Disciplined Agile

What Does it Mean to be Geographically Distributed?

Your team is considered co-located when the developers and the primary stakeholders are all situated in the same work room. Otherwise your team is either geographically distributed or dispersed in some manner. Even when you have some team members in cubicles or in separate offices you’re slightly distributed. It may not be obvious at first, but even this level of geographic distribution – people being separated by cubicle walls and several meters apart – injects communication risk into your team. And it gets worse. Team members may be working on different floors in the same building, they may be working in different buildings within the same geographic area (perhaps your team is spread across different office buildings in the same city or some people work from home some days), they may be working in different cities in the same country, or working in different cities around the globe. In many cases it is a combination of several of the above.

Figure 1 overviews the differences between geographic distribution and geographic dispersion. A team is fully dispersed when nobody sits together. In this case they may be in different cubicles or offices within the same building, or working from separate buildings. Sometimes we have what is known as distributed sub-teams, where there are one or more co-located teams at different locations (even different ends of the same floor within a building). Many times a team is partially dispersed in that several people sit together at the same location but a few sit elsewhere (perhaps in cubicles or at home). Then of course there is the combination of distributed sub-teams where one or more of the sub-teams is partially dispersed (not shown). Throughout this article, we will use the following terms:

  • Geographically distributed teams. For the sake of simplicity this include teams that are either geographic distributed or that include geographically dispersed team members.
  • Co-located. Teams where the developers are in a single room, often called a “war room,” “pod,” or “tiger team room,” working beside one another.
  • Near-located. All team members are within reasonable driving distance (e.g. if would be possible for everyone to come into a single location each day if required).
  • Far-located. One or more people are far enough away that they would likely need to take a flight in order to meet with other team members physically.

Team Distribution

Figure 1. Geographic distribution and dispersion.