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Managing Timezones in Geographically Distributed Agile Teams


Rothman Consulting Group, Inc.
Vol 9, #8: Managing Timezones in Geographically Distributed Agile Teams
 Mar 7, 2012                                                                                      ISSN: 2164-1196

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:
  1. 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.
  2. Share the timezone bubble chart, so all the team members can participate in selecting planning and standup times.
  3. Share the timezone pain. Do not make only one person or only one timezone delegate always arise early or stay late.
  4. 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.
  5. Ask people if they will timeshift. Make sure you ask in advance, so people can make arrangements for their personal lives.
  6. 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.

Do You Want to Work More Effectively in Geographically Distributed Teams?

If you would you like to work more effectively in your geographically distributed team, please join Shane Hastie and me at our two-day workshop this April 17-18 in Pleasanton, CA.
Together, we’ll experience how you plan and deliver working product in a geographically distributed team. If you know either of us, you know it will be not just jam-packed with learning, but also fun. We keep a kanban board of your issues so we address them during the workshop. Our workbook is over 70 pages at this point, so you’ll leave with a good set of notes to remind you of the important points we cover in the session. And, every participant receives a copy of Johanna’s Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management, with a chapter on multi-site teams. 
Early registration lasts until Mar. 15, so sign up now. Bring a team and receive an even more generous discount.
If you are still not sure, sign up and listen to our webinar about geographically distributed teams.
Welcome or Welcome Back to the Pragmatic Manager

I am still clearing bounces on this list, and reconnecting with many of you on LinkedIn. If you have missed issues, see back issues of the Pragmatic Manager here.
If I’m not connected with you yet on LinkedIn, please do connect with me. I want to connect with you, my subscribers.
I keep my blogs current with my writings: Managing Product Development
Hiring Technical People
and my newest blog (with it’s own new mailing list) Create an Adaptable Life.
© 2012 Johanna Rothman



    This is a picture of one of the most important tools I used with my first distributed agile team.

    Having this clock made a use difference. When people said I’m leaving at 16:00. We could look at the clock and realize that they were actually saying, I’m leaving in 5 minutes.

    I bought this clock out of my personal money as a gift to the team. It was probably one of my best interventions.

    For my new office I am planning to have a few of these clocks hanging around. (yes I have that on my pc, it’s not the same)

  2. one other thing: Do an Inventory of actual work hours. You can plot each and every team member’s actual work hours on a line chart and then consider what can be done to increase overlap time, if needed.


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