Scrum in virtual teams

Scrum as a process of software development is often used in agile development environment, and no wonder that it’s so popular: it’s very easy to learn and requires little effort to start using it.

Chris recommended scrum to the team. After a couple of months of experimenting and polishing the process, we are using it successfully in our virtual team. I will show you how we are using scrum.

Virtual teams and scrum — no way

Before we start, you are probably thinking: scrum in virtual teams — no way, that’s impossible or at least there is no way to be as productive when you have team members all around the world. It’s harder to communicate with everybody when they are far a way, by IM or phone, different time zones, etc. It’s so much easier when the team member is sitting right next to you in the office.

You are probably right, but there are ways to get similar comfort in virtual teams, if you try hard enough.

Communication

The key for delivering a quality product is good communication between team members. You have to have good developers, designers, project managers, qa, but if the communication is bad, you will end up with bad product or at least you will miss your deadlines. Scrums forces the team members to communicate on the projects. To our team, scrum improved the communication and took it to a whole new level.

We communicate in three ways: Campfire, Basecamp and IM. For scrum we use Campfire. Campfire is a place where we have 10AM meetings and hang around during work day.

Scrum meetings

Most important part of scrum are certainly scrum meetings. We tend to have scrum meetings between 10 and 10:15AM, so everyone can continue working after that. If somebody forgets the meeting, he is reminded by the scrum master. Our scrum meetings are bit different compared to the original scrum meetings idea. By scrum, in scrum meetings, team members should answer three questions:

  • What have you done since yesterday?
  • What are you planning to do by today?
  • Do you have any problems preventing you from accomplishing your goal?

First we used Campfire for answering all three questions. But after using scrum for couple of months, we realized that answering all three questions is unnecessary. We use Backpack for tracking our work. By logging into backpack, everybody can see what was done yesterday and what everybody is working on currently.

Two questions need to be answered in our scrum meetings:

  • What are you planning to do today?
  • Do you have any problems preventing you from accomplishing your goal ?

and we post them in this form for easy overview:

[Plan] 1) publish presentation and continue with fixing N2 bugs 2) need to discuss N2 bugs with Andrey

This way messages are short and concise, and provide enough information for our team members.

Planning

For planning sprints, product backlog, sprint backlog, etc. we are using Basecamp. For product backlog we use writeboard in Basecamp, for sprint backlog we use Basecamp to-do lists. Clients can see what’s happening all the time with their project. You can read how we are using Basecamp here. We don’t have burndown charts for now, since we can live without them, but we plan using something like it in the future.

Sprint retrospective

To improve our process we have sprint retrospectives, but not after every sprint and not as four hour meetings.

Since we are using Campfire every day, besides scrum meetings, ideas of improvement come up. After discussing them, they are posted to Basecamp, where we discuss them further. This way new ideas are discussed on the way and tried out, to see whether they can improve our process.

We had the last retrospective a couple of months ago. One hour was enough to discuss process improvements. We use Campfire for sprint retrospectives too.

Summary

We are using scrum in our virtual team and we love it. Only real difference as we see it, is that our meetings are conducted in Campfire, not in the office. But that is not a problem if you are working with people who want to make things happen. In some situations, we see virtual meetings in Campfire as an advantage: it’s a place where you can always find someone to help you (now or later), which is not always the case in the office (what if the person is on second floor...).

Virtual teams are not perfect, but compared to a traditional office it has advantages and disadvantages. We are not complete strangers though, thanks to Chris, we met on the Wildbit retreat recently, which was an amazing experience. We do plan on using video conferencing in the near future.

Scrum improved are process significantly. Our team is more productive, aware of what others are doing and what obstacles might be in the way of finishing products on time.

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