Skip to main content

Dialogue on Distributed Agile Teams

Here's an interesting article by Patrick Lencioni: Virtual Teams are Worse than I Thought

Dialogue on Distributed Agile Teams

Pondering communication styles, our human ability to truely understand one another, and the tools we use that constrain these attempts. 
  1. Peter Senge evolved the concept of dialogue for learning organizations. Extending quantum physicist, David Bohm's ideas on three basic conditions necessary for dialogue:
    1) All participants must "suspend" their assumptions, literally to hold them "as if suspended before us";
    2) All participants must regard one another as colleagues;
    3) There must be a 'facilitator' who 'holds the context' of dialogue.
  2. Dialogue, as it turns out, is a very old idea revered by the ancient Greeks and practiced by many "primitive" societies such as the American Indians. Yet, it is all but lost to the modern world. All of us have had some taste of dialogue--in special conversations that begin to have a "life of their own," taking us in directions we could never have imagined nor planned in advance. (Senge, 1990, p. 239)

  3. In my professional life I enjoy engaging with so many intellengent people. I enjoy discussing concepts, exploring our context and constructs. I've found the Twitter platform to be both wonderful and frustrating, sometimes concurrently frustratingly wonderful.

    Here's an example:

  • Mark commented on a great course by Modus Institute. He didn't mention which of the course offerings he was refering to; they have 3 online - I now assume he's refering to the course titled: Successful Distributed Teams
  • Great course on how to launch distributed agile teams by @ourfounder and @Sprezzatura at 
  • Why do people keep calling this an Agile Team - when it clearly breaks at least ONE of the principles of Agile, from start? 
  • I responded, as I often do on twitter, with a general observation while pondering a meta-cognitive question.
  • @srogalsky I'll give you 3 to choose from: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • As I had suggested that multiple of the Agile Manifesto Principles were "broken" - I copied and pasted them into the twitter conversation thread.
  • Perhaps the pharse "breaks at least ONE" was intrepreted by some readers as a molotov cocktail - not my intent. Note I'm not refering to the course. I'm (in my mind) refering to the practice of people - calling a group of other people connected by communication wires - a team.
  • @srogalsky Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the enviro and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • @srogalsky The most efficient and effective method of conveying info to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • @davidakoontz Why can't those be done remotely?
  • @srogalsky guessing @davidakoontz is 
dogmaticly interpreting this 1. Which is heuristic (like any principle) & possible w vtc distributed.
    @srogalsky guessing @davidakoontz is dogmaticly interpreting this 1. Which is heuristic (like any principle) & possible w vtc distributed.
  • @AdamYuret @davidakoontz Right, that seems likely. I'm work with remote teams, but use face to face almost exclusively via video.
  • @AdamYuret @srogalsky I tried not to be dogmatic in my response - that's why I give 3 and allow you to choose... :)
  • @srogalsky I'm a fervent believer that distributed teams are less effective than co-located ones, but principles aren't dogma @davidakoontz
  • @AdamYuret now Adam, who interpreted the text as dogmatic, who used that word? @srogalsky
  • @davidakoontz me, the term "Breaks at least one principle" is dogmatic. @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret oh good point! Ironic also. Dogmatic = inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true. @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret @srogalsky @davidakoontz Can you imagine all Linux contributors in a single room? 😀
  • @daverooneyca Heuristic, not always true. Also Linux is 100% distributed which is 2nd best. 😉 @srogalsky @davidakoontz
  • @davidakoontz Never heard @ModusCoop teach that biz ppl shouldn't work with dev, that f2f is ineffective or env doesn't matter. @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret @davidakoontz It feels like you are stating the position that "in person is better than remote" which I think is true.
  • @AdamYuret @davidakoontz But "can't do those 3 things remotely" is not a factual position. In person is better.
  • @srogalsky I believe the 3 principles are synergic; I believe starting from the position of distributed ___ team is poor choice @AdamYuret
  • @davidakoontz yes, unless you're training people with the constraint of distributed teams, then it's essential. @srogalsky @ModusCoop
  • @AdamYuret good point - it's essential. the starting point of remoteness is essential? So is the course delivered remotely?
  • @srogalsky awesome! love the recursion involved in that.@AdamYuret
  • ...meanwhile in another branch of the conversation...
  • @davidakoontz Never heard @ModusCoop teach that biz ppl shouldn't work with dev, that f2f is ineffective or env doesn't matter. @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret @davidakoontz It feels like you are stating the position that "in person is better than remote" which I think is true.
  • @srogalsky your opinion of my attitude toward teams is valid; but that's not what I stated @AdamYuret
  • @AdamYuret @davidakoontz But "can't do those 3 things remotely" is not a factual position. In person is better.
  • @srogalsky Steve I'm unsure of who you are addressing me or @AdamYuret ?
  • @srogalsky Yes, and doing distributed /poorly/ is the worst of all and hardest to fix. @davidakoontz
  • Replying to Steve's earlier tweet: But "can't do those 3 things remotely" is not a factual position. In person is better. The 3 things are the quoted 3 principles of the Agile Manifesto.
  • @srogalsky yet when one examines the synergies of those 3 principles working together... it's hard to argue that distribution is good
  • @davidakoontz Shades of good, better, best. BTW, i just finished a remote face to face conversation with some very motivated team members.
  • @davidakoontz I would rather have talked to them physically face to face, but my constraints don't allow that.
  • @davidakoontz So we do everything we can to turn up the communication to 11 and learn how to do this better every day.
  • @davidakoontz Our customers are also worldwide so I meet with them in the same way most of the time.
  • @davidakoontz Trying to meet physically would be a non-starter.
  • @srogalsky I'm happy you are happy with all of this; that's real great. I bet you could teach us a thing or two about that.
  • @davidakoontz I plan on taking the course to get better :). Physically together would be ideal, but then I would have to work elsewhere
  • On a different branch of the thread...
  • @davidakoontz It seems like you're saying the "How to go up stairs in a wheelchair" course should counsel using one's legs. @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret actually saying the opposite in text; I'm having difficulty crafting phrases that you don't interpret poorly  @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret to continue with you analogy (tho it may be insensitive) ... @srogalsky
  • @AdamYuret I'm attempting to say calling the course "disabled Running up stairs" is a poor phrase (in my opinion RE: Running) @srogalsky
  • @davidakoontz "Effective distributed agile teams" seems to say it fine. "Agile teams being effective despite a constraint." @srogalsky
  • @davidakoontz As a former wheelchair user, I don't need any more analogies here :) @AdamYuret
  • @AdamYuret if using your legs is an option, you should. If not, then a course would seem valuable. @davidakoontz
  • @davidakoontz r u conflating "effective" w "running" in this metaphor? Lk distributed is incapable of being in any way effective?@srogalsky
  • A branch of the dialogue that discussed the actual course.
  • @davidakoontz @jimmysjolund ...but the reality is that increasingly teams need to be distributed.
  • @Sprezzatura how do you instruct this course, what is the media choice you are using to best convey the instruction?
  • @Sprezzatura will the participants pay the cost of relocating themselves for a period of time necessary for instruction;
  • @Sprezzatura consider alternatives to this expense, would holding a video call not have delivered same value more efficiently?
  • Exposing ones ignorance in a public form with colleagues can be an unsafe venture... as some colleagues will not share their knowledge freely with the pool of shared understanding (what Peter Senge calls dialogue) that allows reflection and inquiry to become a powerful tool for building team learning.
  • And in yet another branching from the beginning of the conversation - Jimmy is asking if my reference (original observation) is to the phrase "course on how to launch distributed agile teams".
  • Why do people keep calling this an Agile Team - when it clearly breaks at least ONE of the principles of Agile, from start? 
  • @jimmysjolund yes, that's my supposition - I've not seen their course. But I've heard lots of vendors labeling like this...
  • @davidakoontz Sure face to face conversations are great but I believe teams can be both agile and distributed depending on the people.
  • @davidakoontz @jimmysjolund The course is entitled Successful Distributed Teams. I'm unsure what your issue is with our "labeling,"
  • @davidakoontz @jimmysjolund ...but the reality is that increasingly teams need to be distributed.
  • @Sprezzatura that's a "reality" I'm willing to question;
  • @davidakoontz @ourfounder & I are in DC working w/the World Bank. I'll be sure to let them know you've issues w/them being distributed.
  • @Sprezzatura now, now do we need to get snarky? I'm really OK with a world bank what ever they do - I'm sure it's worldly @ourfounder
  • @davidakoontz @ourfounder 1/2 Snarky? Your tweet about my class (that you know nothing about) is inaccurate & unconstructive. Yet again...
  • @davidakoontz @ourfounder 2/2 UR creating issues where none exist. It's not provocative nor contributing to a discipline. It's being a dick.
  • @Sprezzatura I was offering an opinion that questioning the basic formation of team-ness is a valid form of inquiry @ourfounder
  • After these exchanges got too contentious I decided to withdraw from the dialogue.
  • Post a Comment

    Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

    Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

    Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

    Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

    But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

    Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

    What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

    In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

    Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
    Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
    Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

    Columns (or Rows) - labeled
        To Do
        Work In P…

    Webinar: Collaboration at Scale: Defining Done, Ready, and NO.

    I was invited to participate in a Scrum Alliance Webinar.  Maybe you would like to listen to us in a discussion of techniques to collaborate at scale (remotely and with many people).  The topic is one that I've got some experience in discussions - yet I never seem to get to done...
    Collaboration at Scale: Defining Done and Ready and NO for Distributed Teams
    With Joel Bancroft-Connors, Agile Organizational Coach; David A. Koontz, Agile Transition Guide; and Luke Hohmann, CEO and Founder of Conteneo, Inc.

    14 February 2018 11 a.m. ET (USA).

    The Scrum Guide is pretty clear on the criticality of the definition of Done: "When a Product Backlog item or an Increment is described as "Done," everyone must understand what "Done" means. However, the Scrum Guide ALSO says that the definition of Done can "vary significantly per Scrum Team." This leads us to examine when and how the definition of Done should vary, how distributed teams should cr…

    David's notes on "Drive"

    - "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

    Amazon book order
    What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.


    Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…

    A T-Shaped 21st Century Knowledge Worker

    Knowledge workers in the 21st Century must have many areas of deep knowledge, while also be capable of collaboration across multiple other domains with dissimilar T-shaped individuals.  This description of a person is a metaphor.  Compare it to the shape of the "I" in the classic saying there is no "I" in Team.

    I first read about Scott Ambler's term "Generalizing Specialist" - but it's so hard to remember the proper order of the words... get it backwards and it has an inverted meaning... T-Shaped is easier to remember. 
    A generalizing specialist is someone who:
    Has one or more technical specialties (e.g. Java programming, Project Management, Database Administration, ...). Has at least a general knowledge of software development. Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.  General…