In this issue:
Kelly, a manager who served two geographically distributed teams, was concerned. Both teams worked on the Data and Reports module for the product. While the first team worked as fast as they could, the organization wanted features faster. Kelly had advocated for another team to join the first team. The organization assigned another team to Data and Reports.
Kelly had facilitated a one-week workshop where the two teams learned to work together in one place. In that workshop, the teams learned to collaborate with the other team. They created names for themselves: D&R1 and D&R2 after Thing1 and Thing 2 from the Dr. Suess book, The Cat in the Hat. The teams liked the idea of being twins who collaborated.
The teams had worked collaboratively on Data and Reports for the past six weeks. However, the teams' throughput wasn't what she expected.
Kelly was sure that the distribution wasn't the source of the problems. Everyone had been with the company for at least a year. They were comfortable working from their homes or from co-working space. The teams had sufficient hours of overlap.
Kelly didn't expect that two teams would go twice as fast as one team. However, when she measured their joint cycle time, she discovered they were only 1.2 times as fast as the original team. And, the interim demos she saw crashed all the time. Something was not working.
She decided to be explicit about two principles of successful distributed agile teams: transparency and pervasive communication. She decided to model those principles and start with herself in her one-on-ones.
Principle: Create transparency at all levels
Kelly used video for all her one-on-ones. She started with Ben, a senior member of the technical staff for D&R1, the original team. She asked Ben several questions about how he thought things were going. She asked Ben if he thought each team had transparency inside the team. He thought they did.
Then she asked about the transparency between the teams. He paused and frowned. “I don't know enough about what Tricia's doing with some of the modeling. I think we're blocking them for some features, but I don't really know.”
Kelly said, “Thank you. I'd like to know more about that. Is it okay if I ask Tricia to join us for an exploration meeting a little later, after our one-on-one?”
Ben nodded and said that was fine. They finished their one-on-one, and Kelly added the exploration meeting to her public kanban board.
Principle: Pervasive communication
Later, Kelly met one-on-one with Tricia, the senior member of the technical staff for D&R2. After checking in with Tricia, Kelly asked Tricia about some of the details for the modeling. Tricia opened her mouth and closed it. Kelly said, “I bet you're trying to tell me something I don't want to know. How about you spit it out?”
Tricia smiled. “How could you tell?” she said. “Look, I'm not trying to tell tales, but I'm really concerned about the way we're working. We seem to have so much defined—that isn't really defined—that we're not running enough experiments. I'm pretty sure some of our modeling is wrong. That means the reports will be wrong, too.
“What do you recommend?” Kelly asked.
“We need to be transparent between both teams about what isn't defined. I think we need to agree on ways to explore and experiment.”
“Excellent idea,” Kelly said. “Is it okay if I invite Ben to a three-way discussion so we can pave the way for the teams?
In the next Pragmatic Manager, I'll describe the experiments the teams ran. Several weeks later, the teams had significantly higher throughput. And, the product was much more stable.
Distributed Teams Need More Explicit Transparency and Communication
Everyone benefits when distributed managers embrace the principles for successful distributed agile teams. In fact, it might be even more important for managers to live the principles.
The two principles Kelly used are:
- Create transparency at all levels.
- Practice pervasive communication at all levels.
Once space and time separate your team members, the more they need to embrace and act on the ideas of transparency and communication. And, that includes managers.
If you're a manager, you might wonder how to best use your one-on-ones. I've teamed up with Esther Derby to start a new school, Your Management Mentors. Our first offering is Make the Most of Your One-on-Ones. If you'd like a refresher or if you've never seen great one-on-ones, this course is for you.
These principles are from my most recent book (with Mark Kilby), From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver. If you have a distributed or dispersed team, do yourself a favor and read it. I'll continue to discuss the principles from the book in these newsletters.
Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.
Here are links you might find useful:
- My Books
- Online Workshops
- Managing Product Development Blog
- Create an Adaptable Life
- Johanna's Fiction
Till next time,
© 2019 Johanna Rothman
Tags: geographically distributed teams, management, servant leadership