Working with distributed teams (I)

Distributed teams

Last week I was delivering a keynote at Agiles2014, the Latin-American Agile conference. I have to say that this was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a speaker, as the Agiles community was indeed the most welcoming and thankful audience I’ve met so far – besides the fact of having seven hundred people cheering at my jokes and taking pictures with me. I thing I need an Ego-starving diet after that.

Anyway, there were a lot of very interesting hallway conversations with several different people and I’d like to capture some of them in a series of articles. I’ll start with this one: how to work with remote or distributed teams?

As a start, there’s always a question I need to make: why do you have remote teams? I mean, there is no real advantage on having your people scattered around the globe. The Agile experts have been telling us that software development is a cooperative communication game for longer than some want to remember. Co-location of the teams is a usual prescription to more effective teams, and even experts outside the Agile environment will rapidly agree that having the team together is better.

So why have remote teams?

The usual answers come in a series of delusional and dysfunctional flavours:

Cheaper labor: oh, yes. This is what your business need: cheap programmers. Besides, have you ever heard about this “total cost of ownership” thing? If you just look at “per hour programmer cost” you are going to miss all the costs associated to having your people working on their own – not as a team – in some other place of the planet. Be prepared for misunderstanding, cultural issues, wrong products, ever-growing bureaucracy…

Cheap Labor

If you pay peanuts…

Can’t find talented developers: well, we all have hard times these days finding talented people. That only means that you have to increase your efforts, invest more in your hiring process and, of course, make your job offer more attractive to candidates. A talented software developer can easily decide between several jobs in these days, why they should chose yours? Honestly, most job offerings I read suck terribly. They only talk about what they want, what they are searching for or the requirements they ask, but there’s hardly a single word to try to seduce and convince candidates. Is this the same way you sell your products?

Remote working as a bonus: in some cases, people will state that they allow their people to work form different places as a reward. That means that working at their offices is a punishment. What does it say about your office environment? MAybe you should work into making your office a collaboration place and then people will be eager to go to the office instead of staying at home.

Cutting costs: some idiots published a series of studies several years ago where they claimed that having remote workers is cheaper for the company: less electricity, less furniture… This might be right if you are hiring for brute-force, algorythmical, repetitive workers, but when it comes to software development the cognitive stuff matters. For software teams, collaboration and effective team work are key to competitive advantage and great products. Do you think that the people behind the iPad were concerned about cutting down air conditioning costs?

Productivity: agains, some study showed that people are mote “productive” when they stay at home – usually because, as we said before, your office environment is ruining any attempt to be productive with meetings and managers interrupting creativity and innovation all the time. But consider that at-home productivity is personal, individual productivity. It means that it also decreases team productivity. You have to ask yourself if you really buy this “teamwork” stuff or you are just forming teams in some form of cargo cult.

No wonder some people go as far as to say that distributed teams are not “teams” at all, just a bunch of people working on the same stuff. So, once again, why on earth do you have remote workers?

There might be some valid reasons, of course. Outsourcing is very usual when it’s not about your core business, and sometimes it pays off to have a talented but remote outsourced team. There are also good examples of distributed teams creating great products on the Open Source community. What makes the difference here?

In the next articles, I’ll write about why co-located teams are better, my personal basic rules for remote team working, several remote working tools and references, the problems of working with people over different time zones, cultural clashes between remote teams and some telecommuting caveats. So… stay tuned!

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New slides!

Hi all!

I have been featured by the awesome people at Noteshelf – for me, the best app for sketchnoting in the market and also an awesome tool for note taking, sketching, doodling and boosting your visual facilitation skills.

I started using it a year and a half ago and one of the results is the new slide deck of our Agile training. Enjoy it!


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Agile Angel – February 2014

If you like the following post, you might want to join our Agile Angel Monthly(ish) Newsletter and receive them earlier.



Agile Angel Monthly(ish) Newsletter

Issue #6 – February 2014

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

- Warren Buffet

Long time no see!


What can I say? I’M SORRY! No issues since May 2013, even though I promised to launch in November and December… 2013 was a strange year in fact. I committed to send my new book, ‘Agile Kaizen: Continuous Improvement Far Beyond Retrospectives’ to my editor by February, and I couldn’t manage to send the first draft until December. This, added to the many conferences I attended last year, explains the blank in my other writings until now – including the Newsletter. Final edition of ‘Agile Kaizen’  is taking place right now and the book should be available somewhere mid-2014 – you’re gonna love it, I promise!


In the last issue I was just back from Scrum Gathering Las Vegas, which was a real blast. Since then, I’ve been to quite a lot of conferences (you can check them here). You can find links to videos and Slide decks later in this very Newsletter. A special mention to CAS2013, the Spanish Agile Conference, where I got to deliver the opening Keynote and I met Tobias Mayer amongst some other amazing people.


2014 has started fine. You might be aware about the situation in Spain – if not, I’ll summarize: no good. This year everything seems to point out that recovery is sloooo-ooo-ooowly taking place, but macro-economic recovery will take a while until it reaches micro-economics. Still, many companies are contacting us in order to train, improve and prepare for a complex future. We have scheduled a full training week in May (Madrid, Spanish), including Management 3.0, Scrum, Advanced Scrum and Agile Kaizen courses; and, for the European guys, I’m delivering a Management 3.0 seminar in Mallorca with my dear friend and M3.0 Fellow trainer Michael Leber. That’s Mallorca like in “MALLORCA, BABY!”. We even plan to rent a boat for the weekend and do some kind of Leadership Retreat – how cool is that?

I keep receiving reviews of my first book inAmazon, every single one counts to make the book more visible, so if you feel like doing something for me and you’ve read the book, go comment! Jurgen Appelo rated it four stars in good reads, and said it was “a good overview and funny too” :)

Mmmm… What else? Oh, yes! I Started Sketchnoting and drawing after Scrum Gathering Las Vegas and I have plenty of doodles up in Tumblr – Learning To Sketch . I even conducted a “Drawing 101: mastering the stickman” workshop at ALE 2013 and it was reaaaaally fun! Some people even started to illustrate their blog posts and books since then – check  Fabian Schiller’s ‘Agile Planet’, for instance. Sketchnoting is really trendy right now, and it’s lots of fun, be sure to check it.

Upcoming conferences!  This year I want to cut my conference schedule a little, but I’m available to any conference organizers who will cover flight + hotel (this is a must now). I will probably be at Mix-IT 2014 (Lyon, France) and then my Schedule is clear, although I’m in conversations with a couple of events – stay in touch.

As always, I’m looking for new companies to work at this year. If you need Agile training (Scrum, Kanban, Agile Leadership and Coaching, Agile Product Management, Management 3.0, Continuous Improvement, Lean Startup, you name it) or you need someone to assess your Agile transformation, boost change through your company, take your teams to next level or just make your company more Agile, why don’t you drop me a line or two? I’d love to hear about your situation :)


Please, refer us!


Refer us to your Agile pals by forwarding this e-mail, tweeting about it or sharing the subscribing page! (easy to remember: Go share some Agile Love! :)

Our Agile Advice:


A couple of flash-style reflections  to look at your environment from outside the box


  • The old, boring question keeps coming to me every once in a while: ‘what electronic tool do you recommend’. My first answer is to always stick to physical boards. Physical boards have so many features that electronic tools will never be able to replicate, starting with the physical gathering of all team members around them – thus becoming a team ‘Totem’ or even a team’s identity ‘Avatar’ – and including the stimulation of your neurons when you perform something manually. But if you really, really, really need some tools, go for the well know ones (Jira being an obvious option) and be sure to use them as a backup addition to your physical boards.

  • What have you changed in your company in the last six months? Change does not always mean improvement, but improvement always means change – better processes, better tools, better people, better products. If nothing really changes, chances are that you are not improving!

  • When was the last time you read the classics, the sources of all – I mean, “No Silver Bullet”, “The New New Product Development Game”, “Peopleware”, “The Mythical Man Month”, “Scrum and XP from the Trenches”, “The Scrum Papers”… Even if you read them time ago, you are not the person you used to be then any more, and a new lecture will give you new insights.

  • Is there any part of your company where you could be applying Agile principles and methods? Is there anyone willing to try stand ups, post-it notes, iterations, retrospectives…? Have you asked? Why not?

  • Are your products or projects conceived in an “all or nothing” way? If so, there’s little chance of reaching real, full Agility. Evolutive, iterative and incremental design is at the heart of Agile Product Management. Prioritization has small value when you have to wait for the whole pack of features.

Agile Books of the Month:

- Not exactly an Agile book, but I’m using Peter Amstrong’s “Programming for Kids” (Mac edition) to teach the fundamentals of Ruby to my 8 years old kid, how cool is that? :)

- ‘Gemba Walks’ by Jim Womack is an amazing book about continuous improvement and how to look at Status Quo with the Kaizen eyes. Kindle edition was not available for purchase when I checked it today, but I swear I have one.

- Haven’t read it yet, but ‘The Year Without Pants’ became very popular amogst Agilists last year. Specially recommended if you are working with remote, geographically dispersed teams, but also recommended to anyone who wants to get a glance at modern corporate cultures and environments.


Non-Agile, but still recommended book:


- ‘Running with the mind of meditation’. Two awesome practices for mind and body in one  easy to read beginner’s guide – for nine bucks! Who could ask for more?

- “The Sketchnote Handbook”. It will not teach you how to draw, but it will surely motivate you enough to start practicing and learning. There is a Sketchnote podcast too.


Some of the best Agile articles out there:


- Be sure to Check Vasco Duarte’s series of articles about #NoEstimates and new managerial approaches.

- Dean Leffingwell ‘s SAFe model (and certification program) is being talked a lot in the Agile blogosphere. Check for the discussions in your favorite forums O:)

- How to Hire an Agile Coach – terrific blog post by Jason Little

- 10 Things to drive your Product Owner crazy, by Marc Löffer

- Top 10 lessons learned from practicing the Toyota Kata, Tom Lombard, great post from a health care organization perspective


Agile Videos:


Sorry, but this time I’m going to include a lot of my own videos that I did not share yet in this newsletter… :-/


- Infoq did a terrific work editing my Agile Tour London talk on Developing Great ScrumMasters and including the slides. Thank you guys!

- Check also Agile Bodensee: Why Agile? keynote and ALE: Lean Startup for Agile Product Management talks

- Especially for the Lean / Kanban guys: Flow Eficciency (one and two)

- ALE Hangout : Agile Management, with yours trully. This is me talking an awful lot about my stuff, with terrible light, so only recommended for hardcore fans :P

- Shorter one – why write a book, with Jurgen Appelo and me.

- Product Tank Berlin – Control vs Trust – With Stefan Haas


Just not to make this too egomaniacal:

- Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell, by Henrik Kniberg – really cool!

Slideshare Presentations:


- All the Slides for the above videos are available as usually at Slideshare.

- ‘Some things I’ve learned about facilitating Workshops’, by Sacha Chua. Be sure to check her other slide decks, she’s awesomic.

- ‘Adapting to Agile’, by Mike Cohn

- ‘Hiring or Growing the Right Agile Coach’, by Lyssa Adkins and Michael K. Spayd

Conferences and Training Courses

- Not my cup of tea, but more and more people keep asking me about the Play4Agile events, some even say it’s fun and worth it. You might want to give it a try.

- Remember we are offering the following (Spanish) training courses in Madrid, mid May 2014:


- Management 3.0

- Agile Kaizen Workshop

- Basic & Intermediate Scrum

- Advanced Scrum

–  Be sure also to check our Mallorca Management 3.0 and Leadership Retreat


That’s all folks!


If you have something you’d like to see, promote or recommend on next Agile Angel’s newsletter (mid November, probably), be sure to send me an email or tweet . Until then, may the Agile Force be with you!

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Agile Angel – April 2013

Hi everyone!

Starting today (June), I’ll start posting last month’s Agile Angel Newsletter in this blog. If you want to get the all fresh Newsletter, be sure to check the previous link and join it! We send just one issue every month or two, so no Spam or high bandwidth required.


Continue reading

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The Easy Way To Stop Estimating


Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote my last post… I don’t want to bother you with the reasons, let’s just say I took something similar to a sabbatical – jealous, right? :-D

Anyway, some interesting things happened in the last months. One of them was I got to make a workshop about reducing estimations at XP2012. I already presented something similar at ALE2011, so it seems like I’m becoming an expert on the issue :-D. Here is the video and the presentation I used:

The Easy Way To Stop Estimating – Workshop at XP2012 from Proyectalis on Vimeo.

I realize I should have tested some of the excercises before, as they became somehow messy but, hey, I’m a Spaniard, we like everything las minute! :-D . I also need to impprove my pronunciation, although it feels like I can make myself better understood than a year before, when I talked even faster and with less care on pronunciation. Anyway, we had lots of fun and it seems that some people liked it so much that they invited me to do talks in their own events… More info on that soon (I hope)!

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Building Histograms

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from someone from attended my ‘Easy way to stop estimating’ speech at ALE2011 asking how to start building your histograms if, ironically, you are not supposed to do estimations (in which case, you don’t have estimations to build a histogram with :-) ).

Of course, the whole point of (nearly) dropping estimations is to rely on actual, real, measured data instead. On the following explanation, I’ll assume you are not ready to drop the whole thing and still need some minimal estimation (although I can’t imagine why :-D ).

There are several ways to do histograms depending on the nature of your work. If you are solving small ‘ticket-like’ issues you can trace how long they take to solve, maybe doing also a small pre-estimation of “small-medium-large” issue – then build the histogram with the actual data (and maybe dividing it in three histograms for each kind of estimation).

If you are more into user-story like product backlog then (if you wish) you can make a small pre-estimation of “small-medium-large” or directly use story points with a reduced set (“1-5-8-13″ for example). Then there are two ways you can go:

  • You can stick to that number. If a “1” end up being actually a 5, you still count it as a “1”. This way, you would be acknowledging that, in future sprints, other “1” stories will probably become a 5. So for example, you start with “1, 1, 5, 5, 8″ for a total of 20 estimated points – then the first story takes way longer than you expected, and you end up with 15 delivered points – Great! next time you’ll commit to less capacity.
  • You can re-estimate stories later on. Then you will acknowledge that the first “1” was actually a “5”, and you’ll still go for 20 points of capacity. I DON’T LIKE THAT. It’s not that you are wrong, but it’s kind of a “vanity metric” that will make you think you actually delivered the 20 points you commited, when the truth is that you only delivered 4 out of 5 commited stories.

Of course, you can also do hourly tracing of user stories, meaning that you can tag them as “small-medium-large”, write down a beginning date when you start, an end date when you end and then assigning the difference for histogram building.

Example: User story 35, originally considered of “medium” size, started monday morning, endend wednesday afternoon – 3 DAYS.

You can make more complex calculations, for example including queuing time or focus factor, but my advice would be to keep it as simple as possible.

Once you have histograms, you can start playing with SLA’s and say things like “80% of our medium-rated stories are done in less than four days, and they NEVER take more than two weeks” – That’s a SLA :)

Please, everyone trying to reduce the estimation process, keep my informed of your progress!! :))

Bonus: don’t miss Vasco Duarte’s brilliant post on the topic

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LeanCamp Barcelona

Hi guys! It seems I’ll start this year tourneé at LeanCamp Barcelona. It’s a great opportunity to share with people from the Lean, Agile, Lean Startup, Customer Development or UX communities worldwide, as this event is connected to others at New York, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam…

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Lean Startup Speech

A few months ago I attended e-nnovation conference in Poland – great time, great guys (and gals! :-D ) , and great vodka!

I was asked to deliver a speech on Agile and the Lean Startup movement, and I’ve just been told it has been online for a while! The quality is very good, thank you e-nnovation guys!

Hope you enjoy:

Angel Medinilla from e-nnovation on Vimeo.

As usual, the slides are available at our Slideshare place:

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How to Hire a great Scrum Master

I’ve been asked this question today on twitter and I thought to myself “man, there’s a book to be written here”. Unfortunately I’m a writing a book on some other topics, so I can only dedicate some time to share advice with you on the this one but, hey, we could make a meme out of this. :-)

First of all, you have to understand what’s the role of the Scrum Master. Serious. A lot of people will agree that the Scrum Master is responsible for delivery dates, controlling the project, reporting progress or making individual performance reports to management. Think twice. A good start is to read the Scrum Guide and some other resources on the topic. Long story short, for me the Scrum Master is responsible for success in the long term: making the team more efficient, raising it’s performance, improving their quality of life and creating an Agile culture in the whole company. Oh, and not to forget coaching the Product Owner.

Next, you have to make an assessment of your team and decide what kind of Scrum Master you are looking for. Scrum Masters come in various flavours, and they tend to shift with time. I have some slides on the topic of the evolution of the Scrum Master from “the Scrum Guy” to “Agile Coach”, including stages “Scrum Mom” and “True Scrum Master”:

If your team is immature in terms of Agility, they’ll need a Scrum Mom for a while, but be sure that the Scrum Master is able to evolve into a True Scrum Master and then Agile Coach when the team itself matures.

But let’s go back to the topic: how to hire a good Scrum Master? I think there are three main areas you want to explore when interviewing:

  • Technical: this person understands Software Development. Is familiar with technology, has read on patterns, clean code, QA, architecture, technical debt, versioning… Knows the Way of Working of programmers, understands that software is not a matter of “Man Hours”.
  • Human: this person is a good human being. His empathy is high and knows how to deal with conflict and sell ideas to management and clients. He is a superb and enthusiastic communicator, a great story teller. He cares about motivation and knows how to motivate his team. He is a loving and compassionate person, but 100% uncompromising when it comes to personal improvement and self development.
View more presentations from Proyectalis
  • Agile: this person understands the roots, values, principles and essence of Agile Sofwtare Development. Knows about Lean, eliminating waste, focusing on value delivery, small batch production, frequent delivery of working software, adapting to change… He is never comfortable with the “Status Quo” and is always looking for the next improvement. He has a lot of different ways to run a retrospective. He knows about Agile technical practices and tools and how to introduce them to the team, including pair programming, test/acceptance test/behaviour driven development, continuous integration, collective code ownership, coding standards…

Ideally you’ll search for the three of them, but if you have to settle for two, I’d go technical + human: they can learn the Agile thing later. Human-Agile is also a good choice (try to train them on the technical side), but I’ll never go for Technical-Agile (a.k.a. Agile Zealots): they’ll have a very long and difficult path becoming better persons. ;-)

Also, here are some characteristics of great Scrum Masters I’ve known:

  • Humble: big names on the Agile world usually make great consultants or part-time coaches, but when it comes to hiring a full-time Scrum Master is a good thing to look for a humble person.
  • Reads a lot: specially about Agile & Software Development. This includes blogs, books, twitter
  • In fact, many great Scrum Masters are very active in the Agile community. You could ask what conferences, open spaces or community events this person has attended over the last year, for example.
  • Certified. Yes, I know: the two-day certification by itself means nothing (please, don’t hire a Scrum Master because he is certified), but it’s very usual for good Scrum Masters I’ve known to have engaged some certification class in the past.
  • Likes to play. Great Scrum Masters know how to enjoy a retrospective and put their team to play and have a great time while learning and improving. The “we are serious guys and this is called work” guys seldom make good Scrum Masters.
  • Take notes on a notebook. A paper one. And likes to draw, although he may not be that good at drawing. You can call this a long-shot, but my guts have a good feeling about guys that use pen and paper on a daily basis – it tells a lot about their right side of the brain :-)

Last but not least, some activities you could try while interviewing this person:

  • Let the team interview him (and act at your own risk if you hire him despite the team said “we don’t like this guy”).
  • Let him conduct a short retrospective (over one single topic, for example)
  • Ask him to make an Agile Assessment of your organization through some interviews with project managers and developers
  • Take him to a Kanban / Scrumban board and ask him for some possible improvements

In fact, I’d love to hear about your own tips&tricks for hiring great Scrum Masters (if you blog about it, please link to this article so I can read you :-) – Oh, if you skip the touchy-feely stuff I’d be very pleased :-D

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A couple of weeks ago I attended ALE2011, the first unconference by Agile Lean Europe, both as an organizer, speaker and sponsor.

I must say I tried too keep up with the organizing team but I couldn’t make it due to my nightmare agenda on the last months and also my extended summer break this year (a really deserved one month and a half). So I decided early to cover this lack of dedication with a humble sponsorship of the event. Hope that counts :-)

I was selected as a speaker from Spain. I must say I’m not really comfortable on speakers being chosen by country and not by merits, but hey, this was the “Europe” part in “Agile Lean Europe”. It gave a lot of opportunities to speakers that, on other circumstances, would have low probabilities of being chosen by the typical program committee (by the way, instead of chairs the organizing team was divided in sofas, how cool is that?). Some of this more unknown speakers were a pleasant surprise, while in other cases some of the presentations were, I must say, a little bit empty, dull and self-promotional. Hey, this is the game: take it or leave it :-)

I definitively take it. My presentation was crowded, and I had a really engaged and passionate public that decided on their own to make an Open Space on the topic:  eliminating waste by dropping the estimation process. On the improvement side, I need to speak slower, as I tend to go really fast and my English is not that good :-(

I had decided not to propose any Open Space because I already had some featured space and I felt like I should leave Open Space for people without presentation slots. I remember being on other conference, proposing an Open Space and seeing how a couple of Agile Super Stars monopolized the Open Space by proposing games, extensions to their talks or other kind of activities, so this time I preferred not to be the monopoly guy. But anyway, the Open Space took place and I participated as everyone else. I must thank the facilitator, Sven Tiffe, and I remember being very close to the opinions by Liz Keogh.

Probably one of the best talks was delivered by Chris Matts, and boy did he deliver. The topic was feature injection, but this was in fact the less important part. His delivery is so good that I’ve been jealous since then and I’ve learned a couple of things I must work on to improve my own style.

Possibly the best part of the event was the networking and the creation of new and solid relationships. I remember having nice conversations with Vasco Duarte, Eric Lundh, Yves Hanoulle, Olaf Lewitz, Olav Maasen, and some Spanish ex-pats from Nokia.

Unfortunately, I was handicapped by the fact that, on thursday, my wallet was stolen by two pickpockets while having lunch outside the hotel and I wasted a lot of time on police stations and the spanish embassy (which is only available from monday to friday, from 9:00 to 13:00!!!), although I must say German police is astonishingly efficient, polite and nice (and I got my money back in 24 hours!!).

I think I need some more time to think on some of the great ideas I got from this event, so please stay tuned next weeks. Oh, you can browse some of my ALE pictures at Flickr.

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