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Quantum Entanglement (Spooky action at a distance)

Entanglement is a strange feature of quantum physics, the science of the very small. It’s possible to link together two quantum particles -- photons of light or atoms for example – in a special way that makes them effectively two parts of the same entity. You can then separate them as far as you like and a change in one is instantly reflected in the other. (The Strange World of Quantum Entaglement. Paul Comstock, California Literary Review, 30 Mar 2010)

Context:

Teams working in distributed locations, often across timezones, countries and cultures.

Problem:

Teams working in a distributed fashion are not able to create the same productivity of a collocated team, produce lower quality work and have reduced morale. Even a team that starts off well will see degradation over time.

Forces:

When teams are separated they lose their collective identity and conflicts emerge. This may be displayed in areas such as communication breakdowns, increase in defects, velocity decreases and overall product incoherence. “The number one factor in a team’s identity is local allegiance (which is a function of geography).” Peter Burgi

Timezone differences exacerbate the problem: meetings become difficult to schedule. In addition, time zone differences can mean that some people meet in the morning when they are fresh, but those meeting in their late afternoons are running out of energy.

There is a tendency amongst distributed teams to exhibit the “Us and them” syndrome; it is easier to blame the remote people when anything goes wrong.

Different locations have different cultures with respect to management; e.g. teams fear being transparent or being the bearer of bad news and will hide information to the detriment of the whole team.

The greatest bonds are formed when people meet personally; these bonds form automatically through face-to-face meetings. However, these bonds break down over time.

When people have a personal bond, you can give constructive feedback without fear that it could be taken in a negative way, and they will understand your good intent. This also breaks down over time.

The “tribe” way of thinking is very powerful. We want to establish a single “tribe” among all locations, but the local influences undermine the cross-location tribe culture.

Solution:

Establish social, cultural and technical connections between the locations of the team at the time the team is formed, establish measures of normal accomplishment, and monitor these measurements. If degradation is detected, re-establish the connections.

There is a three step process – initialize (establish a bond), inspect (monitor for continued unity), and adapt (refresh the bond)

Initialization requires getting the team to work together locally (Face to Face Before Working Remotely). Beyond that the team needs to work together so we can establish a new culture and provide baseline measurement of productivity. We believe there is a minimum time or minimum number of sprints to accomplish this (approximately one month or several sprints).

We know this can work well with two locations. More locations make this difficult and no published data demonstrate sustainable performance yet at more than two locations.

The team needs to bond and social as well as work activities are required. Establish good remote pair relationships that will continue once the team is distributed.

A critical part of initialization is setting up the technical environment to be location-transparent.

Inspecting involves collection of key metrics on team performance and watching for any degradation. Important measures include: velocity, open bugs, broken builds, commits, and team happiness. Don’t forget value.

We see symptoms of team degradation among the four quadrants of measurement (velocity, quality, sustainable pace, and team morale). However, the most significant one related to distribution degradation are related to velocity. In particular, look at commits: if they drop, it could be that the remote teams are no longer trusting each other.

Adapting is repairing the team to reestablish shared culture with local performance. This is difficult and often not accomplished without another face to face experience.

For daily meetings video works best. Phone calls don’t transmit as much information. We pick up a few nonverbal cues through vocal intonation, etc., but it is so much stronger with faces. Regular visual meetings are crucial, but are still inferior to physical presence.

Photos of everyone in prominent places are quite powerful e.g. on a conference phone hub or beside the Scrum board.

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