Finding a “Place” for Distributed Agile Teams

Agile development methods are a powerful way to manage projects in order to meet dynamic customer requirements.  By breaking tasks down into small increments, emphasizing face-to-face communication, accountability, and working systems, a team using Agile methods can make progress when traditional methods would not work. 

As Agile methodologies have spread, maintaining face-to-face communication and accountability have become important issues.  In a presentation she delivered at Ignite Boston 6 in September 2009, Julie LeMoine of the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology said…

One of the biggest mantras for Agile teams is that you have to be co-located.  If you are not co-located, you are not going to be highly performant.

This mantra is increasingly difficult to follow as organizations become distributed across geographies.  Since Agile methods give preference to working systems as a measure of progress, the ability to collaborate closely within the development process by working side-by-side is a challenge in today’s era of global teams.  With a distributed team, there is no physical “there” anymore; no physical project room or war room can offer equal access for all team members to working documents and the project context.  Acknowledging this as a reality, Fidelity’s LeMoine added…

We are looking for a location where we can all be, regardless of where we all are.

Virtual environments can be that location – or place – where all members of an Agile team can be, regardless of where they are physically.  At Teleplace, we have customers who are using our solution to help them manage their distributed Agile projects.  They are using Teleplace workspaces as “war rooms”, as well as a place to conduct daily standup meetings.

There are some very tangible reasons why it makes sense to use virtual environments like Teleplace for Agile project management:

  • Workspaces are persistent and are continuously available for the duration of a project.
  • Team members can communicate in a variety of ways – voice, video, text chat, etc.
  • Team members can share – and work on – multiple applications and documents simultaneously.

However, many of the arguments for using virtual environments to manage distributed Agile teams are less tangible.  Virtual environments, like Teleplace, give team members direct visual feedback on each other’s interactions in a room, as well with applications and data, as though they were physically side-by-side.  This enables a level of communication among users that fosters mentoring and coaching, unlike what is possible with web conferencing solutions.

One of the largest insurance companies in the United States uses Teleplace to manage Agile projects that involve team members that span the United States, Ireland, and India.  In a recent project, they were able to shave ten months off what was supposed to be a two year development project because their day-to-day communications were so much more effective in a virtual environment versus what they used in the past (email and web conferencing).

Do you have Agile projects that involve team members in different locations?  What challenges do you face in managing such projects?  What does your organization use to manage distributed Agile projects?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.

- Perry Mizota, Marketing, Teleplace

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2 Responses to Finding a “Place” for Distributed Agile Teams

  1. agilebill4d says:

    My experience has been distributed teams work “effectively enough” using virtual tools like Teleplace (and in some cases even better!). The key with Teleplace is the great job of adding ‘big visible charts’ to the walls. This is a best practice the Agile Teams I coach.

    It’s way cool to run taskboard / kanban tools like AgileZen in Teleplace, and watch in realtime as team members drag stories along the wall.

  2. Avdi Grimm says:

    Interesting. The difficulty for any sense-of-place tool is when the tool becomes disconnected from reality – when a coworker who appears to be “in the same room” onscreen is actually down the hall grabbing a coffee. When this becomes common trust in the system breaks down.

    That’s why when I’m working closely with someone I sometimes like to leave a video feed running even if one of us leaves the desk. There’s nothing like actually seeing someone move around to confirm that yes, they are really there.

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