Today I was asked for advice on how to best set-up a new distributed agile team. This reminded me of an approach I favour, partly because (so far) it has been really successful and partly because it’s ‘profound simplicity’ appeals to me.
Some years ago a client of mine in a rural area needed to expand faster than local recruitment would allow and decided to begin working with an off-shore partner. The client did not want to compromise their successful ways of working (mainly a blend of XP and Scrum) and were concerned about how to make this work across two locations a five-hour flight from each other. Everyone had a lot of questions about how to work together in the highly collaborative manner to which they had become accustomed. As a coach with a particular passion for collaboration I was keen on initial collocation time and that we include some of the team-building and kick-off workshops that had proved so useful for our on-site teams, so we hatched the following plan, I will call it 2-2-Go.
To begin, all of the off-site team members came on-site for an initial kick-off and a full 2-week iteration. During this time it were as if they were a regular, collocated team and all of the usual activities took place (the team created a definition of done, planned together, held daily stand-ups, pair programmed, socialised, retrospected etc).
At the end of the fortnight the remote team-members were moved to the other end of the corridor and set-up in their own area. For a further two-week iteration they pretended to be remote and communicated with the ‘on-site’ team members via the methods and tools that would be available remotely, with two exceptions: The entire team met daily for lunch and the whole team retrospected together at the end of the sprint, particularly focusing on what was harder now they were ‘semi-remote’. Actually I seem to remember that they did cheat a couple of times when they were struggling to resolve an urgent issue and snuck round to see each other – I considered this a positive indicator – but on the whole everyone stuck with it.
At the end of this second sprint the off-site team members returned home and the team were truly distributed for the first time (Go!).
Of course there were still location-specific problems like sharing and firewalls that needed resolving, however the move to remote working was far less painful than expected. Gelling a little as a fully co-located team, learning how to properly pronounce each others names, building relationships and gently getting to grips with the challenges of distribution not only seemed a very successful approach but was highly popular with everyone involved.
Starting with a physical person rather than a voice with an unfamiliar accent and a pixelated image.