Debugging Your Geographically Distributed Agile Team

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd edition, Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization as well as several other books including the newest: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver. See her blogs and more of her writing at

Harry, a manager in an agile organization, called the other day. (No, Harry isn’t his real name…I changed his name to protect his identity):

“I have a problem with one of my Scrum teams. Some team members think they are ‘strong’ and others are ‘weak.’ They’re not working together. They’re critical of each other. The ScrumMaster on that team is new and doesn’t know what to do. I’m not sure how to coach that ScrumMaster. What should I do?”

I asked for some data: “Where is everyone? How many time zones are people apart?”

Harry explained: “We have one person in Portland, Maine. His wife got a job there, and he followed. He’s the person with the most experience in the technical stack. He used to be here, at headquarters. But now, he’s there, on the East Coast. We have another four people here at headquarters in Chicago. And, we have two people in San Francisco. That’s our seven people.”

“Where are the ScrumMaster and the Product Owner?” I asked. If those people were at headquarters, that might be the problem. Sometimes, there’s an implied hierarchy when the leaders are at headquarters.

“Oh, the Product Owner is also in Chicago.”

“What do you mean by ‘also’? Didn’t you include the Product …

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