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Agile Operating Model

Can Agile adoption thrive without co-located teams?

With so many new ways of working, including working from home, working in the office and the hybrid of both, we wanted to have a look at how Agile teams work under this new paradigm post pandemic. Can Agile adoption thrive without co-located teams?

When the Agile manifesto was originally written in 2001, it was solely created to improve software development.    Now, 20 years on, the four values and 12 principles still apply to this day, used by many functions beyond software and it’s important to reflect on them often.   

The four values of Agile are:

1. Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
2. Working Output over Comprehensive Documentation
3. Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
4. Responding to Change over Following a Plan

The twelve principles of Agile include:
  1. Customer satisfaction through early and continuous delivery
  2. Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
  3. Frequent delivery of output
  4. Collaboration with business stakeholders throughout the project
  5. Support, trust and motivate the people involved
  6. Enable face-to-face interactions
  7. Working output is the primary measure of progress
  8. Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
  9. Attention to detail and design enhances agility
  10. Simplicity – Develop just enough to get the job done for right now
  11. Self-organising teams encourage great architectures, requirements and designs
  12. Regular reflections on how to become more effective

In this article we are reflecting on Value 1: Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools  and principle number 6: Enable face-to-face interactions – Communication is more successful when teams are co-located.

We believe nothing has really changed in a remote working world, as face-to-face communication is still completely feasible using all the technology at our disposal! What’s really important here is the Agile value “People and Interactions over Processes and Tools” which prompts us to recognise the importance of our human relationships and how we can communicate best.

Ben Lyon, is with our ADAPTOVATE office in London.   He explains it this way, “Let’s say you need to have an important conversation with your best friend: would you rather email, phone, Zoom or see them in person? Easy choice. Now let’s say you’re not in the same country, could you still have a great conversation with them over Zoom or phone call? Of course! The point is that we would naturally opt for the most ‘real’ method of communication available at the time in order to get the best outcome. The same principle applies to our working relationships in dispersed teams.”

In this era, are you part of a team where some if not all of your team are working from home, or in another territory altogether? We are betting the answer is ‘yes’.


Back to basics

20 years on,  Agile has become more popular, and more frameworks have been created (40+ Agile methods including Scrum, Kanban, Lean etc) and what was meant to be a methodology for simplicity,  Agile almost turned on itself and became more complex and steeped in bureaucracy.    Rather than throw it all up and start again, a couple of people ensured there were ways to understand the complexities of the many options, quickly and easily.

So, in 2016, the solution was a back-to-basics approach.  “Modern Agile” was revealed by Joshua Kerievsky at the 2016 Agile Conference.  He explains Modern Agile like this: “Modern Agile is a community for people interested in uncovering better ways of getting awesome results. It leverages wisdom from many industries, is principle driven and framework free.”

It includes four principles:

  • Make People Awesome
  • Experiment & Learn Rapidly
  • Deliver Value Continuously
  • Make Safety a Prerequisite
Modern Agile Principles in

As well, the “Heart of Agile” was developed by Alistair Cockburn one of the original signatories to the Agile Manifesto.  The heart of agile considers that a team is agile if operating using four imperatives –

  • Collaborate
  • Deliver
  • Reflect
  • Improve
Heart of Agile diamond graphic

‘face to face’ vs ‘co-located’.  Do they mean the same thing?

So to be agile, do we need to be co-located to adhere to the face to face principle?  We don’t believe it’s as relevant as it once was.   We do believe and always will, that nothing replaces being in the same room as someone else.   There is a clear casualness that results from that hyper personal interaction. It’s hard to share a slice of cake or some pizza with your team virtually, and those little interactions do make a difference in establishing a team’s culture and psychological safety.

Dave Stewart, one of our team in Toronto says, “You can’t replicate the spontaneity and depth of interactions that being face-to-face provides, and you have to be cognisant of the fact that virtual collaboration can’t overcome some challenges that come of being in vastly separated time zones.”

However, consider how things have changed since the pandemic forced us to work from home in most cases where Agile is used.  David continues, “Co-location isn’t a “must” anymore given the evolution of technologies like Zoom, Slack and Miro which allow us to effectively collaborate across distances.”

Don’t Confuse Good Agile with Face-to-face collaboration

Collaborative and timely communication through face-to-face conversation is what contributes to agile adoption; since co-location facilitates face-to-face conversation, it became shorthand for “good agile”.  However, “it isn’t sitting together that drives team dynamics and productivity – conversing and engaging with each other does,” says Karen Chan, from our Toronto office.

Co-location is often conflated with collaboration. While co-location can enable or enhance collaboration, it is not essential. Patrick Fitzgerald from our LA offices has observed,  “Agile has continued to thrive despite geographically dispersed teams because the framework that underpins the methodology necessitates daily teaming/collaboration.”

Tools such as AzureDevOps, Microsoft Teams, and Miro allow teams to seamlessly collaborate across multiple locations/time zones.

Team bonding is best done together

We certainly don’t believe that all Agile should be done in separate locations via Zoom! When possible, have co-located teams to bond teams and go through the 4 stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) more directly.      

It can be useful to create situations, like regular offsites to bring people together to form more personal bonds. That will then make the separate location working relationships stronger.  Especially now, with the current climate of hybrid wfm/office scenarios becoming permanent, and embedded within many companies, offsites will become more essential.

Rachna Verma, a senior consultant in Australia believes, “Offsites are important to create a sense of teaming and for team members to bond.”   She explains, “It’s really important to be co-located on a regular basis. The energy and synergies created are difficult to mimic in the virtual space. Being able to have a laugh, shoot the breeze, walk around the block – it’s really energising and brings connectedness to the front.”

Agile is designed to adapt!

A final note. Agile frameworks, when implemented well, enable organisations to rapidly adapt to landscape changes within an industry. As such, Agile organisations have continued to thrive amidst the tumult caused by COVID.   Companies operating with Agile models and teams operating with an Agile mindset allowed for Agile-forward companies to best survive the COVID crisis.    So the very values and principles that originally underpinned Agile, have allowed for reinterpretations in these times of what Agile can be.


Thank you to our contributors:
Karen Chan – Senior Consultant Toronto
Patrick Fitzgerald – Senior Consultant Los Angeles
Ben Lyon – Senior Consultant London
Yi Jin – Associate Melbourne
Dave Stewart – Project Lead Toronto
Rachna Verma– Senior Consultant Sydney


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