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Review: A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum

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Published by: IBM Press
ISBN: 0137041136

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One Minute Bottom Line

Irrespective of whether your team is distributed or not, this book is an excellent read for all members of a Scrum team.


After using Agile in IT projects for the past few years, and using Scrum exclusively on my last project, I wanted to read this book to get a better understanding of the theory of what I'd been following. This book gave me more. When reading the Preface I was excited to learn that the 3 authors used Scrum to write the book. In addition, as they lived in different places and in different time zones, they used some of the tools and strategies they describe in the book. Thus, the team of authors used distributed Scrum over a series of sprints to deliver the written product. I liked that; it gave me a strong feeling of confidence in the contents of the book!

The book, including the Forewords and Preface, is less than 200 pages long, split into 10 chapters. The Scrum framework is summarized in Chapter 1 and then examined in more detail over the remaining chapters of the book. It has an easy to read style and I found that I could read and digest a chapter on the bus ride to work. The book provides a good level of detail, and the authors have used real life tips or strategies from a large number of contributors who have worked on distributed Scrum projects. These contributions are used when a point is being stressed or an idea or strategy is being reinforced. They add value and give the feeling that the tips being offered have been used successfully and are therefore well worth considering.

The things to look out for in order to get a Scrum team running smoothly are largely the same whether the team is distributed or not. However a distributed team has a heightened sensitivity to things that impact Scrum performance. Chapter 2 takes you through some of these. It is common sense stuff: use plain language when communicating (especially with those whose native tongue isn’t the same as the one being used by the project team), watch out for local phrases, be careful with humor, be aware of cultural differences (especially when communicating - for example, did that “yes” mean “yes, I understood” or not?), take note of public holidays in different countries, build the team by embracing cultural differences. I liked the tip that suggests getting all participants to telephone into a meeting if behaviors aren’t working for a split meeting where some attendees are face-to-face, and the rest are not. This puts participants on the same footing as far as communication goes making the meeting easier to manage.

Communication seems to be the key for distributed teams. The teleconference theme is used in later chapters to reiterate the fact that distributed teams will not have the benefit of non-verbal communication when in a meeting. How do you know if your participants on a teleconference understand what's just been explained? Tip: get them to explain it back to you.

If your team is distributed when do you schedule the daily Scrum meeting, especially when time zones are taken into consideration? Chapter 6 provides a number of solutions, each of which are summarized at the end of the chapter with their respective pros and cons.

Chapter 7 emphasizes the importance of the agile practices of continuous integration, test automation and test driven development for improving quality and collaboration in a distributed team. The benefits are felt by all teams using these practices, regardless of whether the team is distributed or not, and the book fails to make clear why they are especially important for distributed teams. However it does provide a good, clear understanding of what they are and how they work to improve code quality and team collaboration. When conducting a sprint retrospective good tips are offered for the facilitator: know the personalities of your team, and be alert to cultural differences. Some team members may not feel comfortable voicing their feedback – perhaps they are introverted, fear conflict, or culturally it’s not a normal thing to do. In these cases the book suggests getting team members to write down their feedback and send it in prior to the meeting. This can even be anonymous to the facilitator if another person collates the feedback removing name identifying information. The aim of these tips is to help engender open discussion during the meeting.

I found there was little not to like about this book. Some of the diagrams were too simple to be of use, and other more complex ones were poorly explained. At the end of each chapter a reference section is provided. It includes links to online documents - I tried a few of these and some didn't work. However the documents were easy to find using Google.

I enjoyed reading this book. It provides a thorough understanding of Scrum, with demonstrated practical solutions to the problems that you may encounter when working on or running a distributed team. One last thing that I like - all the royalties from the sale of the book go to 3 charities.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Nick Winfield.

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