The Scrum Master role is a challenging one, primarily because you have no formal authority and often are expected to be accountable for the results of the entire team. Co-located teams are challenging enough by themselves, but the trend towards a global economy is leading to distributed, virtual teams that still wish to operate in an Agile manner. This means that the demand for effective, virtual Scrum Masters is rising very quickly.
What’s the difference between a typical Scrum Master role versus a virtual one? The biggest difference is obvious – the effectiveness of team communication. Being physically apart makes collaboration and communication very difficult, especially if the team members are in different time zones.
What can a Scrum Master do to help maximize the effectiveness of the team despite the communication barrier? Here are a few tips to try.
Tip #1 – Establish “core work hours”
Having team members across the world will be difficult to manage, but ensuring the team is committed and available to each other is one of the most important things that the Scrum Master can do. One approach is to establish a block of core work hours that everyone agrees to follow. Being just a phone call (or instant message) away can significantly enhance team morale.
Tip #2 – Rotate times for Daily Scrum (once in a while)
If you have team members across the globe, you will likely have some people working odd hours – either very early in the morning or late at night. One idea to help some of the team members achieve some level of normalcy is to alternate the schedule for the Daily Scrum once every sprint or two (NOT all the time!). I understand that the Scrum Guide suggests the Daily Scrum to be the same time and same place every single day, but this guide did not account for distributed teams when it was written.
Tip #3 – Bring everyone together, preferably regularly
Working remotely can be hard sometimes because it is very challenging to feel like you are part of a bigger mission. If you have the budget, bringing people together at least once at the beginning of the project can make a tremendous difference in terms of building camaraderie. If your team never gets a chance to meet each other face to face, it will likely require much longer time for the team to progress through the four stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing), which means it will probably take longer for the team to learn to work together effectively. Sending people on travel can be costly at times, but it may be a worthy investment!
In closing, distributed teams is a trend that will likely continue to grow, so we need to find a way to ensure we can still be effective working within the Agile framework despite these challenges.