We have hired a new team member who lives in another country.

This is not like a team split across 2 locations - he is alone there. What things should we consider doing in such a case:

  • in order to keep our daily standups short.
  • to help him visualize our physical Scrum board.
  • to make him participate in our review/retro/planning meetings.

Does anyone have experience with this kind of situation and can you recommend any Do's and Dont's? Is it unrealistic to try to involve him in the Scrum process?

up vote 19 down vote accepted

I'm afraid that it won't be that easy. One of the core principles of Scrum is the co-located team. Having a colleague "outside" of the team generates an unnecessary boundary inside the team. I had a similar setup a couple of times and it never ended well, unfortunately. Due to the communication costs and slow reaction times we decided not to do it again.

Nevertheless here are the dos and don'ts:

Do:

  • always communicate with video feed. This is the most important: video chat makes the other person part of the team - like she is there -, and video is much more effective than voice only: the parties cannot do anything else, because they are visible. Usually, when people are talking on the phone they tend to do something else, which eventually will lead to another call, because they miss things. You'll have more problems do not add another to the list
  • have a physical board for the team and an up-to-date electrical one so that the external colleague can see how things are going and the team knows what she is doing.
  • ask for a daily summary from her which should arrive before the daily standup (the same applies for retrospective)
  • send out a summary about the daily standup to her
  • have a webcam and microphone for everyone so that the team members can communicate anytime they feel appropriate
  • after the task break down anybody should be able to work on any task without further help
  • make processes and policies accessible to anybody so that the overhead of misunderstanding is kept low
  • keep regular code reviews via skype or other IM tool
  • talk to the external colleague twice or three times a day
  • really prepare for the planning meeting and have a video conference
  • try to have a personal meeting once or twice in two months

Don't:

  • do not have a conference call for stand-up: at least spend the actual team's time well. Calls just slow them down. See summaries in dos
  • don't let the team members "outsource" maintenance and test work to the external colleague (developers consider those tasks as something which can be done alone)
  • don't let the team members ignore the opinion of the external colleague because she is not there

As you can see there is a huge communication cost. I hope you can make it happen

The best thing you can implement is to include him via telephone in all the calls.

As such most of the communication these days happens through mails. We execute projects successfully even if the customer is another country right. The same way we can manage this scenario.

Only thing is take care that the person who is in another country is assigned as much independent task/module as possible so that there would be very few dependencies.

If your goal is full integration of the remote team member with the team, include the remote team member in all meetings in some way. Video conference would be ideal, if you have the technology available. Phone conferences are a good backup option.

Another good way to keep the engineers talking to each other is to have an IRC or similar chat channel going all day long. The co-located engineers will have to make an effort to communicate in chat rather than in voice, but it pays off by including the remote engineer in conversation.

Scrum is all about communication, inspection, & review. I'm not a scrum master, but I'd like to share my experience on working partially remote using scrum methodologies, it's partially remote since I'm not off from my office all the time, indeed, I came to my office a couple of times a month to do some small talk with other team member, sprint review, retrospective & sprint planning.

Following are the adapted scrum framework:

  1. Daily scrum stand-up meeting is replaced with daily scrum mail delivered to all team member every morning. If something interesting appeared from their scrum mail, we communicate it through email and the email is delivered to all member too. If it's worth to raised as an issue, we add it to the backlog and prepare the discussion of the issue on the next sprint meeting.
  2. Have a system for managing task/issues/user stories, so that all communication are recorded and well maintained. The system should be able to adapt to scrum framework, there are dozens of this kind of system on the web. Google is your friend.
  3. Do a sprint review, retrospective & planning. This is a must, if you can't do it in person, you have to use some form of video conference communication live, nothing can replace this, this is the closest solution to communicate effectively besides communicate directly in person.

In short, encourage your team to communicate everything. One of the pitfall of software project is bad communication, it doesn't matter whether your team are working remote or full time.

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