How Geographically Distributed Are Agile Teams in Practice?

Many people, particularly those new to agile, will tell you that agile teams must be small and co-located.  That is certainly a smart way of organizing a team, but is isn’t required.  In fact agile teams are more likely to be geographically distributed in some way than they are to be co-located.  In practice, not theory.

In November of 2016 we ran the 2016 Agility at Scale survey.  It was targeted at people who were currently working on agile teams, or who had recently worked on agile teams, and we asked them straightforward questions around the size of the team, how distributed it was, what complexities they faced, an so on.  The following graph summarizes the responses around geographic distribution.

Geographic distribution and agile teams

The survey found that less than one-third of agile teams are near-located, where all of the IT members are either co-located or at least in a shared open space.  Previous studies have found that this number drops to one-in-ten teams being near located when you also include primary stakeholders.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do agile with a geographically distributed team because others are clearly doing so in practice.  Yes, geographically distributed agile is different than near-located agile, which is one of the reasons why you need to take a pragmatic, context-sensitive approach to agile solution delivery.  The Disciplined Agile framework provides the foundation from which to scale your approach to solution delivery to address a range of scaling factors, including geographic distribution.  In fact, you may find our article around geographically distributed agile teams to be an interesting read.

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2 thoughts on “How Geographically Distributed Are Agile Teams in Practice?

  1. Gary K Evans

    Well stated and concise, Scott. Two-thirds of my current team are located one time zone away. We use audio and video conferencing as effectively as we can. But today I just hung my head at the end of a planning call: “Why can’t we all be in one room?” It was rhetorical. Distribution introduces its own friction and time impediments but today distributed teams are the norm and co-location is a bit of a rarity. But being distributed does not mean we cannot be agile. It just means we have to use agility to find solutions that work for our distributed context.

    1. Scott Ambler Post author

      Thanks. There is significant value in getting people together, if allowed, at key times such as when you need to plan or model together. Unfortunately the bean counters often won’t allow it because the costs of doing so are easy to calculate but the benefits difficult.


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