Managing Timezones in Geographically Distributed Agile Teams
Your managers have asked you to start a project with people all over the world. What’s the first thing you might do? Draw a bubble chart of time zone dispersion to visualize your time zones to see who is where and offset by how much.
I bet that sentence was confusing to you. That’s because working in multiple timezones can be confusing. Who is where? When is each person available to talk and meet?
One of the most troublesome problems in a geographically distributed agile project is how to collaborate and maintain agility. Many of you who registered for our webinar asked, “How can we maintain agile principles with distributed teams?” The first step is knowing where people are, so you have a shot at collaboration.
Here is a timezone bubble chart of a previous participant from one of our workshops.
First we drew the bubbles with all of team’s locations, and then we added the time zone to make the time differences clear.
Now you can see the timezones that people live and work in. This project has people 11 hours apart. And, with people based in Israel, where the workweek is Sunday-Thursday, they have further constraints on when they can meet.
Here are some ideas to resolve the timezone issues on your team:
- Show the timezone bubble chart to your managers so they understand what you are attempting to manage. Often, the managers don’t realize what they are asking you to accomplish with team members you didn’t select. If this is a brand new team, maybe they will reconsider the team composition and create a team that’s closer in time zones.
- Share the timezone bubble chart, so all the team members can participate in selecting planning and standup times.
- Share the timezone pain. Do not make only one person or only one timezone delegate always arise early or stay late.
- Know if everyone needs to participate. Yes, everyone does need to participate for an iteration planning meeting or a standup. But maybe not for a problem-solving meeting. Make sure only the people involved in solving this problem are at the meeting.
- Ask people if they will timeshift. Make sure you ask in advance, so people can make arrangements for their personal lives.
- Make sure people either have necessary bandwidth to participate at home or food and beds to participate at work, if they need to participate outside of normal work hours. Asking people to be on a call at 3am or 6am, and not providing them sufficient support is nuts. Yes, I am happy to have a conversation with your management about this.
This team had testers in the east and developers in the west, with deployment in the middle. They told their management they needed testing closer to development. The last I heard, they were trying to create cross-functional teams within 5 timezones, instead of 11.
This is one case where you might decide to use a kanban approach to your project. I would definitely track the cycle time of an item and use that information to help the team experiment with different approaches to working together.
Managing timezones in your geographically distributed team won’t be easy. If you can see the problem, you can see your choices and make better decisions.
Next week, I’ll address the issues of maintaining the principles of agility in distributed teams.