Jon Archer is a software professional with over 15 years experience who is lucky enough to work out of his mountain retreat high above Denver in the Colorado Rockies. He has worked as a software engineer with various technologies during the course of his career as well as a couple of diversions managing teams. These days he is the scrum master for a challengingly distributed team with members in Massachusetts, Colorado and Hyderabad India. He is a passionate believer in agile principles and is a key advocate thereof for his current employer Perceptive Informatics. He blogs at http://www.jonarcher.com/ and tweets as @9200feet Jon is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 19 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile
Top ten tips for distributed scrum team teleconferences
Distributed software teams using scrum can spend a fair bit of time on
the telephone. Even if you only talk for just sprint planning, daily
stand-ups, reviews and retrospectives that could easily be 6+ hours in a
two week sprint.
When the team is spread around geographically you inevitably have a mix
of people: some feeling tired because it’s early, some feeling tired
because it’s late and always some annoying peppy ones because it’s the
middle of their morning and they’ve had 7 coffees so far.
Add in cultural differences and that English (or whatever your primary
language for communicating is) might not be someone’s native tongue and
you are sometimes going to have challenges.
Here then, after acting as scrum master for several months on a
distributed team with people in six different locations, three different
time zones and two different countries, are my top ten tips to help get
past those inevitable awkward silences:
1. Use a lot of questions.
Sometimes it’s not clear where to go next. If you can think of lots of
different ways to frame questions, that can help. A question that wasn’t
clear posed one way may be more accessible put in different terms.
2. Ask specific people for their view.
Asking, “Hey Bob, what are your thoughts on this?” will usually trigger
one of two things: either Bob is going to tell you he doesn’t really
understand what’s going on, or he shares the thoughts he was sitting on.
Sometimes you might do this several times in a row. So after Bob you
could be following up with, “And what about you Sally?”
3. Ask the quiet people.
This is a variation on #2. When conversation is flowing well sometimes
the quieter members of a team can be left without a chance to
contribute. When conversation isn’t flowing at all it’s often tempting
to prod the more vocal members of the team. Instead of starting with the
“easy” targets seek out other team members to encourage their
4. Volunteer your own opinion.
Just because the Scrum Master is meant to be a facilitator doesn’t mean
he or she can’t have a useful opinion. Myself I can often hardly keep my
mouth shut. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to throw out what you see,
what you think should be done and solicit feedback on that.
5. Volunteer a ridiculous opinion.
This may be a bit Machiavellian for some, but I confess I use it myself:
“So how about we use to solve ?” If it’s daft enough, somebody will
usually be unable to resist telling you why that won’t work…which is the
perfect segue into “Well what could we do instead?”
6. Use some humor.
You don’t need to be a stand up comedian and you don’t need to aim for
tears streaming down people’s faces and belly laughs. But a little
comedy can help lighten the mood and reenergize a meeting.
Self-deprecating humor is a good way to go. Especially easy when you’ve
got a ton of things like me to laugh at about yourself.
7. Take a break.
Long meetings need breaks. When you’re all sat in a conference room
together nobody thinks twice about nipping out to fetch a cup of water.
Everyone else can obviously see who’s gone and carry on accordingly or
wait for their return if it’s crucial. But when you’re “blind” at the
end of a phone I find more structure helps. I either build in a 10-15
minute break midway through a longer meeting or, if I sense things are
flagging, ask if people would like to stop for a bit.
8. Switch topics.
There is, as they say, no point flogging a dead horse. If you’re making
no headway as team with something perhaps there’s some other useful
topic you can pursue together. Something more interesting or less
ambiguous than what you were struggling with.
9. Do a mini-retrospective.
You don’t have to save retrospectives for the end of a sprint. You can
retrospect on a single meeting or even midway through: “Is this working
OK? Should we go about this differently?”
10. Note when people are “done.”
Now I don’t mean “done-done” in the definition of done sense. I mean
worn out and you’re not going to get anywhere. Sometimes it’s just time
to stop. There’s always another day.
Do you have any more tips for keeping teleconference meetings for distributed teams going? If so please share in the comments.
Published at DZone with permission of Jon Archer, author and DZone MVB. (source)
(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)