Detect and Eliminate Bureaucracy in Geographically Distributed Large Agile Teams!

location_city Bengaluru schedule Mar 26th 04:00 - 04:45 PM place Grand Ballroom 2

One of the many great things about working in Agile teams is the lack of bureaucracy. Agility and bureaucracy do not and cannot coexist. In general, bureaucracy is a system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives.  

Management guru Gary Hamel says,

“Strategy gets set at the top. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Individuals compete for promotion. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion. This is the recipe for “bureaucracy,” the 150-year old mashup of military command structures and industrial engineering that constitutes the operating system for virtually every large-scale organization on the planet. It is the unchallenged tenets of bureaucracy that disable our organizations—that make them inertial, incremental and uninspiring.”

In our context, bureaucracy is with reference to geographically distributed teams working together to run Agile projects. When there is bureaucracy in geographically distributed teams, you will find powerful forces setting the rules, defining practices and mandating criteria. And there will be several followers who are ready succumb to the pressure. When this happens one may witness specialized definitions, measurement criteria, and rituals that define the software lifecycle to be followed by distributed teams. Decision making will move up in the hierarchy. Teams will practice practices just for the sake of practicing. Many of the team members will eventually forget the purpose, essence and sprit of processes. That is a slippery slope! In geographically distributed teams – especially when multiple organizations and powerful leaders come together, it is very difficult and challenging to guard against bureaucracy.   When that happens, we cannot have true Agile enablement.

This session will present the ground realities seen in distributed Agile projects and techniques to overcome bureaucracy in geographically distributed teams.


Outline/Structure of the Talk

  1. Introduction/Context Setting – 5 minutes
  2. Patterns of Ground Realities or Signs of Bureaucracy (with multiple examples) – 30 minutes

Pattern-1: Practice Bureaucracy   Example: ‘For us these four practices are mandatory’

Pattern-2: Innovation Barricade - ‘New ideas? Let us focus on what we are doing now. We will look into all these new ideas in the next project!’

Pattern-3: Development Hurdle - ‘All new training requests will have to go through Mr. Brown’s approval which takes about three to four weeks.’

Pattern-4: Infrastructure Blockade - ‘Our Video Conferencing facility is for board meetings only.’

Pattern-5: Methodology Obsession: ‘We are an XRXM house.’

Pattern-6: Tools Dictatorship: ‘You may be in the middle of this project but it is our organizational decision to migrate from tool X to tool Y.’

Pattern-7: One-upmanship: ‘We will do the Root Cause Analysis here in our location and announce the results to the rest.’

Pattern-8: Bureaucratic Governance: ‘We are very busy unless there is an escalation.’

3.  Techniques to overcome bureaucracy in geographically distributed teams – 15 Minutes


Learning/Building Awareness

Agile Coaching

Principles-First Approach

Servant Leadership

Leadership-level Retrospectives


  1. Discussions and Wrap-up: 10 Minutes


Learning Outcome

The attendees of this session will understand

a)      How bureaucracy sets in when we initiate and run distributed Agile projects

b)      Why this happens and how it impacts agility

c)       What are the signs or symptoms

d)      How to overcome bureaucracy in geographically distributed teams

Target Audience

Practitioners of agile in onsite-offshore model, team members working with geographically distributed large agile teams, business analysts, business users, coaches, senior management

schedule Submitted 6 years ago

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