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Björn Granvik - Distributed Teams


This Øredev 2013 session was interesting and required a lot of attention, which made it hard for me to sum it up properly. However, I will do my best.

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The abstract explains what the talk focused on:

“Is there a sure-fire methodology that will make distributed teams work? Possibly. Can a dogma save your deadline and make your wife and kids happy? Perhaps. Or is it time to be pragmatic and realize that it all starts with people and ends with people - with some coding in the middle?”

With distributed teams, every mistake is amplified, so once we decide to adopt distributed teams, we must make sure that we have things figured out and be prepared to change depending on the situation.

One way to end up in a distributed team setup is when we outsource parts of our work. Companies often outsource to cut cost. But how much costs can we cut? 20%? Outsourcing to save 20% is madness, given the high risk that comes with outsourcing. Do we outsource out of stupidity? Perhaps.

Some work fits the oursourcing model well, like support. Other type of work is more likely to face severe problems. In all distributed teams, feedback is crucial. Give feedback often, even to yourself. Check and evaluate the feedback loop.

Bjorn had an interesting passage about values versus rules. This can be hard in a distributed context. Should we have rules that apply to every possible problem, or try to find some basic values that we all share, so that the team as a whole know how to act and behave, out of the values we share?

This is hard. When working in a distributed context, how do we know what our company is all about? If you see bad comments about your company on Twitter, how do you act? What photos do you like on Instagram? In a distributed setup, values are extremely important. Having universal rules is impossible and if you don’t have clear values in place, people will make up values of their own.

You need everyone to know what you all are all about. As always, your people are your greatest asset…and potentially your greatest problem.

Another nice topic was time differences. The time difference between Sweden and GB is just one hour, but all overlaps make the time when your people can actually meet a lot less. Different cultures present unique sets of challenges, like vacations. While Swedes disappear for entire summers, Englishmen distribute it over the year. This will cause problems if your people can’t get in touch with eachother. Language structures, e.g. languages different tense, can result in that you don’t talk about the same thing, but think that you do.

To understand each other, meet often. And talk talk talk.

Continuing on about being right and yet failing, face time and generation y, the 10 minute pattern, ideal team sizes etc. Bjorn left my brain filled to the brink of burst. Want your brain filled? Watch the video!