Part 1: Does distance cancel out efficiency of internationally dispersed Teams?
Part 2: Should internationally distributed Teams be avoided?
Part 3: Scrum Spaces of internationally distributed Teams – the Do’s and Don’ts
Part 4: The Pros and Cons of Electronic and/or Physical Taskboards
Stephanie G.: Now that we have discussed internationally distributed Teams in broader terms, I would like to get to the more practical part of this interview. Let‘s start with the most frequent meeting: the Daily Scrum. Would you say that it‘s more difficult to stay within the time-box of 15 minutes in comparison to co-located Teams? Is there something that you would really advise watching out for during the Daily?
Ina K.: No, I wouldn‘t say that it‘s any different in terms of keeping the time-box. It‘s all about keeping an ear open for discussions that don‘t belong in the Daily. Sometimes it‘s just a matter of using the microphone and asking the Team, “Is the current discussion of interest to everyone? Could we perhaps talk about this afterwards?“ The ScrumMaster should always ponder over how the Daily Scrum could be made even more efficient, since a lack of concentration and focus by the Team members leads to a downward spiral of effectiveness. I always found it important to act as a kind of motivator, meaning that I would try to make the Daily Scrum at least a little bit entertaining. As a ScrumMaster, it is important to get a feeling for the Team – what jokes do they enjoy, what are their character traits, do they prefer technical discussions, do they ever speak of their private lives etc.?! Once you understand your Team, it is much easier to integrate the Team members from the other locations into the Daily. I have seen far too many ScrumMasters (no matter whether co-located or distributed, actually) that sluggishly stand in the background waiting for the meeting to be over – if you don‘t show any enthusiasm for what you propagate, why should your Team members?!
Kristina K.: Actually, in contrast to Ina, we didn’t stick to the 15 minutes, as the Team seemed to need a bit of extra time in order to make the meeting most effective. At the time, I found this to be more important than sticking to a time-box of exactly 15 minutes. It is no surprise, as my Team consisted of about 11 Dev. Team members and several locations. The English language levels varied strongly, the technology was a definite impediment and – as I have already mentioned during the previous question (Interview 4 link) – the tool did not facilitate the flow of the meeting. Still, I always continued analyzing the meeting in terms of its time-box, as this helped me to develop new ideas that could help my Team plan their day better as well as maybe hold an effective meeting in less time.
Christof B.: That‘s true, Kristina, your situation is not so unusual. Distributed Teams are often larger than co-located ones. If that‘s the case, one simply has to accept the fact that it may take slightly longer than the standard 15 minutes. Also, communicating over the telephone with each other makes the meeting more exhausting (which is why Ina‘s tips are great, by the way) and if the technology was not specifically selected for the Team‘s needs, the likelihood of having to repeat yourself a lot is rather high. Staying within the 15 minutes time-box can really be quite difficult.
Stephanie G.: I‘ve also experienced that the technology has a large impact on the efficiency of the Daily. What do the others think?
Deborah W.: As a ScrumMaster, it‘s important to make sure that all the technology is set up properly well in advance. Ten minutes should suffice if it ensures that the equipment is ready to be used right from the start. As Christof mentioned – depending on the transmission (sadly, most Teams do not have the budget that we had spoken of earlier – see Interview 3), you might have to set the time-box at 20 minutes. When my Team started out, we only used to be able to hear each other, but after less than a week, the Dev. Team independently bought a webcam, so that they could combine the voices with images.
Bernd K.: Oh dear – speaking of transmission. I can‘t even count how many times our connection broke off during any kind of meeting. Also, we didn‘t have a webcam, so it was very important to ensure that everyone knew whose turn it was and who was currently speaking. Whether this is done by saying one‘s name before speaking, through colour codes in the Taskboard tool or some other way, is up to the Team.
Christof B.: I always liked the idea of having a Speaker Token, which can be passed around depending on who wants to go next. You can also play Ping Pong with the Team members in the other locations – Team member in location A followed by Team member in location B, then someone in location A again etc – but this makes it even more difficult to stay within the 15 minutes and the ScrumMaster really has to keep an eye out on who‘s up next. The advantage is that people stay more focused.
Bernd K.: Oh, that sounds quite good, Christof. I‘ll try that out next time. But generally, the Daily was interesting, as it showed a large cultural difference between the Team members in Romania, who were rather held back, and those in German, who would talk quite a lot. As a ScrumMaster, I had to ensure that everyone got his or her turn to voice the current progress of the Tasks.
Stephanie G.: I can imagine that if – as you say – the Team members in Germany were quite talkative, that must have made it difficult to stay within the time-box, as well?! I know my Team always wanted to use this meeting to discuss everything right away and get all questions answered – although these questions had mostly little to do with planning the work for the day.
Bernd K.: That‘s exactly one of the issues that we had. The Team was simply trying to use the opportunity that the connection between the two locations was already established. So I tried to separate the „Now“ and „Later“ a bit more strictly and pushed them towards using group chat rooms more frequently or setting up a telephone connection in the middle of the day in order to coordinate their work. I also encouraged the Team members individually to start picking up the phone and directly calling each other outside of the Daily, too.
Hélène V.: Bernd, I am completely with you. I would really advise to start using the Daily for shortly coordinating everyone‘s availability for the upcoming 24 hours. When sitting together in one room, it‘s easy to figure out the best available time for meeting up and discussing something. This isn‘t the same for distributed Teams. Another option would be to simply say that the Daily is automatically followed by another synchronisation meeting a few hours later. That way, coordination takes place more often and it becomes more natural for the Team members to talk to each other several times throughout the day. But I can say this about the Daily: It really is a challenge to ensure that everyone knows exactly what each Team member is currently working on. This is not just difficult for distributed Teams. But it is important to use the Daily for making this transparent! No matter which tool the Team uses, it should be elusive on what progress has already been made and what is still missing.
Stephanie G.: Thank you! You‘ve given our audience quite a few useful tips. Let‘s see whether I can summarise them as:
- Keep discussions short by objectively asking “Is the current discussion of interest to everyone? If not, could we perhaps talk about this afterwards?“.
- Enable the synchronisation of the work progress across locations.
- Ensure that the distributed Team members speak to each other again at some point over the upcoming 24 hours – whether it be during a second Daily, group chat, staying in the line after the Daily etc.
- Add your personal touch as a ScrumMaster and remember that it‘s up to you to make the meeting more fun and thus more efficient.
- If the 15 minutes are not possible, make sure to set a different, but equally short time-box and work on eliminating the impediments that are hindering the Team from achieving the original time-box.
- As with every meeting, make sure that the technology is up and running well in advance.