Roles and Responsibilities in Onsite Off-shore Agile Scrum

Roles and Responsibilities in Onsite Off-shore Agile Scrum Teams

(Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM,

(Currently looking for consulting opportunities within USA.  Please contact

  • Role and responsibilities of offshore and on-site scrum teams are different.
  • Difference is mainly due to time difference and cultural issues.
  • Because of these differences sprint process requires several additional process steps to make off-shore scrum working
  • Proxy Product owner is almost a must for off-shore scrum team success
  • Product owner talents very limited in availability in many of off-shore countries
  • Strong, independent, self-organizing scrum teams will not be reality in the near future (there could be one-off)
  • To some degree, culture differences make it hard in creating self-organizing teams. But help is on the way.

1.     Introduction

Distributed agile teams are always a challenge to work together. Even more so when it comes to 10-12 hours of time difference to off-shore location like India and China. Absence of a product owner in an off-shore location makes very hard for an off-shore team to perform. But it is a reality that, these teams will have to be located different parts of the world due to cost reasons. The successful formula has to take different approach.

2.    Scrum work flow

  • Release planning (onsite)
  • Sprint backlog (combined)
  • Sprint Planning (onsite)
  • Sprint Planning (off-shore)
  • Combined sprint planning (Off-shore and onsite)
  • Daily Stand-up off-shore
  • Daily Stand-up Onsite and off-shore together
  • Sprint Retrospect (Combined)
  • Burn down chart (Combined and/or separated)

3.    What is different and why

Traditional off-shore work culture is very much adapted to water fall process, which includes well documented requirements and very well defined deliverables and contractual obligations controlling delivery components.

Agile comes with exact opposite of these requirements which makes it very hard for the team to operate. Some of the challenges will be as follows

3.1 Undocumented requirements

It will be difficult to conceptualize the business problem on a faraway off-shore location without strong domain knowledge. The presence of strong product owner with lots of domain knowledge can help to bridge the gap.


3.2 Work Culture

Generally off-shore has strong committed work culture.  Most off-shore location like India and china has very young work force with 1-5 years of experience. This young and dynamic workforce can contribute very well if fewer variants are placed on them.  Strong leadership is a necessity in that case.


3.3 Interaction Requirement

Off-shore teams are built mostly not to have many interactions because of time zone difference. Agile enforces that interaction.   This demands requirements of after-hours telephone connectivity as well as equipment to carry-out the work.


3.4 Process Structure

Off-shore teams are very familiar with strong process culture. Agile in essence is very lean on processes. Process ensures the quality even in the absence of strong leadership. Therefore off-shore agile teams require some amount of process.


3.5 Metrics

Off-shore teams are very familiar with performance metrics.  Defining and distributing those metrics can set goals for productivity, performance and thus overall improvement in sprint process.

4.    Off-shore Team structure, Roles and Responsibilities

4.1 Off-shore team structure

Dual-shore Teams Structure:

Dual shore team functions as one team at multiple locations with one scrum master and meetings with all of the members from different parts of the world.

Shared-Shore Teams Structure:

Shared-Shore team will have one scrum master; teams mostly function as multiple teams where daily standup area attended only by core members of team from multiple locations.

4.2 Roles and Responsibilities

Onsite agile catalyst:

This role is very similar to off-shore coordinator role in waterfall except responsibilities are different.  Agile catalyst is a member of off-shore team located onsite. His main responsibility is communication between teams and attending all team meetings from off-shore as well as onsite.  This resource will not have direct sprint task rather works reviewer of deliverables.

Off-shore proxy Product Owner:

This position is very confusing to several of agile teams.  But this is an important position for agile scrum success. This resource works very closely with actual product owner to understand product owner vision and then direct the off-shore team based on the vision.  One of the important point to note here is that this resource will not have any decision making capacity.  Ownership of every decision goes back to actual product owner only.

Off-shore sprint team:

Off-shore sprint team layout is very similar to onsite.

5.    Hand-off between onsite and off-shore teams

Hand-off is an important part of success of teams from multiple locations. Story acceptance to offshore sprint team to be clearly discussed on requirement standpoint as well as on assumptions made. Sprint planning is good place to clear those doubts.  As like in any environment, expectation management is an important part of the hand-off both ways. Daily stand-up is good place to reiterate the decision taken and most importantly assumptions not validated. Impediments and their impact have to be clearly discussed. Expectations on every deliverables have to be discussed.

6.    Cultural difference

Every country has cultural difference of its own.  Education, induction to work force, work culture is very different in many countries.  India and china are prime example of hierarchical work culture to some degree closes opportunity to voice bigger concerns, sometime even opinions.   Scrum requires open and honest opinions and discussions to take advantages of self-organizing team.  To some degree lot of times off-shore sprint teams have to put to test to question solutions and ideas floated by others.

7.     Strong Independent Agile teams, Myth or Reality

Rapid advance in collaboration tools and gaining acquaintance of work culture in different countries will make independent agile teams possible in few years.

8.   Conclusion

This discussion is to communicate that, scrum teams on an off-shore location is still a challenge, but can be done.  It takes lot of effort to make it work.  If not managed properly time in managing an off-shore team will eat into sprint tasks with in onsite team members.  Often some of best talents in the team will be pulled to solve problems from off-shore which also can create a team moral issue and of course productivity.


About Joseph Vargheese

One Response to Roles and Responsibilities in Onsite Off-shore Agile Scrum

  1. Vishnu says:

    I am reading through your posts, and wanted to let you know they are really great! Keep writing!

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