Scrum and Distributed teams? Hand in hand

Let me jump directly to the conclusion: nowhere in the Scrum guide, it says that a team should be co-located. Additionally, nowhere in the Agile Manifesto it says that a team should be co-located. Focus on building relations and interactions between team members and make sure they have the right tools and hardware!

Teams will work distributed more and more: it is hard to find the right people locally, people work from home because of horrible commutes, because they want a healthy work-life balance, etc.

With that being said, why do so many people say that Scrum is only possible when a team is co-located? I think there are several reasons. Let me try to explain some of their arguments. The arguments that I hear most often.

You can’t communicate when you are not in the same room? Huh… where did they live the last ten years? OK, I agree that most every Skype call still starts with the infamous words: “Can you hear me?” One of my team members at the Happy Melly team, however, is working in Sudan at the moment. She has a great internet connection. I therefore assume that most everyone can have a good high-bandwidth internet connection. Tools like Skype, Slack, Zoom, Sococo, Trello, Retrium, I Done This, Teams, Fun Retro, Lino, etc. all these tools provide the facilities you need to communicate within a Scrum team. So communication should not be an issue in my opinion.

But wait, in the Agile Manifesto it is stated: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Yes, and I totally agree with that. This is the reason why I will always use a webcam in meetings or even record meetings so other team members can watch the meeting when they are online.

You can’t use sticky notes when the team is not co-located. Err, why not? Depending on your team setup,  you can work with a buddy who keeps physical boards in sync. You can make pictures of boards and share them via the tools described above. Or you can use Trello or LeanKit for example, in combination with a (huge) touchscreen. Is not being able to use sticky notes really an argument? Don’ t think so.

Then, a more tricky argument… “How do I know they are really working?” If you have doubts whether your team members are actually working, well you may have a completely different problem… Don’t like it, but let me answer with a counter question: How do you know today that all co-located team members are working? Are you not fooling yourself if you think that simply because people share the same room, they never doze off? It is about the results, not about the time people spend in their office chair. You should know when people are not contributing to the results: it should not be connected to their location to be aware of this.

I worked with many Scrum teams, and many of them were distributed teams. Some teams were even located in three different time zones. Some of the teams performed better than others: I will be honest about that. The teams that performed well had one thing in common: the teams really were a team. They would do everything for each other, everything to realize their goal. Everything to be successful as a team!

Tools solve most of the problems that remote working team members encounter. However, there is one team characteristic that tools can’t solve: team camaraderie. Building the team, making sure they act as a team is important. When you have a team that will rely on each other to do a good job, it doesn’t matter where they work. The organisation should make sure they do everything to build a great team. A team where members trust each other. Where they can rely on each other.

There are many practices to build great teams, think about defining team values, making personal maps, do shuttle diplomacy, define clear work agreements, etc. Beside good tools, you need to invest in team relations and you need to continue investing.

The agile manifesto states: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” This for me is one of the most important principles.

Nowhere in the Scrum guide, it says that a team should be co-located. Additionally, nowhere in the Agile Manifesto it says that a team should be co-located. Focus on building relations and interactions between team members and make sure they have the right tools and hardware to get the job done!

What do you think about distributed Scrum teams?

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