Communication in Co-located & Distributed Agile Teams

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Alistair Cockburn ( one of the signatories of the Agile Manifesto has very well described about Communication Models in Agile via his book Agile Software Development.He explained that the most effective and efficient mode of communication is face to face communication.

Although this is not always the case, and practically speaking the needs and the desire for communication for both people and the teams changes. Few of the ways explained below suggests how the needs and desires changes as per demanding situation (distributed teams):-

1.Meeting rooms-In order to desire for peace and quietness, certain sound barriers like closed meeting rooms, small or half walled cabins ensure that a person obtains peace as desired.

2.Asynchronous communication methods: methods like voice mail, email and text messages serves as asynchronous communication methods.These methods are needed in situations when a person needs time to think and act and if the person is not present all the time.

3.Written communication: like letters, forms etc. which require a person to ponder and come up with an idea or strategy or inference.

4.Telephone: Sometimes people use this type of communication in order to help them help in diluting a particular person's overly strong personality.


Co-located Team Communication :

On top of the above communication methods, Osmotic communication is suggested as one of the effective communication strategy which not only helps the teams to strongly bond together but also helps in faster resolutions of the issues.As per this communication strategy team persons who are required to communicate a lot (like developer, testers, deployment team or configuration teams etc. .There could be other combinations as well depending on the situations or project's requirements) are seated nearby. This helps them to overhear each other in their background. In this way these team members learn (mostly unconsciously) about what all issues are current or e.g. what is an urgent bug to be fixed, what is the latest priority of the customer to be worked upon. etc.Eventually the team persons overhearing can act fast on the issues.


Cone of Silence is opposite to osmotic communication. In this communication method , the team members who wants to communicate are separated form the rest of the team so that they do not disturb the other team members.This sometimes helps in increasing the productivity of the team member who needs silence to think and perform his work.

Bus length on the other hand is the communication strategy wherein people are put in closer such that they are seated at a distance less than a bus length. This communication strategy is based on the Bus-Length communication principle which states that the communication between people reduces as soon as their (walking) distance exceeds the length of a school bus.

All the above communication methods will be effective if the team(s) are co-located. Also in all the above communication methods the most common fact is face to face communication which helps in building the emotional connect among the team members which eventually leads to increased productivity or team velocity etc

Distributed Team Communication:

For distributes teams (teams which are geographically separated and by timezone): For such teams it is not practically possible to achieve face to face communication. But the teams could achieve effective communication by leveraging the potential of different communication tools like:

1. Asana for task or workflow management

2. Skype or Google hangouts or Organization provided communication channel for calls

3. Atlassian JIRA for issue and project tracking

4. Various JIRA plugins including Confluence which is a collaborative wiki tool to share knowledge effectively.

5. Yammer for discussions, knowledge sharing within the team(s).

6. A Team can also create and share small video snippets in order to explain what has been done for the day so that another team can catch-up and start working from that point.

7. Pair programming via shared machine (aka virtual co-location)

8. Aha to create product road maps.

9.Planning poker for estimation.

10. PivotalTracker for project-planning.

Find many more agile tools (including Agile communication tools) on

Distributed teams , however should be allowed to choose their own communication tool from a variety of options. The team should best judge it by doing and learning.The main aim in such distributed teams is frequent and effective communication.

Read this short article on remote teams

To summarize, I tried to put up communication methods for both co-located and distributed teams in Agile, also compared the advantages of different communication methods.

Agile teams inspect and adapt any particular communication strategy or methodology as per their need.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. :)

Posted on: June 11, 2019 02:09 AM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Very interesting article, thanks for sharing

Good list for distributed communication. One of the perils I've found is that too many tools can be adopted by a team, and then it becomes very difficult to find the information you need or to keep your conversations in sync. Teams need to consider this when they add new tools.

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