Micromanagement is Not Transparency!
Do you want to know what your geographically distributed team is doing?
Maybe your team has a sticky-card wall. Or a kanban board. And, maybe they post pictures of it on their wiki. Or, maybe they use a tool and talk about their status in their standup meetings. And, maybe because of the time of their standup meetings, you can't hear what they are doing. So, you do what you think is a reasonable thing. You call a meeting before or after the standup with everyone on the team in your geographic location, and ask each person what he or she is doing.
Do you know what that is? That is a serial status meeting. That wastes everyone's time. Including yours. DON'T DO IT!
Sorry I yelled at you. I did want to get your attention.
You certainly have a need to know about the state of the project. But here's the funny thing about agile teams. Because agile team members are more likely to collaborate, you don't need to know about each person's individual state. No, it's not a guarantee that each person will work with everyone else, but if the team has a reasonable definition of done, the team is more likely to collaborate than not.
But, you still have this problem of knowing what the project state is, don't you? So, here is what you can ask about and look for:
- Ask when the demo is scheduled. If your team really is agile, they will have a demo scheduled reasonably soon–certainly within four weeks. If they don't have one scheduled within four weeks, ask how soon they can show you working software. Remember working product is the best indication of progress.
- Ask if you can watch the demo. Now, remember that watch means that you use your eyes and not your mouth. If you did not provide the requirements, you don't have a chance to comment, unless the product owner invites you to comment. I have written comments fast and furiously to the product owner, but even I have kept my mouth shut.
- If you really want data, you can look for burnup charts, velocity charts, or throughput, cycle time, or cumulative flow.
Data is great. If you've read any of my books or much of what I write, you know how much I like data. And, in a geographically distributed agile team, if you, as a manager want to know how the team is doing, the data is secondary. The data is for the team to learn from. You can learn much more by seeing a demo.
Now, if the team asks for help with its data, by all means, help the team. But, if you want to know how the team is doing, watch the demo. And, watch how the team executes the demo. Does one person lead the demo and the rest of the people defer to that one person? Are the other people there, proud of their work? Or, have they left the demo, never to return?
If you want to know how your geographically distributed team is doing, ask them. Explain that you need to understand their status. They will tell you. You don't need to micromanage. This works for any team, distributed or not.
And, don't forget that you can learn a lot just by watching, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. That information is much more valuable than a serial status meeting.