Distributed and Outsources Scrum at SirsiDynix and StarSoft

This case study is a proof point for the argument that distributed teams and even outsourced teams can be as productive as a small collocated team. This requires excellent implementation of Scrum along with good engineering practices. The entire set of teams must function as a single team with one global build repository, one tracking and reporting tool, and daily meetings across geographies. This paper analyzes and recommends best practices for globally distributed Agile teams.

Scrum was designed to achieve a hyperproductive state where productivity increases by an order of magnitude over industry averages. Many small, collocated teams have achieved this effect. The question for this paper is whether a large, distributed, outsourced team can achieve the hyperproductive state.

Three distributed Scrum models commonly observed in practice are:

  • Isolated Scrums – Teams are isolated across geographies. In most cases off-shore teams are not cross-functional and may not be using the Scrum process.
  • Distributed Scrum of Scrums – Scrum teams are isolated across geographies and integrated by a Scrum of Scrums that meets regularly across geographies.
  • Totally Integrated Scrums – Scrum teams are cross-functional with members distributed across geographies. In the SirsiDynix case, the Scrum of Scrums was localized with all ScrumMasters in Utah.

Best practice recommended by the Scrum Alliance is a Distributed Scrum of Scrums model. This model partitions work across cross-functional, isolated Scrum teams while eliminating most dependencies between teams. Jack Blount, CTO of the merged SirsiDynix company, negotiated an outsource agreement with StarSoft. StarSoft successfully uses Agile development and particularly XP engineering practices to maintain CMM Level 3 certification. The unique way in which SirsiDynix and StarSoft implemented an Integrated Scrums model carefully addressed all of the issues they faced.

The second major challenge for large projects is process management, particularly synchronizing work between sites. This was achieved by splitting teams across sites and fine tuning daily Scrum meetings.

Collaboration of SirsiDynix and StarSoft turned the Horizon 8.0 project into one of the most productive Scrum projects ever documented. The SirsiDynix project is almost as productive as the small Scrum project with a collocated team of 4.5 people. For a globally dispersed team, it is one of the most productive projects ever documented at a run rate of five times industry average.

Outsourced teams must be highly skilled Agile teams and project implementation must enforce geographic transparency with cross-functional teams at remote sites fully integrated with crossfunctional teams at the primary site. In the SirsiDynix case, the teams were all run from a central site giving strong central control.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aspect of self-organization is now understood as a type of Set-Based Concurrent

Engineering (SBCE) practiced at Toyota.

  • Best practices for distributed Scrum are seen.
  • Most outsourced development efforts use a degenerative form of the Isolated Scrums model.
  • Hidden costs of outsourcing.
  • Top issues in distributed development to be handled by SirsiDynix and StarSoft.
  • Pair Programming, Refactoring, and other XP practices by StarSoft.

Full case study:

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