Distributed Agile:10 Good Practices of Successful Teams

by Avienaash Shiralige

10 good Practices of Distributed Agile Teams

Distributed agile teams can exist in different forms like.

  • Product Owner is onshore, Team is offshore
  • Team split between two or more locations
  • A complex model like product owner not with onshore team and development team distributed across time zones

I would like to share top 10 good practices that are implemented by successful distributed agile teams.

  1. Meeting face-to-face is the only way to build trust

    • Budget-in recurring face-to-face meetings between your customer, local team, and offshore team
    • Having strong communication infrastructure like Skype, Video Conf, Phones, high bandwidth, big screens to facilitate virtual team etc
    • Seed visits in frequent intervals across the length of the project
    • Both offshore and onshore teams sitting, working and partying together is a must to ignite relations and build strong trust
    • The highest performing teams are those based on trust
  2. Establish a shared project vision

    • Participation in this activity by whole team emphasizes ownership of the project results
    • Use collocation travel as best opportunity to build this
    • Doing release planning, sprint planning and daily scrum together by team builds similar shared vision
  3. Establish continuous integration (CI) with high test coverage across all teams

    • CI is important because it detects build issues immediately
    • Avoids the classic “big bang integration” at the end of projects which in my experience is the #1 reason for schedule slip
    • Teams striving towards build-state always green, reduces waiting/debug time between teams and hence build trust between them.
  4. Establish a synchronization and communication plan

    • Define how customer, local team, and offshore team will communicate and maintain synchronization
    • Define daily and distributed stand-ups, retrospectives and sprint review time
  5. Establish a rigorous Norming and Chartering plan to achieve high quality

    • Set of activities the team will perform to absolutely insure and maintain high-quality software
    • Define consensus based design,  Coding standards, Code reviews, Scrum-of-Scrums, Pair Programming, Source control philosophy, Defect tracking mechanism, Definition of “Ready” and “Done” and more.
    • You can read this excellent post on Norming and Chartering
  6. Use short sprints

    • It is not wise to coin a big project and hand it to offshore team in expectation of results after 6 months
    • Short iterations insure that you see what the offshore team is doing on a regular basis. You can give quick feedback and redirect the team quickly
    • Read my earlier post on When is Good Day to Start a Sprint
  7. ScrumMaster at both locations

    • Most impediments will need to be worked within the context and environment of each sub-team
  8. Execute 3-4 sprints with entire team at local site

    • When project starts it is wise to have offshore team travel to customer site and work together with onshore team
    • It takes 3-4 sprints of 2 weeks each at-least to build relations
    • Use this to have discussions and formalize Norming and Chartering together and also doing sprint zero activities together like setting up frameworks, initial architecture & design etc.
    • Offshore team will get to build relation directly with client and get to hear requirements directly.
  9. Involve full team in release planning, iteration planning, review, and retrospectives

    • Everyone on the team participates in the sprint planning meetings, sprint reviews with your customer, and retrospectives
    • If sub-team do their own retrospective, then share results with others teams
  10. Go for features teams over component or layer teams

    • This would reduce integration time, improves quality, team morale and builds knowledge redundancy

There are few more practices and patterns noticed in different distributed teams. In my corporate agile and scrum in-depth workshops you get to understand 30+ good practices that are applied by successful distributed teams and also some successful patterns and team structures to make it successful.