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How internationally distributed Teams can improve their Sprint Planning 2

Interview with the bor!sgloger expert panel on the subject of internationally distributed Teams (Part 7)

Part 1: Does distance cancel out efficiency of internationally dispersed Teams?
Part 2: Should internationally distributed Teams be avoided?
Part 3: Scrum Spaces of internationally distributed Teams – the Do’s and Don’ts
Part 4: The Pros and Cons of Electronic and/or Physical Taskboards
Part 5: How internationally distributed Teams can improve their Daily Scrum
Part 6: How internationally distributed Teams can improve their Sprint Planning 1

Stephanie G.: Having discussed Sprint Planning 1, let us continue with your tipps & tricks for Sprint Planning 2. How would you conduct this design meeting?

Ina K.: I would actually say that it‘s quite similar to Sprint Planning 1, apart from the Product Owner not being present. Sometimes the meeting is off to a slow start. If that‘s the case, the ScrumMaster should get involved and start filming people (see Christof’s answer in How internationally distributed Teams can improve their Sprint Planning 1) as well as make sure that the Team members who document the meeting rotate. Once the Team members properly get going, the ScrumMaster can retreat  and remain in a position of observation. Watch the Team – are they interacting enough? Do they seem to have a common understanding? Is everyone adding to the conversation? It‘s important to keep an eye out for such things, as the DevTeam members usually don‘t. Once they actually start looking out for it by themselves, the ScrumMaster has achieved wonders.

Hélène V.: The most important aspect of Sprint Planning 2 is that the common design solution that the Team has agreed upon is visualized and can be seen by all Team members. Only if this has happened, can the distributing of Tasks on a cross-location basis begin. Some Teams think that they do not need any visualisation … all I can say is that distributed Teams who believe this myth have a much higher chance of forgetting important aspects to their design.

Kristina K.: My Team had this issue. The fact that they typed up the Tasks into an electronic tool didn‘t help either, since it sometimes seemed that only the one who did the typing also did the thinking. The fact that the know-how was so unevenly distributed was an impediment in Sprint Planning 2, too. The lack of drawing meant that there was no real common Team understanding of the design – they didn‘t talk about how to implement the User Stories, but rather talked about what singular steps were necessary to implement them.

Bernd K.: We didn‘t really have what you can call a design session either. Sometimes the Team members used the flip charts for drawing, but then I had to take a picture (since the quality of our webcam was not good enough) and send it to the other Team members. This alone would take 5 minutes, by which time the moment for entering in the design discussion was over.

Generally, I did not enjoy Sprint Planning 2 – it often stretched out over three to four hours, which is two hours longer than a Sprint Planning for a two-week sprint should be. The problem was that our electronic tool did not have a word limit for Tasks, meaning that the Team often spent ages on writing them. This did not help to bridge the geographical gap either: the Team members in Romania were rather pragmatic, while the ones in Germany could be called the „philosophers“ – wishing to specify their Tasks and over-thinking the why what, when and where. While the Team dynamic of a co-located Team would have quickly eliminated this discrepancy with smiles or a nervous look, the Romanians were hidden behind a microphone and nobody knew what they were thinking.

Kristina K.: Oh dear, that sounds quite irritating. What I started implementing after a while was to ask the various locations to prepare several design options and to then challenge each other during Sprint Planning 2. In the end, we used the best idea out of all of them and wrote Tasks for it. This ensured that everyone on the Team had actually thought about the Stories, even if they‘re no expert.

Hélène V.: Yes, that‘s what I would recommend, too. After Sprint Planning 1, the Team should do a short mapping of the areas and topics that need discussing. You could then divide up the topics for each location i.e. location A takes the module on the database approach, location B focusses on another solution etc.

Christof B.: I agree with both of you, but I think that the decision of splitting up a Team for or in preparation of Sprint Planning 2 really depends on the Team constellation. If all roles are represented at all locations, I do think that the Sprint Planning 2 can be conducted as group work – meaning that each location grabs its own User Story, does its own mini-Sprint Planning 2 and then presents it to the rest of the Team after 30 minutes. After reviewing the outcome, the entire Team writes the Tasks together. However, this is only possible if both front-end and back-end are present at all locations. This option is not possible if i.e. testers and developers are in different locations.

Stephanie G.: It is so interesting that you all recommend splitting up the meeting, since I actually used to do the same. Only I did not split it in the way of one Story in each location, but rather one person from each location formed a Team, which would together work on one Story (see Pre-SP2 Design Sessions or How to use your Time during a Sprint Change?).

Christof B.: Sprint Planning 2 should not be underestimated. It is certainly not trivial, as it can be chaotic due to the necessary interaction between the Team members. After all, it is not only a meeting, but a creative process, design thinking, architectural brain-storming etc. A lot happens during SP2. I don‘t believe that its doable over the phone. It‘s even nearly impossible to do via video conference. I really think it‘s best if each location works on its own concept during Sprint Planning 2, which is only interrupted by SoS-like coordination meetings where the whole Team gets together again. For example, a design session for 30-45 minutes, followed by 10-15mins of presentation by each location including feedback.

Deborah W.: Funny. I never had any difficulties with Sprint Planning 2, meaning that I could always really enjoy this meeting. I thought it was one of the simpler ones when dealing with distributed Teams. Maybe it was an exception, but my Team members got really involved – even across locations. It was easier than SP1, since there was always less to show. Yes, we did draw a few diagrams and design the architecture, but not for too long. The topic was pretty clear to everyone, so the meeting was concise and short.

Stephanie G.: I love it when opinions diverge as much as yours right now. So before you all get jealous of Deborah‘s Team, let me quickly sum up the main points of advice:

  • Just as you would with a co-located Team, make sure to visualize the design concepts, so that all Team members are on the same page. The writing of rough Tasks should only happen at the very end.
  • if necessary and possible, split up the User Stories amongst the various locations, where the Team members can draw up the concept and afterwards present it to the rest of the Team.

 


  • Great post – thanks! I am a Scrum Master of a dispersed team, located in Austria and Romania. Social loafing became a big problem in my team as the skill level and the domain knowledge is varying a lot. To get everyone involved I did a similar approach like Christof B. described, splitting the team into 2 sub-teams (each per location) for making the design followed by a presentation to the whole team. I also invite the PO to the presentation part that he gets a feeling if the team has understood all the requirements properly (This is only possible if you have a technically versed PO, like I have) which turned out to be very helpful as well.