2013-04-12 14.17.21Many geographically distributed teams struggle with stand-up or scrum meetings. This struggle can cause teams to stop holding stand-up meetings, or even worse, abandon Agile. Distributed teams need to work a bit harder to make stand-ups work, however there is no reason that they can’t hold effective stand-up meetings. Distributed teams tend to have three common problems holding stand-ups that can negatively impact effectiveness: finding a standard time, building solid relationships and making sure everyone stays engaged.

The first problem is finding a standard time that the team can hold their meeting on a daily basis.  Being spread across different time zones can make this a logistics nightmare. Try having team members shift their work schedules to create a time the team can meet. Don’t inconvenience one member or group of members for the whole project, but rather spread the time zone pain by shifting who has to rearrange their day at the beginning of each iteration. You can use tools like Doodle to help.

The second common problem for distributed teams is that it is hard to get to know your team members from afar.  Disembodied voices coming out of speaker are not optimal for generating the relationships that bind teams together.  Use video conferencing liberally (you do not have to use high-powered video equipment to get the benefit, laptop webcams can be highly effective). Mike Cohn suggests creating a deck of cards containing the picture of each person on the Scrum Team and then providing each team member with a deck. During meetings, team members can hold up the picture of the person talking. The exercise helps team learn to recognize voices and makes it hard to answer emails at the same time. Raja Bavani of MindTree suggests getting the team together at least once when a large project begins, so that the team can match a face with each voice.

Finally, distributed teams sometimes find it harder for remote team members to stay attentive for the entire stand-up. Try having team members randomly alternate turns talking as one potential solution. When I see this issue, I suggest that the team check the agenda and make it very focused (that extra non-stand-up stuff has not be added), make sure the meeting runs no more than 15 minutes and ensure that the team is interacting with each other not just with the Scrum Master.

A stand-up meeting is important for the team to synchronize, plan their activities and identify impediments. A team that abandons the stand-up is almost always taking the easy way out, and will suffer in their productivity as a result. Distributed teams often need to leverage some of the more aggressive techniques discussed above to ensure that the stand-up meeting is effective.