Distributed Agile: Communication
I’d always heard that communication when you’re working offshore was much more difficult than in a co-located team but it’s quite difficult to imagine exactly what the difficulties are until you see them for yourself.
These are some of my latest observations in this area so far.
I’m a very visual learner and the majority of the time any communication between people in two different locations will be done through words either via email or on a conference call.
Of course it is possible to do remote white boarding but that increases the overhead of the calls and sometimes participants in these calls only have their phone available and don’t have access to their computer or the internet.
I tend to find myself sketching out conference call conversations on a white board so that I can follow what people are talking about.
You lose the instant feedback that you get when doing this with someone else but I find it easier to understand diagrams than paragraphs of text or dialogue describing something.
Duplication of discussion
Due to the fact that we can’t just grab everyone in the team and go into a room for 20 minutes to discuss a design approach because half of the team is in another city.
We often end up having a meeting in Pune and then a similar one later in the day over the phone with people onshore and a parallel conversation going on over email at the same time.
It’s been significantly more difficult to get consensus on any decision with this style of communication than it would be if everyone was in the room.
In that environment you can easily read body language and see if someone doesn’t quite buy into what is being suggested.
Thinking how to phrase it
I think this is just generally a skill which requires more skill in non face to face communication and the conversations tend to be much more sugar coated to avoid offending people.
I don’t think this is a bad thing but I find that face to face conversations can often be more direct without someone getting offended or spending time trying to work out if there was a hidden message in the other person’s communication.
The risk here is that we can end up spending a lot of time working out how to word our communication and lose the point that we were actually trying to make in the process.
Working with outside teams
If working with other people on the same team in a different country is tricky it becomes even more difficult when communicating with outside teams in the remote location.
For example we often have to interact with a client’s operations team and in a co-located situation someone on the team would probably have met people on that team personally.
In a distributed situation you don’t have that so if you have a request for them then you tend to communicate via email.
Since they only know you by your name on the email I’ve noticed that it takes significantly longer for things to get done than if you could just go and speak with them.
These are just some of the things I’ve noticed and I do admire my colleagues here for learning how to work effectively with these constraints because it’s been amazingly frustrating for me so far.