More on Distributed Teams – Ping Identity’s “Swarm” Model for Remote, Distributed Agile Development

I learned yet another new thing this week while attending a board meeting at Ping Identity, providers of software and services for Internet Single Sign On. Ping’s Development VP, Bill Wood, has been practicing and advancing agile development since 2003, and he always impresses me with his innovations and advanced thinking with respect to agile practices. Agile teams pride themselves on constantly improving their practices, and even after four years, Ping is constantly innovating in order to improve productivity, quality and time to market.

Yesterday, he described, Ping’s “Swarm” model of agile development (which seems to be working well, as exhibited by Ping’s steady stream of frequent, on time releases.) Ping has development teams in the United States, a substantial presence in Moscow, and now a couple of developers in Ireland as well. In Bill’s view, when he finds really talented and highly productive people (we know that some developers achieve 5-10X the productivity of others) with in-depth product knowledge, he is loathe to lose them due to their personal needs for relocation, plus he occasionally leverages the serendipity of hiring an already world-class expert who just doesn’t happen to live in any of the existing development centers. To this end, he has advanced his agile model, which he calls “Swarm Agile”, to use these people productively, even though they are remote and highly distributed. He characterizes it below.

Swarming Agile – Highly Distributed Team with a Working Agile Cadence

n Strongly based on Agile tenants (emphasizing people and working software)

n Applies remote talent with overlap of sync time

n Individual work situations will vary:

o Those largely working from home

o Those choosing to always work on-site

o Those required to work on-site for short period of time

o Those always required to work on-site

n Basics of the Model – Combination of working at home with

o team-wide daily Scrums via telecom plus local standups

o face-to-face (f2f) meetings at least one per iteration

o Large, continuous on-site presence during hardening tails.

The travel model is highlighted in the graphic below.



You might think that with the nasty time zone problem, the daily meeting would be impractical, and we all know how critical that is in keeping the teams “in synch”. But remarkably, with a little flexibility on the part of some, he accomplishes this as the graphic below illustrates.


In addition, the need for constant communication is augmented by tools for that purpose as well:


All in all, an interesting agile model that again emphasizes “People over Process” and adjusts the process to leverage the talent the organization needs in order to excel in its marketplace.


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