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Agile and Distributed Teams: research results

I worked with ProjectsAtWork in 2012 to research and analyse good practices for making Agile successful with distributed teams. Agile isn’t the first approach you would think of to manage a project with team members spread all over the world, but actually it is a really common approach.

Why people use Agile with a distributed team

People use Agile with distributed teams because it’s cheaper. It gives project teams more flexibility. It increases productivity. The research looked at a number of benefits, but those are the top 3.

Using offshore resources was often given as one of the reasons why distributed teams make projects more flexible. But some of the people surveyed said that distributed teams meant they could choose the best person for the job, not just the person who worked in the same office. It gives project managers a chance to pick from a bigger resource pool, and so increase quality.

The downside of having people all over the place is that teams often suffer with time differences. Nearly 25% of people reported working with a time difference of over 9 hours. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them said that working with a distributed team was harder than working with a co-located team.

How do you make Agile work with a distributed team?

There are lots of tips in the report, but here are five of my favourite.

  1. Don’t assume that what worked on one project will work on another. Tailor your Agile environment to suit each team. Even better, let the team tailor it for themselves.
  2. Use the same tools as your partners if you offshore or outsource any work.
  3. Don’t offshore individual disciplines. Keep a multi-functional team at all the locations.
  4. Have a daily stand up meeting, using web conferencing.
  5. Communicate more than you think you have to, especially around ensuring people understand the end goal. This is also important if you have multiple languages in use in the team – spend time making sure people understand what was discussed.

What does an experienced Agile professional look like?

One of the things I did as part of the research was to put together a profile of an experienced Agile professional, based on the survey of about 340 people.

An experienced Agile professional:

  • is aged 35-44
  • is male
  • uses Scrum
  • has worked on over 10 projects, but most of them have not been with distributed teams
  • works in IT
  • works in the largest or smallest companies
  • considers himself an Agile practitioner but does not have a formal qualification
  • believes the greatest challenge for distributed teams is poor communication
  • works in a company where less than 20% of the project managers are Agile project managers.

I thought more respondents would be women, but there don’t seem to be that many experienced Agile professionals who are women. Any ideas why?

Get the report

You can get your own copy of Agile Distributed Teams: Achieving the Benefits for free.

Update 2021: The report itself now seems impossible to find but it’s probably on the Projectmanagement.com website somewhere. There is a slide deck that summarises the main parts of the report available here.

There’s a small section of acknowledgements in the report, but I’d personally like to thank the following Agile experts for letting me interview you for this research:

  • Raja Bavani, Chief Architect of MindTree’s Product Engineering Services (PES) and IT Services (ITS) groups
  • Jonathon Ende, CEO of software development company Bizodo
  • Philip Black, Chief Operating Officer at Agile professional services firm Emergn
  • Scott Ambler, Chief Methodologist for Agile and Lean at IBM Rational
  • Jimi Fosdick, certified Scrum trainer and Agile process coach at CollabNet
  • J. Lance Reese, President of technology consulting firm Silver Peak Consulting, Inc.
  • Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx
  • Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop Technologies, Inc
  • Mike DeVries, CMO of GlobalLogic
  • Todd Olson, VP Products at Rally

This report is the kind of thing I can do for my clients. If you want to hire me for something similar, get in touch here.

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