Disciplined Agile

Practice: Facilitating Remote Teams

Leading remote teams offers additional challenges for team leads. This article offers some pointers for special attention.


Leading a remote team is much different than leading a collocated team. And the team lead’s role and activities are crucial to the success of the remote team. Leading a remote team can be more intense.

Unfortunately, collocation is not always possible. Especially today when remote work is starting to become the norm for many companies.

Communication is less efficient in remote teams. It is much more complex. Remote teams lose the non-verbal / body-language elements that are important parts of the communication process. Even with great video and audio, the connection is not the same. Timeliness and context become even more important. You lose immediacy of being near someone. Time zones lead to delays. Distractions can be rampant.

The team lead has to pay special attention to the team environment, tools, communication, and clear shared understanding within the team of their ways of working. They have to put a premium on staying in touch and communicating more.

Here are key aspects of DA that should be paid special attention when being a team lead of a remote team:



Pay Attention to / Strive For


Form Team

Team size (keep it small)

Team stability

Team’s tool environment

Having dedicated team members (as opposed to “shared resources”)

Plan the Release

Keeping iterations as short as possible to allow for quick feedback

Visualizing the team’s plan


Grow Team Members

Facilitating skill-building

Facilitating and supporting team member development

Coaching team and members

Establishing and maintaining a positive (agile) team environment

Coordinate Activities

Helping the team to coordinate every day (or as close to that as possible)

Accommodating all team members; this may require meeting on different times of the day

Evolve Way of Working (WoW)

Helping organize and document an efficient tool environment

Using agile tools for managing product backlog, impediment backlog, stories, tasks, and tests so that teams can collaborate asynchronously

Conducting process improvement workshops for the whole team to build a shared understanding and a sense of ownership

Making sure the team works through improvements that they have identified

Establishing and visualizing team agreements (DoR, DoD, roles and responsibilities, guidelines, etc.) 

Govern Team

Focusing on servant leadership

Principles and Practices

As a coach, it helps to step back to understand the “whys” and the principles and practices involved. This helps in making choices. As usual, these flow out of the laws of flow, lean, and the theory of constraints.




Delays in workflow of the value stream cause waste

Avoid handoffs, hand-backs and delays in workflow

Co-located, cross-functional teams

Working beyond capacity results in waste because it causes delays, multi-tasking and lack of focus

Avoid having people work beyond their capacity

Implement a pull system to manage workload

Delays in achieving feedback increase the chance for errors, which can cause significant waste

Implement quick feedback cycles. Work on small items and complete them before starting new items.

Use MBIs, test-first development, automated testing, dev and test working together

Lack of visibility increases the likelihood that the laws above will be violated

Increasing visibility of workflow and having explicit workflow policies is good

Maintain a board that both shows the work to be done and how the team has agreed to do the work

Looking at this, we can find practices that also work for remote teams.

  • Each team member should be dedicated to one value stream.
  • Avoid overloading the team by using a pull system where team members pull new work when they are ready.
  • Create visibility of the work being done.
  • Use MBIs to identify the smallest increments of work to develop.
  • Use test-first development and automated testing, developers and testers working together.
  • Strive to have people in the same or close time zones. If not possible, arrange work so delays in collaboration don’t occur. This may even be worked to the teams advantage when one team member can do some work on their own and hand it off to other team members in different time zones. This enables more work to be done in a 24 hour period on a particular work item, thus accelerating it’s time to completion.
  • Coordination meetings to keep the team up to date become more important when not collocated.
  • Have collaborative working sessions as often as possible for remote pairing/mobbing.

What About Face-to-Face?

There is no question that face-to-face is important. But this too, can be done remotely. The fact that we’re used to having meetings with several people doesn’t mean we can’t have one-on-ones to get to know each other. Teams may be well advised to spend more time with some one-on-ones at the beginning until people know each other better. Having regular “get to know each other events” is another way to improve this.

Bottom Line

There’s nothing inherently worse about virtual teams. What’s important is how they manifest following the principles and laws of Flow, Lean and Theory of Constraints. In many circumstances remote teams can work better than co-located ones. Collocated teams is only one of three main aspects of teams that help their effectiveness. The other two are being cross-functional and being focused on one value stream.