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Distributed Teams

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What makes distributed teams especially challenging? How can we address these challenges to make our distributed organizations more effective?

In this talk, I discuss four main challenges: Conway's Law, Amdahl's Law (as applied to organizations), Empathy, and Communication. I give examples of these problems and solutions from my experience leading distributed teams over the last 25 years.

This talk was originally presented to Compare The Market in April of 2018.

Published in: Leadership & Management
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Distributed Teams

  1. 1. DISTRIBUTED TEAMS KEVIN GOLDSMITH
  2. 2. @KevinGoldsmith WHO AM I? ▸ CTO @ Avvo, VPE @ Spotify, DoE @ Adobe, Dev Lead @ Microsoft, IBM ▸ Leading distributed organizations for 25 years ▸ Building agile since 2000
  3. 3. @KevinGoldsmith WHAT MAKES DISTRIBUTED TEAMS CHALLENGING?
  4. 4. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  5. 5. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS @KevinGoldsmith
  6. 6. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS @KevinGoldsmith
  7. 7. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  8. 8. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  9. 9. CONWAY’S LAW CHALLENGES
  10. 10. AMDAHL’S LAW CHALLENGES
  11. 11. EMPATHY CHALLENGES
  12. 12. COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES
  13. 13. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW
  14. 14. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW DATAMATION APRIL, 1968
  15. 15. @KevinGoldsmith ORGANIZATIONS WHICH DESIGN SYSTEMS... ARE CONSTRAINED TO PRODUCE DESIGNS WHICH ARE COPIES OF THE COMMUNICATION STRUCTURES OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS. Melvin Conway CONWAY’S LAW
  16. 16. @KevinGoldsmith ANY PIECE OF SOFTWARE REFLECTS THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE THAT PRODUCED IT. Conway’s Law restated
  17. 17. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW THE MIRRORING HYPOTHESIS “…products tend to “mirror” the architectures of the organizations in which they are developed. This dynamic occurs because the organization’s governance structures, problem solving routines and communication patterns constrain the space in which it searches for new solutions. “ Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the “Mirroring” Hypothesis MacCormack, Baldwin, Rusnak - Harvard Business School, 2008
  18. 18. @KevinGoldsmith WHY?
  19. 19. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW THE HOMOMORPHIC FORCE ▸ “Speaking as a mathematician might, we would say that there is a homomorphism from the linear graph of a system to the linear graph of its design organization.”
  20. 20. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW HOMORPHISM In abstract algebra, a homomorphism is a structure-preserving map between two algebraic structures (such as groups, rings, or vector spaces).
  21. 21. @KevinGoldsmith CONWAY’S LAW By Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al. - File:Medial surface of cerebral cortex - gyri.png, CC BY 2.5, https:// commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8636113
  22. 22. PROBLEMATIC THIS IS
  23. 23. @KevinGoldsmith ARE WE TRAPPED BY CONWAY’S LAW?
  24. 24. @KevinGoldsmith NO.
  25. 25. @KevinGoldsmith BUT…
  26. 26. @KevinGoldsmith IT EASIER TO WORK WITH THE HOMOMORPHIC FORCE THAN TO FIGHT IT
  27. 27. @KevinGoldsmith BE DELIBERATE.
  28. 28. @KevinGoldsmith FIND COMMUNICATION BOTTLENECKS THAT CONFLICT WITH ARCHITECTURE AND ELIMINATE THEM.
  29. 29. @KevinGoldsmith DESIGN THE ORGANIZATION TO DESIGN THE ARCHITECTURE.
  30. 30. @KevinGoldsmith THE REVERSE CONWAY MANEUVER
  31. 31. @KevinGoldsmith IF THE PARTS OF AN ORGANIZATION (E.G. TEAMS, DEPARTMENTS, OR SUBDIVISIONS) DO NOT CLOSELY REFLECT THE ESSENTIAL PARTS OF THE PRODUCT, OR IF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONS DO NOT REFLECT THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PRODUCT PARTS, THEN THE PROJECT WILL BE IN TROUBLE. ... THEREFORE: MAKE SURE THE ORGANIZATION IS COMPATIBLE WITH THE PRODUCT ARCHITECTURE. James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison, Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development, 2004 DEALING WITH THE HOMOMORPHIC FORCE
  32. 32. @KevinGoldsmith NETFLIX LEARNED FROM THIS [AMAZON] EXAMPLE, AND ENSURED THAT FROM THE BEGINNING IT STRUCTURED ITSELF AROUND SMALL, INDEPENDENT TEAMS, SO THAT THE SERVICES THEY CREATED WOULD ALSO BE INDEPENDENT FROM EACH OTHER. THIS ENSURED THAT THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE SYSTEM WAS OPTIMIZED FOR SPEED OF CHANGE. EFFECTIVELY, NETFLIX DESIGNED THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE FOR THE SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE IT WANTED. Sam Newman, Building Microservices BY MICHAEL J. BENNETT [CC BY-SA 3.0 (HTTPS:// CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-SA/3.0)], FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  33. 33. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW
  34. 34. THE PERFORMANCE OF THE WHOLE IS ONLY AS FAST AS IT’S SLOWEST PART AMDAHL’S LAW (PARAPHRASED)
  35. 35. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW SERVER CORE LIBRARY IOS / MAC ANDROID WEB INFRASTRUCTURE
  36. 36. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW SERVER CORE LIBRARY CLIENT INFRASTRUCTURE
  37. 37. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW SERVER CORE LIBRARY CLIENT INFRASTRUCTURE
  38. 38. DIFFICULT THIS IS
  39. 39. @KevinGoldsmith SPEED UP THE SLOWEST ELEMENT?
  40. 40. @KevinGoldsmith NO
  41. 41. @KevinGoldsmith RETHINK THE WHOLE SYSTEM!
  42. 42. @KevinGoldsmith WHERE ARE THE BOTTLENECKS?
  43. 43. SERVICE-ORIENTED ARCHITECTURE SOLUTIONS
  44. 44. @KevinGoldsmith WE FIND STRONG EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THE MIRRORING HYPOTHESIS. IN ALL OF THE PAIRS WE EXAMINE, THE PRODUCT DEVELOPED BY THE LOOSELY-COUPLED ORGANIZATION IS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE MODULAR THAN THE PRODUCT FROM THE TIGHTLY-COUPLED ORGANIZATION. Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the “Mirroring” Hypothesis MacCormack, Baldwin, Rusnak - Harvard Business School, 2008 SERVICE-ORIENTED ARCHITECTURES
  45. 45. FULL-STACK TEAMS SOLUTIONS
  46. 46. @KevinGoldsmith FULL-STACK TEAMS
  47. 47. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW SERVER CORE LIBRARY CLIENT INFRASTRUCTURE
  48. 48. @KevinGoldsmith AMDAHL’S LAW CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAM
  49. 49. LOCAL DECISION MAKING SOLUTIONS
  50. 50. @KevinGoldsmith LEADERSHIP DRIVES ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGY
  51. 51. @KevinGoldsmith TEAMS DECIDE BEST HOW TO DELIVER AGAINST THAT STRATEGY
  52. 52. @KevinGoldsmith USE MUTUALLY AGREED UPON BUSINESS METRICS TO TRACK ACHIEVEMENT
  53. 53. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  54. 54. @KevinGoldsmith FAMILIARITY BREEDS TRUST
  55. 55. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  56. 56. @KevinGoldsmith IS NOT THE SAME AS
  57. 57. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY Image by Andreas Fischler
  58. 58. LEVEL THE FIELD SOLUTIONS
  59. 59. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  60. 60. RECOGNIZE WARNING SIGNS SOLUTIONS
  61. 61. @KevinGoldsmith WELL THAT IS FINE FOR YOU PEOPLE AT CORPORATE… Someone who has forgotten that the people they work with are actual humans EMPATHY WARNING SIGNS
  62. 62. GET TOGETHER REGULARLY SOLUTIONS
  63. 63. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  64. 64. LEADERS TRAVEL SOLUTIONS
  65. 65. @KevinGoldsmith LEADERS TRAVEL
  66. 66. @KevinGoldsmith LEADERS TRAVEL
  67. 67. @KevinGoldsmith LEADERS TRAVEL
  68. 68. HUMANIZE SOLUTIONS
  69. 69. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  70. 70. INCLUDE REMOTE INDIVIDUALS SOLUTIONS
  71. 71. @KevinGoldsmith EMPATHY
  72. 72. @KevinGoldsmith COMMUNICATION
  73. 73. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  74. 74. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  75. 75. @KevinGoldsmith DISTRIBUTED TEAMS
  76. 76. FEWER CHANNELS SOLUTIONS
  77. 77. @KevinGoldsmith COMMUNICATION
  78. 78. DOCUMENT CLEARLY SOLUTIONS
  79. 79. @KevinGoldsmith COMMUNICATION
  80. 80. UTILIZE 1:1 & BROAD COMMUNICATION SOLUTIONS
  81. 81. @KevinGoldsmith SUMMARY
  82. 82. @KevinGoldsmith REMOTE TEAMS CREATE CHALLENGES
  83. 83. @KevinGoldsmith THE CHALLENGES CAN BE OVERCOME
  84. 84. @KevinGoldsmith SUMMARY PROBLEMS/SOLUTIONS ▸ Conway’s Law ▸ The reverse Conway Manuever ▸ Amdahl’s Law ▸ Modular architecture ▸ Full-stack teams ▸ Local decision making
  85. 85. @KevinGoldsmith SUMMARY PROBLEMS/SOLUTIONS ▸ Empathy ▸ Level the field ▸ Recognize warning signs ▸ Get together regularly ▸ Humanize ▸ Include remote individuals
  86. 86. @KevinGoldsmith SUMMARY PROBLEMS/SOLUTIONS ▸ Communication ▸ Use fewer channels ▸ Document Clearly
  87. 87. DISTRIBUTED TEAMS KEVIN GOLDSMITH @KEVINGOLDSMITH HTTPS://WWW.KEVINGOLDSMITH.COM

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