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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Jul 26, 2019

Joining Dan Neumann today are Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby! In case you don’t already know them, Johanna Rothman is known as the “Pragmatic Manager” and is the author of 14 books (and counting)! Through her management consulting, she helps managers and leaders create projects, teams, and organizations that work. Mark Kilby is an agile mentor and coach, playing many roles on the software and product lifecycle stage. His passions include serving servant leaders and building sustainable organizations that bring value to the people inside and outside the organization.


Recently, Mark and Johanna have collaborated on the book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams, that teaches how to create a successful distributed agile team and leave the chaos of virtual teams behind. This fascinating book will also be today’s topic of discussion! Johanna and Mark outline the differences between co-located, distributed, and dispersed teams; why the distinction between all three is important for agile teams; what is an agile team; key principles for these different types of agile teams; and nuggets of wisdom for managers of these teams.


Key Takeaways

The distinction between colocated, distributed, and dispersed teams; and why it’s important:

A co-located team is one that is collaborating and communicating in person (one that you can simply walk up to and have a discussion with)

A distributed team is a group of individuals collaborating and communicating via communication technology (AKA a virtual team)

A dispersed team is where some team members are in one space together while the rest are in another

Mark has a simple way of distinguishing between these types through space analogies:

A Satelite team: where the bulk of the team is located but you’ve got a small number of the team that is not co-located with each other

The Clusters: where the organization has several clusters of people in different locations (i.e. co-located teams that have to coordinate the work)

The Nebula: where everybody is distributed and works from different locations to collaborate as a team

What is a team? And what is key specifically for agile teams?

A team has a single goal (and one that is small enough to be able to actually collaborate together with) and has interdependent work

The team has the capability and the hours of overlap to communicate and check-in with each other so that they have the right understanding of their collective progress and goal

The team watches out for each other to make sure they’re collectively working towards their goal

Key principles that will help your distributed team move towards better agility:

Hours of overlap are crucial in allowing the teams to truly collaborate

Flow efficiency for agile teams

The team needs to create tighter bonds with each other

Self-organizing and self-managing teams

Critical for the teams to decide when the meetings occur and to outline their own working agreements

Nuggets of wisdom and important qualities to uphold for managers that are leading distributed agile teams:

The three important mindset shifts for managers (outlined in their book) are: manage for change, emphasize communication and collaboration, and use agile principles (not practices)

Great managers have organizational expertise and understand how to get things done in the organization in order to set up the right environment for the teams

Managers support teams in their continued growth

Experimentation is key to managing for change

What is Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and how is it an important tool?

VSM is a lean management tool that helps visualize the steps needed to take from product creation to delivering it to the end-customer

It’s especially useful for nebula teams that are completely separated from each other (to be able to see where the work is and how much wait time there is)


Mentioned in this Episode:

Johanna Rothman

Mark Kilby

From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver,
by Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby

“Dispersed vs. Distributed Teams,” by Johanna Rothman

Agile Coaches’ Corner Ep.5: “Exploring an Experimental Mindset with Adam Ulery”

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)


Johanna and Mark’s Book (and TV Show) Picks:

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime Series)

Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, by Caitlin Rosenthal

Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover


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