Daily Scrums with Distributed Teams

No different to any other business, we seek out the best developers to work with. Even if that means working with individuals from across the country or overseas, despite this creating challenges from a team collaboration and communication perspective. This can be that much more of a challenge when operating within an agile software development environment such as we do. Thankfully, there are many tools to choose from that do a decent job of facilitating the level of collaboration and communication needed for distributed teams to be successful.

We’d like to share our experience with one such tool as it relates to the Daily Scrum (we have adopted Scrum as our agile framework). More often than not, we found ourselves skipping the Daily Scrum as a formal event, chalking it up to being too difficult to organize given the different timezones of team members in some situations. Also, there was a degree of reluctance to hold Daily Scrums due to bad past experiences where Daily Scrums were not time boxed effectively and therefore tended to run on and losing their value.

We came to realize, however, that the development team did not often have the complete picture. This was impacting our ability to effectively self-organize, compromising our ability to meet our Sprint goals. The suggestion was made by one of our team members that we should look to implement Daily Scrums (a great testament to a self-organizing team recognizing a problem and taking the initiative to do something about it).

The natural inclination was to look to audio and/or video conferencing tools to facilitate the Daily Scrum but the challenge of needing to coordinate schedules across different timezones remained. A suggestion was made then to try Voxer, a walkie talkie, push-to-talk voice messaging system allowing people to send voice messages to multiple people that can be listened to immediately or later, whatever desired. So, we got a team to install the Voxer App on their mobile devices, added them to a group chat and named that group chat “Daily Scrum” for easy identification in the chat list and went about piloting it on one of our Sprints.

Each morning, team members would open up their Voxer App, touch on the “Daily Scrum” group chat and send (or ‘leave’) a voice message on what they achieved yesterday and what they planned to accomplish today. There was no set time to send your message, just a commitment amongst team members that they would provide their updates in the ‘early morning’. In practice, we found everyone sent theirs at pretty well the same time since once one starting ‘voxing’ (i.e. sending their update message), a notification tone and message would appear on everyone’s mobile device saying that a particular team member was presently sending a voice message. This served as a prompt or reminder for you to provide your own update.

Everyone would then listen to each others updates and then reach out to individual people as needed depending on what they heard in the update. Very effective and efficient. We found our Daily Scrums were only 5 minutes in duration versus 15-minutes (or more!) that is common for Daily Scrums in a co-located environment. Individual team member updates tended to be anywhere from one to two minutes in duration.

The experience was so positive that we have now started using Voxer across all our projects. I encourage you to take a look at Voxer, it’s a great tool for distributed Scrum teams!

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