Key Factors to Succeed at Managing Distributed Agile Teams

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Advanced communication and collaborative technologies have largely been responsible for the onset of globalization, giving organizations a competitive advantage over slow adopters. These technologies have allowed people to work almost anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This has contributed to the age of distributed teams and the virtual employee; professionals who deliver critical business value, but are not restrained by co-location requirements. The majority of agile teams are distributed in some form or another. From my own personal experience, at least 70% of the agile projects we worked in the last ten years have involved distributed teams. These include team members on another level of the building, down the road at another site, located in another city or even country.

Defined below are the 12 tips to succeed at managing distributed agile teams

1. Pre-Sprint planning

Sprint planning involves two key tasks: grooming the backlog and deciding which work to complete in the upcoming sprint. At Atlassian, we’ve found that backlog grooming is best done in a separate meeting with the scrum master and product owner before the actual sprint planning meeting.

2. Usability testing from local teams

Usability testing is an exploratory, verifiable technique and acceptable to understand how the end user would respond to a product under realistic conditions. It is recommended to go for usability testing in different geographies as the results may differ.  In case the local team is not familiar with usability testing or is new to this concept, the product owner should take out time to give a brief to them about what usability testing is all about and why is it so important. It is also wise that the product functionalities should be tested with the local audience first and then the full test lab feedback can take place at the headquarters.

3. Enhance code knowledge through reviews

Reviewing codes can help increase the overall value of the team. It helps in developing the code quality. With co-located teams, there might be issues involving to some agile practices like daily stand-ups, etc. Tools that support code analysis should be taken into account as they will help bridge the knowledge and information gap between different locations. At the end what is important is to ensure that the code is correct, easy to explain by every member of the team and is easy to maintain. One should not worry about the styling and formatting of the code as there are multiple tools available to do so. This will help in eliminating manual errors and also help to have time.

4. Create testing guidelines

Guidelines should be created in order to fill bug reports. It is also required to define the guidelines as they help in identifying the tasks which are actually complete

5. Conduct Distributed daily scrum meetings

As a scrum master, this is one of your most important daily activities to hold the daily scrum meeting same time and same place every day. But believe me it is not that easy as you are thinking. You need to think that how this daily stand up can bring value to the project. You should always try to create some tools, methods, practices by which you can bring more and more value in the project. This is a wonderful communication tool where all the team members are on the same platform to communicate the status. (a) what was all done yesterday?
(b) What all that is needed to be done today?
(c) Are there any blockers?

6. Follow test driven development:

Unit tests are written by the developers and the small unit tests fail first. An early observation of any problem in the case will help the developer to fix the bugs as quickly as possible. For better understanding, the developers can share working samples of codes with other teams as well. A test driven development can be of help in multiple ways like develop the quality of the code and easy adaptability of agile methodology.

7. Mid Sprint / End of sprint reviews:

Sprint Review Meeting. In Scrum, each sprint is required to deliver a potentially shippable product increment. This means that at the end of each sprint, the team has produced a tested, coded and usable piece of software. During this meeting, the Scrum team shows what they expert during the sprint.

8. Retrospectives

Effective participation of the whole team in retrospective is sometimes challenging. For exchange of information, a tool is a must for retrospectives of distributed teams. Some of the free tools are following:

  • Scrumble
  • Ideaboardz

9. Regular feedback from the product owner

The product owner is the person who is responsible for the management of product backlog and maximizing the value of the work. However, this may vary across organizations and Scrum teams. Hence, the product owner should set up regular meetings and discussion on multiple features that teams should consider. As product owner bridges the communication gap between the team and the stakeholders and there should be a proper flow of information from the product owner end. The primary responsibility of a product owner is to assign requirements among different teams. This all can be achieved if the product owner is able to communicate, discuss and roll out the information. One of the finest ways to do so is to follow agile principles.

10. Invest in tools for better collaboration and communication

According to a study by uSamp Research, 97 percent of employees said they believe communication contacts daily tasks.  With the use of right tools, teams can not only develop their processes but also the outcomes. In this digital era, communication becomes one of the most important features of managing an agile team. Use of an online tool can further help the team communicate and increase productivity and collaborate efficiently.

Following are two tools for communication and collaboration:

  • Fleep – It is a messenger built for collaboration, wherein the team working on a similar project will be able to have a seamless communication. Some of its features include combination with Google hangout, chatting with partners and with team members.
  • Proof Hub – A tool used to share and idea discussion across teams includes features like assigning roles to users, tracking and reporting of the task. It is an easier way to develop collaboration between multiple teams.
  • Rapport building with inter-team communication
  • Distributed agile teams need to have a good affinity and communication within themselves. It is only with more affinity and communication that a team can work together and minimize conflicts. Video conferencing is one of the best ways to talk often and understand each other better.
  •  Increase the team’s morale
  • High morale is important for seamless collaboration. It helps team members to take more pride in their work, and consistently develop performance over time. An effective communication approach followed by the team results in overall development in team morale.
  • Agile product engineering is surely helping multiple companies to achieve their product milestones and swiftly accomplish development. However, if the projects handled by distributed teams are not managed in the correct way they can delay development and holder launching product at the right time. These best practices will not only help to manage distributed agile teams but also direct product development according to the roadmap.


These are just a few of the key factors for making distributed software teams work well. There are many others we don’t have room for here. For example, there are many development practices such as build and test automation that are indispensable. However, if you start with the foundation of a learning culture with good communication, trust and collaboration, your teams will be able to master software craftsmanship over time.

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As a company comprised of individuals who have seen the vast number of improvements the Agile mindset can bring, It has become our resolute mission to bring Agile practices to every workplace the world over.

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