Why distributed teams don't work and what to do about it

Based on 10 years distributed agile experience, Hugo's distilled 5 core problems in distributed software development. To find solutions, he's gathered data from hundreds of practitioners and wrote 6 books about remote teams. Co-presenter Fleur van Unen has worked in large scale projects for a big bank. In this workshop, participants will learn practical solutions to make distributed teams work better. 

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Outline/structure of the Session


Participants will write down their #1 challenge and #1 learning goal. They'll share those with the group and we'll group them together. Hugo and Fleur will introduce themselves, the goal of the workshop and instructions + agenda. The main instrument of the workshop is the 'distributed team canvas': 8 building blocks for distributed team alignment. 

See the Distributed team canvas

The chronological outline of the workshop:

Concepts and materials 

Hugo will share the top 5 challenges he's gathered and compare those with the challenges from the group. He will also share some solutions and ideas that address the challenges. Fleur will share some practical experiences from her practice at the bank. We'll go through the basics of the distributed team canvas so everybody understands the questions and exercises. Everybody will get a handout with clear instructions.

Challenge board 

We'll form teams of 3-5 people. Each team starts a broad brainstorm about the challenges they're facing working with distributed colleagues. The challenges can be on the scaling level or on the practical team level. All challenges will be put on stickies around the canvas. 

Group challenge presentation

Each team presents the top 3 challenges they've defined to the other teams. 

Solutions sharing 

Hugo will share solutions he's gathered from his own experience, his books and hundreds of people who joined his workshops. We'll then go through the 8 blocks of the distributed team canvas and discuss the solutions related to each block. 

Solutions board

The teams will now move to brainstorming their own solutions. Each team discusses what can be done to address the challenges defined. This is done in the form of experience sharing. Every solution is written on a sticky and put into one of the canvas blocks. Teams can use the handouts for stimulating questions and examples of practices.


Each team shares the 3 solutions they found most valuable with the other teams. 



Learning Outcome

Key learning points:

  • How to apply agile methods to a distributed setting
  • Combining scaling with distribution
  • Practical experiences from seasoned distributed team managers/coaches
  • Learn how to communicate smoothly across culture, distance and time
  • How to bridge cultural differences in distributed teams


Target Audience

Management Team and Regular Employee's

schedule Submitted 1 year ago

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comment Comment on this Proposal
  • Naresh Jain
    By Naresh Jain  ~  1 year ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Hugo, thanks for the proposal. What are the 5 core problems with distributed development that you mentioned in your abstract?

    • Hugo Messer
      By Hugo Messer  ~  1 year ago
      reply Reply

      Hi Naresh

      thanks for the question! I'll mention them on top level, without going into the details:

      1. We’re thinking ‘us’ versus’ them’
      2. Keeping the team in the dark 
      3. Culture is a mystery
      4. We stop communicating
      5. The black box


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    About this talk

    I've been a gamer for over two decades now. I've been in business and IT universe for more than 16 years. And I'm always amazed at how similar and yes so far apart both worlds are when it comes to product development. 

    In 2007, I came across one of the most unique gaming experiences called EVE Online. It's known as a Single Shard Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game set in space. With a full time job, I dropped off the famous EVE learning cliff fairly quickly !

    in 2008 as luck would have it as I came off a major project and failure after a disagreement with my client who was building the next great business networking platform (Yet another challenger to LinkedIn), I decided to take a break and stumbled back into EVE Online as the idea of a single shard sandbox looked like the perfect place for a developer to unwind and learn more about how serious internet spaceships could be. 

    The year spent in a corporation of fully distributed team members utilising Google Spreadsheets, Teamspeak and simple tracking tools showed that with purpose, even the most distinct personalities can come together on a weekly (almost daily) basis after work to create unique objects and become an industrial backbone of 1000+ strong alliance. 

    Thankfully, when a opportunity job came across my desk in 2008, I took on these lessons learnt towards working with the next few companies and learning many principles of how Agility can help organisations. User Experience design became an integral part of the process and finally Product Management. 

    In this talk, I share about the lessons learnt in gaming worlds and real life and how one might chart his/her path towards coaching teams in their area of expertise. With autonomy, mastery and purpose, find joy in the work that one does daily. 


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