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Scott W. Ambler

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Geographically Distributed Agile Development

July 21, 2011

One question that keeps popping up is whether you can be agile on geographically distributed teams. The answer is a resounding yes: DDJ's 2009 Software Development Success Rates found that agile teams are successful at all levels of geographic distribution. It also found that an agile approach is better for co-located and near-located teams compared to traditional strategies, and is equal to a traditional approach for far-located teams. Granted, project success rates go down the more distributed the team is, regardless of the paradigm.

So how do you implement agility in geographically distributed teams? In The Distributed Agile Team (DDJ December 2008), I described several key strategies for applying agile strategies in geographical distributed environments. The article covered how to organize a distributed agile team effectively and how some practices (such as daily coordination meetings and requirements envisioning) need to be tailored to reflect the level of geographic distribution. I also discussed the necessity of adopting development tools that reflect the realities of distributed development and yes, even the need to fly some people out to various team sites. In these economic times, I realize how difficult it can be to get a travel budget, but I've literally seen organizations waste millions of dollars on IT projects because they refused to spend 40,000 dollars on travel.

Geographically distributed agile delivery is clearly too complex a topic to cover in a short blog posting. Luckily, there's great advice in the book A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum, published by IBM Press in 2010, that you should find useful. The book goes far beyond Scrum and covers other agile scaling issues such as team size as well.

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