Effective Communication for Distributed Agile/Scrum Teams

Posted in Agile, Scrum, Planning, and Management - 0

I’ve been getting a lot of requests lately of people asking for guidance for effective communication techniques when working in or with distributed agile/Scrum teams. I outline some approaches in my book, The Scrum Field Guide , but it is not all inclusive.

As you research this more, you will find standard answers, including

  • Have joint team daily standups, where one team is either getting up early or staying up late
  • Use real-time video if the teams are close enough to each other to have time zone overlap
  • Have a phone line always on where team members can just talk and the other side responds
  • Distribute vertically (north/south) where time zone impacts is minimal
  • Have dedicated office hours where the team will always be available
  • Travel frequently

These are all fine approaches, however, they don’t fully solve the core requirement for teams, which is to have rich, effective and highly saturated communication between all team members. Whilte I'm not sure anything can fully solve that core requirement, I have been experimenting wiht a new technique that goes a long way toward improving communication.

Consider two Scrum teams; one in India and one in San Francisco – roughly 12 hours apart from each other. Well call them ST-I and ST-SF. Getting these two teams to have a good work-life balance and maintain the goal of rich, saturated communication will forever be a challenge and will only (likely) be solved by extensive travel.

What we started doing was to have ST-I record a video at the end of their day. They put together some notes and checked the video and the notes (not a large status email) into the branch. When ST-SF came into the office, they were able to watch the video, look at the notes and pick up where their sister team, ST-I, left off. As their day progressed, they kept their notes up to date and at the end of their day, they created another video and put it in the branch, right alongside the code. The videos would be five to 15 minutes in length and would be done by screen captures, phones or other immediately-available technologies and stitched together with a Mac or Windows application.

This worked fairly well; however, the video wasn't synced with the notes, which were often 2-3 pages long. That meant that the team members were trying to read the notes while simultaneously watching the video. This proved impossible. The team members found they had to go back and watch the video a few times to get it. So the video and notes were working, but the solution was far from ideal.

Recently we’ve been using various products like Camtasia (paid) orOBS Studio (free), but the premise/goal/outcome is the same. Teams create a quick PowerPoint (or text file) with information on what was done for the day. They record their screen and also record themselves speaking while the screen record is happening. They walk the other team through the status for the day, and it results in a quick and efficient team sync. That way, when the next team picking up the work needs to know what’s going on, they can reference the video. We’ve experimented with posting on hosted sites like YouTube, however, due to sensitive information, we find it easier to post to a shared project folder (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Resilio Sync) where people have the video upon starting their day.