One of the best parts of working for a multinational company is having colleagues from all over the world. From my perspective, I love that I get the chance to learn all kinds of new things about new places and new cultures, but from a corporate perspective, it’s about spreading ideas, aligning the company culture, and fostering tolerance and diversity.
The bad side to this is that the project budget doesn’t always align with these lofty goals — especially when you’re based in one of the most expensive cities in the world. To combat this, our project has historically been divided across three major offices with teams of contractors based in two more.
When we first started to introduce Scrum, the natural divide was along geographic borders, not the least because each of the three centers was already home to a specific area of domain focus. The hiccup was that our team of contractors, who held key framework knowledge and responsibility, sat far, far away in Budapest. Our team in Oslo faced the problem of incorporating these invaluable team members into a very hands-on, interactive software process.
After months of trial and error, we finally got a decent sound and video system in place, so that they could easily participate in our daily standup meetings. The crucial part of this was finding a way to talk to them each morning that would not hinder the already-irritating process of attending a daily meeting. Traditionally, videoconference systems (and even teleconference systems) have been difficult to set up and often require a dedicated meeting room, but we knew we needed videoconferencing, because too much meaning is lost over the phone.
Our contracting team works for an external company, so with no dedicated team room in their office, the overhead of finding a meeting room at all was prohibitive. We needed something simple and painless enough that we could meet every day. The solution we found was to set up a dedicated system with a microphone and roundtable webcam in our team room in Oslo (where the Post-It-generating task board is located) and to have the contractors each connect via headsets and webcams from their desks.
The team dynamic changed instantly. Suddenly our contract developers were real people with faces — not just names on emails and login IDs in the source control system. We continued to rotate out one of the contract developers on site here in Norway, but when a new team member arrived, the only real difference was that we could see his legs.
Scrum was working fine! Origami, on the other hand, was not. By this point, we had three full-time folders in Oslo (including our new PM who recognized the benefits of the origami project and has even been known to fold during management calls). We also had two contractors who had learned to fold during their on-site rotations. With so many hands, we were running out of raw material! (There’s a problem you don’t usually see in software: too many resources and not enough work!)
Obviously we couldn’t increase our velocity just to generate more used task Post-Its per sprint, so instead we enlisted the help of our sibling Scrum team in the UK. For a few months, they diligently collected their used notes at the end of each sprint and eventually sent over a packet of papers with a visiting colleague. Like any component that has been developed fully independently, there were some integration issues when the new pieces arrived. Unlike our square Post-Its, the UK team was using rectangles. Thankfully we were both on 3M sticky-note technology, so the shorter dimension was identical to our notes, and it was a relatively simple process to cut the new notes into to the required squares.
Now we had a huge pile of unfolded notes, but one of our best folders was back in Budapest with idle hands. To address this, we sent him a stack of unfolded notes, and eventually we got back a big pile of Japanese Brocade Sonobe modules to integrate into the model.
In spite of the challenges, we had found a way to work as a distributed team!
[Editor's note: This article should have been posted in late 2010. Apologies!]