Understanding Distance for a Geographically Distributed Team

As Mark Kilby and I work through the images and text for the geographically distributed teams book, I wanted to clarify what collocated and distributed mean.

Collocated teams sit near each other in space. However, not everyone agrees on what is “near.”

Allen Curve

In Developing Products in Half the Time, Smith and Reinertsen use the Allen Curve to discuss the distance at which you can consider a team to be distributed as opposed to collocated.

Notice that there’s only a 30% chance of communication when people are 8 m apart. It takes about 10 steps to walk 8 meters. Yes, 10 steps. It takes about 40 steps to walk 30 m. That’s all. We’re not talking a lot of time and distance here.

Notice that by the time you get to 24 m (30-31 steps), you have less than a 5% chance of communication. This is not just to ask a question, but any communication.

The Allen Curve explains why team rooms work so well for agile teams.

If your team is not all on the same floor, in a close cluster of offices/cubes, you have some sort of a geographically distributed team. Yes, even if you are all on the same campus. If you are in one building or on one campus, you have what I’ve been calling a geo-fence around the team. Your managers might not realize you have a distributed team, but you do.

What do geographically distributed teams do? They create a virtual team room. They use that space.

The first step is to realize you have a distributed team. The next is to realize you need a team space so you can all collaborate.

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