September 9, 2014

Stumbling towards a global team

The ReQtest development team has certainly done …

Just a few months ago all our developers sat in the same office in Stockholm – in fact, even in the same room. Then one of our front end developers moved to London this summer, and at about the same time we hired two developers in Malmö, with another hire happening this week and yet another being sought right now. So now the ReQtest development team has spread out over three offices in two countries.

Our development team is a chatty and talkative one. We work together and communicate a lot. We discuss requirements together. We discuss design at all levels, from user experience design all the way down to database design. We like pair programming and pair debugging, and pair testing too.

Now we need to make sure that our new global team can still have all those discussions as easily and productively as we used to when we all sat together. We are working on figuring out how to keep the developers talking.

As usual, we take the agile, iterative approach. We try something small and simple, and then improve and add as needed. It turns out that you can get quite far with free software.

Skype, which we already used extensively as a chat client, also works for great for group video calls. We use Skype group video calls for our morning standup meetings as well as for most our meetings and discussions. Skype’s screen sharing lets us do remote presentations, e.g. our bi-weekly sprint demos and company meetings.

We still haven’t settled on the one best solution for remote pair programming. Skype’s screen sharing only offers a passive view, so only one of the developers can type and point at things. Windows Remote Assistance has worked OK, but only if both developers use Windows. Also its huge window is fiddly to manage: it takes work just to resize it so the remote desktop is shown proportionately. ScreenHero and TeamViewer (both paid) are next up in our queue of solutions to try out.

The trickiest kind of meeting to do remotely is a workshop, such as a requirements discussion or a retrospective. We normally use the traditional low-tech approach with everybody standing in front of a whiteboard and putting up their ideas on sticky notes on the board. That is hard to do remotely, and it’s even harder to combine an in-office team with multiple local participants. There are many online tools for shared sticky notes, but we don’t want all the people in the office to sit, heads down, each in front of their little screen – we want people to talk to each other and to do things together.

Have you led or participated in a successful brainstorming workshop with remote participants? We’d love to hear about your experience.

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