A Lesson in Managing Distributed Teams

by Suhail Bhandari

AgileNYC-Seidenberg

When it comes to agile methodology and managing distributed teams, there’s only one master.

          “I gotta girl in Paris, I gotta girl in Rome
          I even gotta girl in Vatican Dome
          I gotta girl right here, I gotta girl right there
          And I gotta girlfriend everywhere…”

                                             – Lou Bega

The last AglieNYC meeting, held at Pace University’s Seidenberg School, was a real eye opener.

With the world becoming smaller and businesses embracing buzzwords like multi-team, multi-location, multiple business area and even multi-time zone, it’s surprising how many people still use ‘distributed teams’ to defend moments of unproductivity.

“Distributed teams are inevitable, so they can’t be excuses!” began Ian White and Andrew Borrows, the presenters that night. “Lets start out by listing the biggest problems faced by POs and distributed teams.” The problems were:

  • Inefficient communication
  • Poor prioritization of tasks
  • Inconsistent technology and connectivity
  • Different work cultures and languages
  • Ineffective decisions and delegation
  • Distrust between teams
  • Time zone irregularities
  • Duplication of efforts

There’s a common feeling that the main issue is all about ‘lack of communication’. However, the problem is actually poor project structure and teamwork.

“Now we can find solutions by asking ‘why,’ at each step…”

  •  It’s a PO’s job to point out problems a team’s having when they can’t see it for themselves. Some ways to do this are one on one chats, setting weekly goals and holding teams accountable, timely interaction, periodic reviews, and reports to measure team effort vs. client happiness.
  •  Remove cultural limitations and distrust. It’s a widely held perception that Indian software professionals will always say ‘yes’ to everything when asked a question such as ‘are you on schedule?’ or ‘Do you think you will hit the deadline?’ By discussing this very point with offshore teams and explaining that a problem shared is a problem halved, it can start to build a safe environment for employees, whereby a dishonest ‘yes’ at least turns to an honest ‘not sure’.
  •  Incorporate Skype and WebEx into daily routines. Frequent simulated face-to-face discussions provide valuable feedback – instantly.
  • Share the risk, don’t just outsource projects. This encourages teams to ping-pong ideas back and forth, reducing scope creep to make room for ad hoc requests.
  • Follow the first principle of the agile manifesto – Thou shall make our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. This helps POs control the project pipeline and not overload their team.
  • There is no excuse for starting a project with incomplete or inaccurate high-level requirements. This almost always causes time and resource wastage.

Management is a crucial aspect of ensuring any team operates efficiently – especially if that team happens to be dispersed around the globe. As always, good planning and communication really helps keep things running smoothly. A distributed team is not a limitation; it’s an opportunity – and it’s time we take advantage!

 

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