Facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in professional software development



Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News Offshore Outsourcing with Scrum

Offshore Outsourcing with Scrum

Swedish consulting firm Softhouse recently published the second part of an interview with Jeff Sutherland [pdf], in which he describes how one company (SirsiDynix) used Scrum to integrate with an offshore development team in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jeff relates a key decision of CTO Jack Blount:
...he wanted complete geographical transparency. Mainly to optimize the project, but also he wanted to build a positive competitive dynamic between the teams where every member of every team on either shore, knew that somebody off shore could do their work tomorrow. So, he decided something that is very unique and there was a lot of controversy about. He decided that every team would be half in Utah and half in St Petersburg.
Martin Fowler and others have written about the difficulties of merging an agile process with offshore teams, and so some might be surprised to learn about an unqualified agile offshore success story. According to Jeff, two things helped the distributed Scrum teams at SirsiDynix work effectively with one another. One was the use of automated planning and tracking tools:
When you have many teams, every team needs to oversee the state of other teams, in particular when you have outsourced teams it’s even a bigger problem. So, you need some automated tool where all the data flows in and everybody can see it all the time.
The other enabling factor was the organization of the teams:
It is really crucial to have all the product owners, in the Scrum sense, very close to the customer. And you want the product owners close to the teams. Now, what SirsiDynix did... is that all the Scrum masters were in Utah, all the product owners were in Utah, and all the architects were in Utah. So they had very tight centralized control over the product and the product direction.
We need your feedback

How might we improve InfoQ for you

Thank you for being an InfoQ reader.

Each year, we seek feedback from our readers to help us improve InfoQ. Would you mind spending 2 minutes to share your feedback in our short survey? Your feedback will directly help us continually evolve how we support you.

Take the Survey

Rate this Article


Hello stranger!

You need to Register an InfoQ account or or login to post comments. But there's so much more behind being registered.

Get the most out of the InfoQ experience.

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Community comments

  • Decisions over the wall?

    by Vikas Hazrati,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Since the Architects/product owners/ scrum masters were in Utah does it mean that the team in Russia was just being fed with architectural decision taken and they were not involved in the process?
    Were there any issues because of the Scrum master being geographically distributed? Did the team in Russia have to wait for a while for getting the impediments resolved?
    Though the results seem encouraging the one team concept seems to be missing within teams.

  • Re: Decisions over the wall?

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Jeff Sutherland's case study on this team might provide the details you seek:

  • Featured in the Carnival of Agilists for Feb 14/07

    by Mark Levison,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Lacking trackbacks I'm abusing the comment mechanism. This post was featured in the most recent Carnival of the Agilists:

  • Re: Featured in the Carnival of Agilists for Feb 14/07

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Thanks, Mark :-)

  • Ummm.... This is funny because this was actually an epic fail

    by Ryan Gardner,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    One of my first jobs out of college was working at SirsiDynix at the time they were working with the outsource teams. I was doing support so I wasn't directly involved with development so I can't speak from the perspective of a developer.

    However, everything that I heard from the developers was that the Russian team was constantly messing things up... i.e. the build would be broken whenever they'd come in for the morning... their tests would all be screwed up... the project that they were doing this huge coordinated effort on ended up being canceled in part because of some major overruns in the project.

    Jack Blount - who is mentioned in this article (I'm pretty sure he was CEO not CTO - but maybe he considered himself both) went on to found another startup and in that startup he didn't do any offshore agile teams. You would think that if this method were successful for him at SirsiDynix he would want to use it again at his next company to replicate the success. Nope.

    So... Be careful putting too much weight into this study as it being a 'positive'. I'm not saying that it's impossible for this offshore agile to work - but I am saying that using SirsiDynix as the example might leave you looking like a fool once someone digs a bit deeper into the story to hear about what really happened with it.

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p


Is your profile up-to-date? Please take a moment to review and update.

Note: If updating/changing your email, a validation request will be sent

Company name:
Company role:
Company size:
You will be sent an email to validate the new email address. This pop-up will close itself in a few moments.