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How can you make distributed Agile stand-ups succeed?

Face-to-face meetings are great, but they can be hard to pull off. Expert Gerie Owen has firsthand experience in making distributed Agile stand-ups work.

Distributed teams don't work in all organizations; it's important to have an already-established culture of distributed...

work. Some companies insist on "face time," which makes distributed Agile stand-ups extremely difficult to facilitate.

But a face time approach deprives teams of access to the best and most knowledgeable talent no matter where they are located. It also makes it difficult for teams that have been combined through mergers and acquisitions.

But if the culture has already been established, doing Agile stand-ups and other meetings are easy.  One option is to have dispersed team members work on the same schedule with those in earlier time zones. That can work if team members agree, and if the time difference is no more than a few hours.  It may be possible to compromise on a time that works for all.

I've worked with offshore teams as well as nearshore teams. It worked best to meet with offshore teams in my early morning, at the end of their day. They appreciated my efforts to meet with them during their work hours. With nearshore teams, it's easier to plan meetings because they are in closer time zones. 

I've also worked with a team in China, halfway around the world and a full 12 hours difference. That was a challenge, because one group or another is always up later into the evening. As Asian countries become more involved in offshoring, finding ways of collaborating with those teams will become more and more important.

For those types of distributed teams, consider using a wiki or similar tool to enable all team members to post information for the entire team to view and respond to. And ultimately, it's important for distributed teams to meet in person, at least once or twice a year, so they can establish bonds that help working relationships.

Next Steps

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This was last published in September 2015

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How do you handle distributed standups in your organization?
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We handle distributed standups by using Skype or Google Hangouts displayed on large TVs in the rooms at both locations. This allows the team members to at least see each other on the screen to better pickup on the non-verbal communication.
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We’ve had some success with offshore teams using the option of meeting in our morning, which is at the end of the day, as mentioned in the article. For nearshore teams, we generally have an ongoing Skype or Google Hangout session running between the two locations all day. That works fairly well in conjunction with wikis and chat clients.
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  1. call people by name
  2. Talk about actual work done, not specific ticket numbers. don't say I did task AC32, 
  3. Have collaboration tools, Video conferencing tools like Go to Meeting, Web Ex, Lync, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.
  4. Have ways to share information electronically, and build expectations that everyone should be prepared to work from another site.
  5. Communicate schedules openly, and be prepared for some change.
  6. Establish core hours, and try to have your team stick to them.
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It does seem like our remote team members have some difficulty engaging in stand-ups and other team meetings. They talk to what they've worked on, but never speak up beyond that. I can understand, because I find a lot of team meetings boring even in person, but when I call in, well it's pretty much excruciating! So much mumbling, trivial chit-chat and back-and-forth of side conversations! I usually end up not saying much and hoping for the meeting to end soon.
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