The scrum or stand-up meeting is a major part of Agile methodology. Ideally, everyone works in the same area (called co-location), and talking in person is considered the most effective way to work. In fact, face-to-face communication is considered so important to the effectiveness of the methodology, it has its own line in the Agile Manifesto: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
But there’s a wrinkle – it’s estimated that over 25% of American workers now telecommute, and that’s increasing. Others work in offices located states or even oceans away from their co-workers. How does this new state of affairs affect the future of Agile methodology?
Well, the simple answer is that it makes it harder and potentially less effective. The line actually refers to communication between the developers themselves, but business owners, SME’s, and other key players in a project are affected as well. What are some ways around that?
CONFERENCE CALLS – If the scrum is truly 10-15 minutes long like it’s supposed to be, it isn’t so awful if it’s a conference call. But the problem with conference calls is that they take sometimes take 10-15 minutes to start. The conference bridge has a glitch that makes everyone sound like they’re speaking from the Field of Dreams cornfield (oddly, sometimes with the same dialogue). The scrum master says “Who just joined?” eight times after eight beeps because we all know only rubes say their name when the Webex robo-facilitator asks you to. You all wait a few minutes for the lead developer who it turns out is taking a personal day. Her boss would have told you that, if he hadn’t overslept the 8am EST call because it’s 5am in Seattle and he got home from the Muse concert at 2:30. Then you have to ask Monty the mouth-breather to put it on mute, IM Jerry to quit answering emails because his keyboard tapping is making the microphone cut out the first two words of everyone’s sentences, ask Sandy to mute as well because you just heard the last call for two US Airways flights as well as her Starbucks order….that’s the bad news. The good news is that on a conference call, you can’t see the developers’ eye-rolling when the business people speak.
Ha! Teleconferencing is a cruel hoax. Remember how disappointed you felt when you were 15 and found out Bill Gates wouldn’t really send you $149 for forwarding that Microsoft email? I feel that way every time someone suggests a teleconference. People say it’s real, but no one you know has ever had it pay off. Some still try. This usually requires plugging, unplugging, replugging, stabbing the f8 key repeatedly, giving up and locating one of the two people in the whole company who know how to set up teleconference, the guy comes in and performs the A/V equivalent of alchemy and then tells them they just had to hit f8. By that time, the office you’re trying to remote with has dispersed and the next meeting group is knocking on the window because they need the conference room.
Here are links to a couple of decent articles about the effect on Agile process when teams can’t be in the same place at the same time. The consensus is that Agile can be done when co-workers aren’t together, but it’s just not quite as good as when they can smell each other’s coffee. Or Red Bull.