I thought I would share some thoughts on a couple of projects I have worked on where the teams have been spread across the globe.

My first taste of this was a while ago. I was working on a new application for an international financial service provider. The product team was based in the UK with the main element of the business but with agile development teams spread across Vietnam, UK and the USA. The second time was working with Australia and Vietnam and the most recent has been working with team across Europe.

There are a couple of things that I think can really help when having to work in this way. Even though the world is getting smaller through technology there are a lot of tools out there and some times they are more of hindrance than a help if you haven’t gotten your infrastructure in place. Also everyone has an opinion, these are valid but can make agreeing on the right process, methodology and tool tricky.

There are a set of challenges that you need to understand first.

  • VISION
  • TIME
  • CULTURE
  • PEOPLE & PROCESS
  • COMMUNICATION
  • SKILLS
  • INFRASTRUCTURE

Setting up for success is really key. This can be easier said than done but remember “Fail Fast” if something doesn’t work the first time learn, adjust, test and refine your apporach based on your findings.

Below are some ideas around how you can identify the challenges and formulate an understanding around them;

VISION

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Do you have a clear vision of what it is you are trying to achieve? Have have you laid out a clear road map that teams can understand and meets the need aligning to the strategy and customer? If YES is the answer the you should be able to write a clear vision statement which should be come the mantra of the teams.

TIME

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What are the challenges around time. Work out when your teams are online, map the cross overs to see when your teams are online together if at all.You can then categorize them I do this in the following way:

ALL FOR ONE – This is the time when everyone is online and the most collaboration can take place
LONE WOLF  – They are isolated at this point, this has the highest risk as if anything goes wrong the team is one its own to resolve until one of the other teams can help out. This is why people and process are important so the team knows how to handle the possible situation it may face.
BUDDIES – This is where a minimum of two teams are online at the same time. This is less risky than being LONE WOLF but can still have impact on to overall capability depending on which teams have with skills and people.

Even if you don’t use my terms understanding this can help you to make sure you getting the most of the times when you are all together and make sure you have the right processes and procedures in place when you don’t.

Case:

Offshore team 1 in Vietnam where doing a lot of the overall development. Due to the time to the UK Stand Ups with the team where held in the morning, they had already been working for half a day by this point so this is used to validate the priority and progress of the work at hand and set the priority for the next day which is actually split across two days. 

Offshore team 2 in the USA would have the morning stand up in the afternoon GMT as this would allow the product team to brief them on the progress of Offshore team 1 and set the priority. 

The development teams did not cross over at all but the product team touched on both teams and let them with the priority of work. The process for all teams where clear and effective and where constantly reviewed to make sure that they did not impede the teams. Even though there were failing these review with both team, understood and changes to the process to impelmented so that failure could be averted in this manner going forward.

CULTURE

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This is one of the important ones, what is your culture? Do you believe that the culture that exist will allow you to successfully deliver the fluidity required to work in this way? Even though culture is something that can change and develop as teams work together making sure that you set the expectation what type of culture you need. Happy teams are productive teams, positivity breeds collaboration and efficiency. The best teams I have worked with are those who are happy and infused by the challenge, leading in a positive manner even when things go wrong can be difficult but be honest and direct rather than guarded and allusive. Don’t be afraid to fail, learn and then try again its rare to build a master piece with out getting something wrong on the way. Make sure you have the right people for the job who fit the culture you are trying to create.

People and Process

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Culture leads on to people and process well, making sure you have the right people is key. If you hate what you do, sometimes you have to ask yourself why are you doing it. Successful teams love what they do, its there passion . They don’t just come to work to work they come to work because it evokes an emotion. Of course this isn’t always possible and making sure that you take into account the needs of the people that are working in the team is important.

The process that they need to follow to be efficient are important too. There is a need to keep the team well oiled and have clear procedures an process, but don’t get to heavy. Quality and agility are key but while being able to work and adapt quickly. Think about these processes and how they may impact,be open to changing them as you go. Again failure should be a negative issue, plan some continuance for failure which will allow the team to be more creative in the output and develop more interesting ideas, this is a curicial part of learning

Communication 

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This is so important…

You need to have some really good communicators on the each of your teams. One of my pet hates is not communicating things no matter how bad they are. If you are open and honest, clear and direct then you have a greater chance of delivering on time. If things are hiding and not communicated they are siloed and will more than likely not be resolved until its critical or to late.

I believe in positive communication, I will admit that I can be very direct and sometime this isn’t the best approach. But from experience by having direct communicators on teams if those team member that are not that way it is a channel that can be used to get to the point.

The logistics of communicating with dispersed teams is complicated. You want to break down as many of the barriers you have to communicating as possible.

  1. Conference calls only
  2. Conference calls and IM
  3. Conference calls, IM and Screen Sharing
  4. Video Conferencing, IM, Screen Sharing, Team Boards (e.g. Slack )

You may notice that email is not in the list, even though for many organisation this is the primary means of communication I believer that there are much better ways for teams to communicate so the rule is…. Email is a last resort. This makes teams talk to each other rather than fire and forget. Of course you can’t not use email complete…… or could you?

You can score from 1 – 4. the higher the score the easier it will be for you teams to over come the barriers of communicating and collaborating effectively.

The final two on this list skills and infrastructure I am going to leave to another post, I want to go into all of these in more detail but these to especially

4 C’s 

So where to the 4 C’s come in. Well I like to use the 4 C’s to make sure that I am think about the enablers. These are

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Clarity
  • Calibration

Each one of the above will help you to make sure that you are addressing the challenges that identified, in the next post I will go in to the mechanics of the 4 c’s and how to use to help your team be successful.

Hopefully this was an interesting read and you will look out for the follow on the 4 C’s coming soon.

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