Thursday, March 8, 2018

Time zone bubbles

Sometimes, it's the simplest ideas that are the most effective. In the IT production control world, "bubble charts" are a common artifice to show the workflow of various scripts, user/operator interactions, and programs that have to run in sequence, or with dependencies, or a particular time (scheduler), or "on demand".

Fair enough, but no news there.

Then I read a blog post by agile guru Johanna Rothman about time zone bubble charts. So simple, but so effective as a communications device for the distributed team. It's a simple image, suitable for the war room or the background on some far flung work station.

Johanna offers six ideas for dealing with the myriad issues of time zones and teams. She writes:
  • Show the timezone bubble chart to your managers so they understand what you are attempting to manage.
  • Share the timezone bubble chart, so all the team members can participate in selecting planning and standup times.
  • Share the timezone pain. Do not make only one person or only one timezone delegate always arise early or stay late.
  • Know if everyone needs to participate.
  • Ask people if they will timeshift. Make sure you ask in advance, so people can make arrangements for their personal lives.
  • Make sure people either have necessary bandwidth to participate at home or food and beds to participate at work, if they need to participate outside of normal work hours
My experience was [India west coast (UTC +5:30)] to [US East coast (UTC -5)]. That's 10:30 hours difference in time, and not all that uncommon among software teams.

Here's what we did:
  • Dedicated phone room with open line for about 4-6 hours per day (anyone could walk in and talk or set up an offline conference)
  • Time shift (mostly by the India workers)
  • Alternate early/late conferences so that both US and India shared the inconvenience
  • Real-time document sharing via shared resources
  • Teleconferences by video on a case by case basis. (We didn't have Skype or Facetime at the time)
  • More care with documentation to compensate for ESL (English as second language)
Hey! you can make it work

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