Improving Productivity and Efficiency for Fully Distributed Teams
As the communication platforms evolve and the development teams across companies are getting bigger there seems to be a growing interest in distributed teams, their productivity and costs. At the beginning of the year a series of blog posts on this subject was distributed via the Pragmatic Manager newsletter (volume #9) by Johanna Rothman, from Rothman Consulting Group, who also runs the "Working Effectively in Distributed Agile Teams" workshop with InfoQ’s Shane Hastie. The subject was also touched upon by Simon Baker, from Energised Work, in his “No Bull” paper.
More recently, in May of this year, Andrew Montalenti, the co-founder and CTO of Parse.ly, blogged about the factors that changed the way fully distributed teams can communicate and work to achieve higher productivity. Montalenti believes that recent developments of the web 2.0 software and communication platforms, such as Skype and Google+ Hangouts, as well as availability of high-speed broadband in private homes, made fully distributed and efficient teams possible. He argues that the high comfort level for engineers, long periods of uninterrupted work in private and opportunities to leverage established and optimised work style of each team member make up for the cost of the effort needed. When asked about the impact on the culture of the team he replies: “Pretty much everyone on our team used to work in an office environment where it was not uncommon to be interrupted 10 or 15 times a day by people sitting next to you. Many of my colleagues recall times they would wake up early or stay at the office late just so that they could experience the serenity of a few hours of focused programming without the incessant cacophony of idle conversation caused by their peers.” What is more, Montalenti does not think that these changes will affect only engineers: “I think remote work is actually beneficial for many different team roles. Sys ops and QA definitely fall under that”, he states.
The blog entry contains definitions of alternative development team models: vertically-scaled, horizontally-scaled and fully distributed. Using examples of Github, Automattic, Basho and 37 Signals Montalenti argues that the latter is an acceptable, cost effective and increasingly popular alternative to the more traditional set ups: “Fully Distributed teams are now not only viable, but in many ways superior to co-located teams, especially for software engineering work. And I suspect the trend will continue”, he says. In Montalenti’s opinion the future of this model is closely related to future evolution of the on-line communication software: “Technology - and particularly audio/video technology - will help distributed teams along in the next 10 years. We're moving away from one-on-one conversation as the primary way to collaborate and toward many-to-many."
What is your expereince with distributed teams? Do you agree that developemnt teams consisting of people working from their homes and in different time zones across the whole world are the way to go?
Experience in distributed teams
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