Leading Distributed Agile Teams

Mark Kilby is an agile mentor playing many roles on the software and product lifecycle stage. Currently, Mark serves as an agile coach with Sonatype, a completely distributed agile software development company, focusing on automation of software supply chains. Previously, Mark has led agile transformations from startups to Fortune 50 companies.

It’s natural to feel challenged in leading your first distributed team. Whether you are a product owner or ScrumMaster accustomed to embedding with a single Scrum team—or an agile coach experienced in working with several agile teams—for starters, you may worry that things are very different because you cannot see the people during team meetings. Even if you can see people (by video), you may be concerned about connection. But people are still people. They will find ways to connect and collaborate if you set the example.

What is different in a distributed team environment is how you apply your leadership skills. Often, I find that I need to amplify what I would normally do in a co-located team setting to provide those examples.

Establish a vision
As in any leadership role, you need to ensure that the team has a vision of where its going. In a self-organizing agile team, you are co-creating the vision with the team. If you are a product owner, you are co-creating a vision of the product. If you are a ScrumMaster or agile coach, you are helping the team create a vision of how they optimally work together.

It's important that you then become the champion of that vision for your team and organization. Help them set the vision—and then over-communicate it in meetings, email, internal websites (or wikis) and in online chat. Keep repeating the …

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