Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Can Distributed Teams be Truly Creative?

As I've mentioned before, I lead a distributed, UK-based development team. We have been using this model for a number of years now and have produced and shipped a number of quality, profitable products.

I spent all of yesterday in the same room as another developer as we blue-sky-brain-stormed-out-of-the-box (!) some solutions for an ongoing problem. What I noticed most was how easily ideas started to flow when we were both just walking around the same home office, sipping coffee, tossing a rugby ball and occasionally glancing at the same screen.

Now, we are an Agile company - and I'm not just paying lip-service to this morning's most fashionable meme. We ship regularly and often, we Scrum every morning and we hold retrospectives after every 4 week sprint. However, are we missing something? Are we missing an environment that creates those sparks of genius that turn a profitable product into a remarkable product?

Working from home has some enormous advantages:
  • No daily commute.
  • Perfect, individual working environment.
  • Flexible hours (being home for the delivery or boiler service).
  • No overtime barrier. It's easy to stop at 6pm, put the kids to bed, walk the dog and dine with your wife then carry on with work immediately after.
  • ... the list goes on.

How, then, do we combine the benefits of home-working with those of being in the same room? My understanding is that teleportation is still some way off. There is also the issue of cost. Do we rent more office space that we can sporadically utilise? That would seem like an unwarranted overhead.

I apologise if you've now read all this way, made a temporal investment in this article and are just waiting for the payback answer... cos there isn't one! Sorry.

In my defence I think my development team will be meeting more regularly and we'll see what that spawns. I will update this post as and when I discover new solutions. Alternatively, contact me with your ideas and we can start building a list of suggestions.

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