, one large photo of the entire Team together.
I agree with everything that my colleagues have said so far. However, let‘s not forget one important element of establishing and maintaining a Team spirit: it is vital that everything found in one Scrum Space, must be available the other Scrum Spaces, too. This starts with the flipcharts (they simply need to be photographed, sent over, printed off on large paper and hung up on the wall), continues with the technology (no way should the HQ get a better conference system than the other locations) and ends with the type of furniture. The first element does not need much of a budget, but requires an attentive ScrumMaster. Don‘t let things slide – ask your Team members to send you a photo of their Scrum Space from time to time. If you notice that something on the walls is old, just throw it out. After all, that‘s what ScrumMasters expect of their Team: if a functionality makes no sense, kill it. This is the same for posters – but make sure to do this for all locations. And a little piece of advice for all ScrumMasters who don‘t get the same budget for all of the locations: if we‘re talking about something like headsets or webcams, just buy them and post them over. It usually doesn‘t cost much, but does wonders for the Team.
Stephanie G.: Oh, how I wish that internationally distributed Scrum-Teams would be provided with larger budgets – it would make such an enormous difference. In a nutshell, this would allow ideal Scrum Spaces to be equipped in the following way:
- high-quality conference system (telephone, webcam) – preferably on during all office hours
- additional desk(s) for absent Team members
- two huge screens (Taskboard/ desktop sharing and non-stop screening of the other Scrum Spaces)
- separate, additional room next door
- equipped with the same items/ technology/ equipment etc. (mirroring each other)
- pictures on the walls of the other Team members as well as a Team photo
Thank you for your input! I think this will provide all ScrumMasters out there with really good ideas.