Common Myths & Misconceptions for Distributed Agile Teams in Software Development

Throughout this series, we have explored some of the best practices for agile-scrum teams, but in the light of distributed team situations. Scio provides software development teams – working from our development center in Morelia – for projects throughout North America. Our practices, methodologies and culture are tuned to distributed team situations in a nearshore deployment. We discuss the realities of outsourcing and distributed teams with our prospects and clients on a regular basis. As we wrap up this series, let’s discuss some of the common myths and misconceptions that we hear about frequently.

There is no additional overhead for projects using distributed teams for agile-scrum projects.

Reality: Shared vision, communication, strong procedures, and planning are part of the required overhead for working smart in a distributed team environment. But, the truth is – these same elements should be part of any software development project to ensure success. While a distributed environment requires more rigor and attention to details, all projects benefit from addressing these issues.

More specification must be done at the start of a distributed team project

Reality: Increasing the upfront development of specifications for an agile-scrum project creates a false sense of security and understanding. When something needs to change, there will be latent resistance. There is an increased focus for the full team on understanding where the team(s) are and assuring knowledge is shared – but that should be a normal part of communication in any situation.

Distributed teams cannot do agile and scrum

Reality: If teams are able to organize independently, are cross-functional, collaborative, etc. – there is an overhead in coordination between teams (scrum of scrums) but mitigation in the form of improved awareness of the state of tasks can keep it to a minimum. It is much better to spend resources on coordination than fixes because one team went off the track, wasting time and resources.

Distributed teams have lower quality, more redo’s

Reality: If teams are cross-functional, managing their own tasks and backlog, enabled to work directly with the product owners, have a full development environment using test-driven development, continuous integration and practice regular builds on the central repository for the project, a great number of problems can be avoided. Regular team-wide meetings for planning, pruning, technical issues are overhead, but they will lower impediments greatly if done with openness and trust.

In larger projects, it is better to work as one team than two or more smaller teams even if some members are not co-located with the majority of team members

Reality: The communication and planning overhead does not go down in one larger team in comparison to two or more smaller teams, it rises. Size matters – smaller, self-organizing teams are more efficient overall. Team members in a larger team have less push to be individually responsible and to participate actively in the project. They can easily “hide” in the larger team. In larger teams, the overhead for work review actually climbs, because of the number of people who have to be informed and communicated with.  And if the “larger team” is composed of remote members without properly recognizing them as distributed teams or single outside team members – the adherence to standard methodology, processes and assurance procedures tends to drop dramatically. They are literally “out of sight, out of mind.”

There are a lot more things that could be said, but the bottom line is – best practices matter in all agile-scrum projects. Agile is not a license to operate without structure – quite the opposite. It depends on individual responsibility, communication and adherence to the processes and methodologies adopted by the project team. Agile is adaptive. It will scale along with scrum to situations with distributed teams. Teams that adopt the practices and procedures necessary to be successful in distributed situations as a part of their regular work patterns will have better results in all situations.

We hope this series has been useful and informative for you – helping you to understand what is “behind the curtain” in successful projects and some of the lessons we have learned in the field. If you have a project that you believe could benefit from a team that understands how to leverage agile and scrum in a nearshore implementation, don’t hesitate to contact us.