One of the best Scrum Master experiences I’ve had recently was with a fully remote, Kainos development team based in Gdansk, Poland. I was situated in London as the Digital Business Analyst facing off to the also London based Product Owner.
The team and I saw each other in person usually once per month and shared the plane trips back and forth. Along with plenty of Skype calls every day (very easy even in a noisy office given a decent headset).
Overall, I found that we collaborated much better compared to some co-located teams I’ve worked in previously. That’s because we all put a lot of effort into the definition of ready and done and also ensuring that we conducted backlog refinement sessions (sometimes several times) in advance of each sprint planning session. Result – stories were really well understood by the time any developer actually picked them up.
In the past I’ve found one of the drawbacks of local teams is the temptation to gloss over writing thorough stories and not actually holding backlog refinement sessions (‘we are too busy developing’ is often thrown around). What then effectively happens is several mini-3 amigo sessions in sprint are held as stories are picked up… hoping there will be no absolute show stoppers that may cause the overall sprint to be broken and causing the need to re-plan.
As you can see working effectively in a distributed team is not impossible, and I learnt a heap of useful practices which I will take forward into either a similar remote situation, or back into a face-to-face setup later on. And best of all, the product we built turned out really awesome.
Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.