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Agile Organizations: 4 Communication Tips For Decentralized Teams

By Ron Montgomery (1041 words)
Posted in Project & Process Management on January 9, 2014

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One on one communication is a cornerstone of agility.  The Agile Manifesto devotes one of its four values and two of its twelve principles to this type of communication by stating the following:

Value: “We have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”


Principles Supporting That Value:

  1. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

  2. “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”


Agile communications can be simple in a small environment – the teams can be co-located in an open setting.  But this type of communication is difficult in the far-flung software development environment that exists in most medium-to-large companies.  Vendors, alliance partners, and widely-dispersed employees share software development responsibilities on the same software platforms in different buildings, time-zones and countries.  These circumstances present numerous challenges, but these challenges are being met successfully every day by agile organizations.  Here are some tips for making it work.  


Agile Organizations: 4 Communication Tips For Decentralized Teams


Tip #1 – Build On a Foundation of Small and Local Teams

Organizations make decisions about the division of work in software development based on considerations such as functional organization, core competencies, time zones or even political “turf.”  Organizations which are serious about agile transformation need to at least temporarily set aside such considerations and attempt to organize the work in such a way as to optimize team performance.  This typically means defining small, self-contained, local teams with about 7-9 members including Scrum Master and Product Owner roles.  Implementing small, local teams will allow effective intra-team communication and limit the communication issues to scrum-of-scrums, release planning, and program level communications.


Tip #2 – Respect Time Zones

When the primary development teams exist in one location, it is common for these teams to drive the schedule for key planning meetings around their own schedules.  It’s easy to forget that a 10 am start for a release planning meeting in Chicago means an 8:30 PM start for their colleagues in Chennai.  Avoid the presumption that the offshore teams will always be inconvenienced, and rotate cross-team meeting schedules so that the pain is shared among teams.  Such meetings should be scheduled far in advance in order to allow time for team members to adjust their schedules.


To help remind team members of the time zones, consider placing multiple clocks showing the current time in the time zones of other teams in conference rooms and other conspicuous locations.  


Tip #3 – Establish Proper “Tooling”

As noted in the “values” statement above, individuals and interactions are valued above processes and tools.  However, it does not follow that tools should be avoided, particularly if those tools facilitate communications.  At minimum, you will need to invest in conference rooms with quality audio and video conferencing capability.   Beyond this, consider setting up a team room with voice and video capabilities to support constant, informal communications among teams.  Also, ensure the teams have Instant Messaging as well as tools to support collaboration such as Wikis and/or SharePoint sites.


Agile teams need to be able to share backlogs, release plans, and sprint plans.  When all teams are in a common location, this can be accomplished with simple tools such as flip charts, white boards, and sticky notes.  In a geographically dispersed environment, it will be necessary to invest in agile management tools, a few of which are listed in Additional Resources below.  


Tip #4 – Pack Your Bags (and don’t forget your passport)

There is no getting around it.  Agile organizations with geographically-dispersed teams require a considerable amount of travel.  The tools listed in Tip #3 above can improve day-to-day communications but team members and leaders do need to meet in person, particularly for major planning events and system demonstrations.  Don’t just assume that the remote sites will travel to headquarters.  Instead, establish a schedule of site visits by agile leaders and stick to the schedule.


The agile movement has matured greatly in the last five years.  It has moved beyond pilot projects and is being used successfully by large organizations with extensive software development organizations.  The tips listed above and the additional resources below will help ensure you can join them.  


Additional Resources:


Jeff Sutherland on Team Size



Dean Leffingwell on Managing Highly Distributed Development

Leffingwell, Dean.  2007.  Scaling Software Agility. Boston, MA:  Addison-Wesley, 261-265


Blog – Distributed Agile and the Death of Distance



Agile tools (partial list - no endorsement is implied)



Written by Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC Ron is certified as a Project Management Professional, Agile Certified Practitioner and Certified ScrumMaster with over 35 years of hands-on experience in business planning, software development, process improvement & deployment of software solutions.  By partnering with clients to drive business value from technology projects, Ron assists clients with business planning, IT strategy, project and program management, vendor selection and team training/mentoring.


Do you have a management question for Ron? Please visit our Project Management Community and he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 

Communication Essentials For Project Managers

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Learn How Action Oriented Team Management Can Drive Timely Results.

Lessons Learned Templates & Guide: A Managers Toolkit for Continuous Improvement

Agile Methodology: A Creative Approach to Project Management 

Agile Success Factors: The Product Owner Role



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Comments (1)

Agile Instructional Design posted on: October 23, 2018

Great Post! I read your blog and came to know more about Agile. I am searching from long time this kind of information. Your blog really helped me a lot, thanks for the valuable information!

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