Distributed Software Development Teams: Tips & Tricks for Success!

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If you grew up having to use landlines, floppy disks, and fax machines (okay we are dating ourselves here!!), you probably never imagined it would be possible to build awesome software with a dispersed team. And yet, here we are. 

Welcome to the beauty of advancement and innovation. Today, assembling a team of remote software engineers is not only on-trend, it’s a more productive way to get your software built. But beauty takes work—to effectively manage your distributed teams, you need to leverage a set of best practices.

Today, over 15% of the global workforce works remotely on a full-time basis, and 45% of the US workforce is working remotely either full-time or part-time. From startups to the big boys, everyone seems to have a remote policy that applies to their specialists who are dispersed across various locales—and it helps them collaborate and deliver in a much more efficient way.

“Remote working” in the context of software development can be quite loose. The definition can include dedicated offshore development teams, a project tossed over to a developer on a short-term basis (outsourcing), an in-house team that all works remotely but in the same country, and a nearshore team just a time zone away. (More a deeper dive on these options, check out this article.) And while all these models are included under the moniker of “remote work,” they are not the same. The modes of hiring, operations, and team management differ.  

Hence the reason to talk more specifically about Distributed Software Development Teams. What does that even mean?  And are these teams beneficial? How do you manage them?  These are all great questions.  Let’s dive in!

Need to build a kickass distributed software development team? Think of turnkey as your general contractor.

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What is distributed software development?

Distributed development is a software development approach whereby teams that are dispersed across different geographical locations collaborate to develop software or an application. All of the development processes, including design, building, testing, and implementation, are handled by the various teams according to shared responsibilities.

The distributed teams collaborate and manage their operations by connecting and communicating through various tech tools, including messaging apps, video conferencing apps, project management systems, and more.

Distributed development is different from standard remote teams. Remote teams generally function within hierarchical systems, and decision-making resides with leadership. Distributed teams have a little more flexibility and less hierarchy. The teams report to you but have the discretion to make some decisions autonomously as long as they communicate effectively.

Getting our definitions right: Outsourcing vs. distributed software development

Outsourcing and distributed development both involve remote working, which is why it is easy to confuse both concepts. They are, however, not the same thing. To get an in-depth understanding of outsourcing, you can check out our detailed guide on the subject.

But for those of you who want a quick cheat sheet, here is a summary of the difference between these two models.

Distributed software developmentTraditional outsourcing
Distributed teams are fully dedicated to the company or client.Outsourced teams usually do not work full time on one company or customer.
Distributed teams are meant as a long term solution for product development.Outsourced teams are mostly a short term or temporary fix or solution.
Distributed teams are fully integrated into the company or client culture.Outsourced teams are not integrated into the client culture.
Distributed teams have influence and impact on the product roadmap and key product decisions.Outsourced teams are usually given strict direction on what to work on and manage to a defined set of deliverables.
distributed software development teams

Benefits of distributed software development

In today’s global market, success depends on having the flexibility to adapt to fast-changing customer needs. Big corporations and startups alike rely on a geographically distributed talent pool to swiftly deliver novel and improved products to the market.

As a result, many software companies seek to build a diversified team of remote contributors with diverse experiences and perspectives. This adds many benefits to the dev team, including the globalization of technological advancements and the efficient delivery of agile solutions. Here are some important reasons why you should implement the distributed software development model.

  • Increased efficiency: Because developers don’t have to waste considerable time commuting to an office, they have more time to be productive. Indeed, in a recent survey, 77% of respondents agreed they are more efficient when working from home. Moreover, the ease of communication tools means that collaboration when working remotely can be as seamless as when everyone is in the same room. And finally, because you can have developers working in different time zones, more code can be created continuously versus the entire team working in a single 9 to 5 type setting.
  • Cost-efficiency: One of the biggest perks of implementing distributed development is that it’s budget-friendly. When you hire teams in countries like Eastern Europe or Latin America, you save money on salaries because the cost of living and taxes are generally lower.
  • Reduced churn rate: To state the obvious, the tech industry is highly competitive. Companies are always poaching great talent from their rivals, and developers know they have a wealth of opportunities. Because of this, many software companies have a higher-than-average churn rate. With a distributed team, your risk of churn is less—especially when you build with TurnKey. Your team is happy, paid fairly, motivated, and celebrated (so they aren’t looking for greener pastures).
  • Greater operational throughput: : When you have a team of developers across different time zones, it’s easier to get more done and implement continuous development. All you need to do is strategically structure working hours across the various time zones to have more operational hours for the company. With a distributed team, you can offer continuous service delivery and efficiently attend to all development needs at any time of the day.
  • Access to a wider talent pool: A distributed team gives you access to the global talent pool—you won't only be restricted to the experts within your narrow geographical area. You also have the opportunity to hire people with skills that may be in short supply within your location.
  • Diversified expertise: As the old saying goes, diversity is the spice of life! It breeds innovation and creativity, which leads to better outcomes. According to a report, organizations that embrace diversity are 35% more likely to outperform their peers. A distributed team is typically a diversified team, which means you are hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and perspectives. And you can have some of the best talent from the global market. So why stay local when you can go international at a more affordable cost?

How to set up an Agile distributed software development team!

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One of the arguments against distributed teams is that it doesn’t support some of the fundamental tenets of agile development. For example, the belief that physical communication is preferable.

However, technological advancements and the efficiency of video communication tools render this argument moot. 

So let’s put an end to this argument once and for all. Here is how to have the best of all worlds:

#1. Develop a good hiring strategy

This is the first important step, and if you get this wrong, you’re in trouble. Hiring a distributed agile team goes beyond surfing the internet or international job boards to search for developers.

All your competitors are on the internet doing the same thing. You could spend time and resources and still end up hiring a complete misfit.

If hiring is not your forte—especially hiring a diversified team that demands a high level of technique and care—then leave that to the experts at turnkey. 

#2. Implement the principles of Agile collaboration

It is one thing to want an agile team. It is another thing to have an agile team. The difference between the “want” and the “have” is action and intentionality. It would help if you understood the agile process, like transparency, effective communication, and continuous development practices. And then consciously implement these processes in your work culture and operational systems.

#3. Adopt virtual onboarding

Implement an onboarding process, like a virtual boot camp, training, conference, etc., that reiterates the agile culture and provides an operational framework to which the new employees should adhere. This creates a clear operational pathway and a subjective understanding of agile development. Remember when we talked about intentionality? It applies here, too.

#4. Build a multifunctional team

Rather than hiring specific experts to handle individual aspects of the project, you can have a team with diverse skill sets work together simultaneously. This makes collaborations smoother and product delivery more efficient.

#5. Appoint project management roles

While you may be a big baller and shot caller, it is still important to have project managers among the distributed teams. Their roles ensure continuous quality delivery and team efficiency. Ensure that you appoint an agile development expert who can implement appropriate practices.

#6. Be transparent and embrace autonomy

One of the core characteristics of distributed teams is the ability of team members to make some decisions with less supervision and control. However, they can only take an active part if there is transparency and proper planning. Everyone should be involved in the planning and sharing of ideas. Distributed software development teams thrive on active team participation.

#7. Initiate virtual stand-ups and one-on-one meetings

As already emphasized, communication is critical in any collaboration, especially when team members are dispersed across various locations. Group stand-ups should be a daily activity where members share their progress and report any challenges. Implement frequent one-on-one sessions as well.

#8. Push for face-to-face meetings wherever possible

While having a physical meeting with the distributed software development model is often impractical, a virtual face-to-face meeting is easy and simple. While some meetings can be done on audio calls and through instant messaging apps, it is important to mandate video meetings wherever possible. These video sessions can help enhance team bonding and develop better collaborations.

#9. Have measurable goals and clear milestones

Outline specific and measurable goals for the long and short term. Share your plans and milestones with the distributed teams with a clear description of everybody’s role and responsibility. Employ measurable metrics to determine the team’s performance and output.

#10. Encourage efficient communication

The importance of communication cannot be overstated because it is such a major factor in driving the success of any project or collaboration. To this end, you should have a communication policy where team members can communicate freely and directly and can also get direct information from you or any management staff. If you don’t have an efficient and accessible channel for communication, communication devolves into just a bunch of words with no impact.

#11. Focus on human resource management

An effective human resource department helps to reduce the managerial workload on your desk by interfacing directly with the distributed development teams to handle issues relating to payments, training, work culture, and more. 

#12. Set up risk control systems

Working with distributed software development teams means you will mostly communicate and share resources using emails, Slack, and other online tools. You must be careful and have cyber security measures in place to protect your operations and communication.

Cybercriminals are always searching for loopholes and entry points to steal data and hack into corporate systems. You can prevent this by ensuring multiple-level authentication, using VPN when necessary, and regularly updating all software and cybersecurity protocols.

#13. Prepare a realistic budget beforehand

A mistake many people make is jumping into hiring a distributed team based on assumptions and without having a true account of the possible financial implications.

We already mentioned that this model is cost-effective, but you can still end up spending more than you planned on hidden costs. You should collaborate with an offshoring company (like TurnKey!) to get professional advice and insight into the possible financial involvement.

#14. Ensure effective monitoring and tracking

Do you want to accelerate build time and save costs? If yes, you must use tracking and monitoring tools to ensure a thorough and error-free process. You could install bug tracking systems and combine them with other reporting tools.

Every team member should have access to these tools to enable a swift response to any errors or problems detected.

#15. Manage the time zones properly

Working with distributed teams in various time zones can restrict synchronous communication and collaboration if not properly managed. Daily activities can quickly become disorganized and complicated. So you must devise a time-management plan that works for all time zones in your distributed software development team. To this end, define working hours for every member according to their time zones.

You should also identify a meeting point for collaborations and general meetings across the different time zones. The meeting point could be an hour when everyone’s work hours overlap. It could be the opening hour for one team but the closing hour for the other.  

#16. Make extensive use of collaboration tools

It would be extremely difficult to implement a distributed software development model without using tech-collaboration tools. Communication channels and interfacing tools aid communication and enhance workflow. Examples of tools you will likely need to include Slack, Zoom, Jira, Email, Trello, and more.

Challenges of distributed software development management

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Notwithstanding the numerous benefits of the distributed software development model, there are still challenges and drawbacks to be mindful of. This is not to discourage you; rather, it’s to make you aware of the possible problems that may arise with this development model so you can be fully prepared in advance.

#1. Communication

We’ve beaten this communication point to death in this article but it still can’t be said enough. Communication can work for you or against you; poor communication is often the primary cause of project failure. And the distributed development model, just like every other form of remote work, needs effective communication even more. But excessive communication, like micromanaging, may be detrimental as well. What’s the lesson?  Find the right balance.

#2. Accessibility and management

One major challenge distributed software development teams may face is efficient management and team accessibility. The dispersed teams must have real-time access to one another’s activity and progress. There must also be continuous communication and collaboration to synchronize individual deliverables. If you do not have a proper plan to manage the teams and provide accessibility, the project will suffer significant setbacks.

#3. Slow integration

Distributed software development teams can have difficulty integrating with your work pattern and the company’s culture. This is hardly a problem with in-house development teams because you can constantly communicate values and even have them pasted within the office space. With remote teams, you may have to put in extra effort to ensure they understand the plan and working culture.

#4. Geographical differences

A distributed software development team is by definition dispersed across various locations (countries in most cases), and every country has specific employment laws and regulations. So you need to understand the location’s laws, policies, and accruable taxes that concern your business. Without having adequate knowledge of where you’re seeking to employ, you can unknowingly run into trouble with the law.

#5. Increased responsibility

The distributed development approach is a more decentralized working model with less hierarchy. This necessitates a high level of responsibility from the teams. You will have to delegate some important decisions to team members and allow them to act independently. This could pose a challenge, especially if you don’t have trusted and committed employees.

If you want to rest easy with your distributed dev team, then go the turnkey way. We assemble the best-distributed software development teams anywhere.

How to set up distributed communication and documentation

Software development is a collaborative process that requires the ongoing exchange of information and materials. And when you’re implementing the distributed development approach, it is essential to coordinate the information flow across all teams.

Deploying a multimodal strategy with accessible communication and written documentation is the best way to manage information and coordinate teams across different time zones.

While many people rely solely on synchronous communication, it can be inefficient in the long run. Experts advise a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication can be recorded and documented and then used as a valuable resource and guide for future development and onboarding of new hires.

Why you need TurnKey to help create an ideal distributed software development team

At TurnKey, assembling great distributed development teams is what we do best. We understand the demands and characteristics of the distributed development approach and we custom-build teams that tick all your boxes.

How we build you a great distributed team in 5 easy steps:

  1. We get on a call with you to discuss your product scope and what skills are needed.
  2. We custom recruit experienced individuals that fit your description and budget.
  3. We organize a thorough assessment of each candidate, and only pick the best of the bunch.
  4. You make the final decision and choose your team from among the curated list.
  5. Training and onboarding are done to ensure that you have a responsible and dedicated team that blends in with your work culture.

Summary Thoughts

Hiring a distributed software development team is a process that requires a thorough approach. This is because you are not just employing experienced talent, you’re bringing on responsible individuals who can make decisions and collaborate with team members even across different time zones. Getting this wrong can strike a fatal blow to your project.

You don't have to make mistakes with your hires. At turnkey, we get it right. It’s what we’ve always done and what we can do for you.


What is a distributed software development team?

Distributed development is a software development approach whereby teams are dispersed across different geographical locations to develop software, an application, or to deliver a project. All of the development processes, including design, building, testing, and implementation, are handled by the various teams according to shared responsibilities.

What is distributed planning in software engineering?

Distributed planning in software engineering is a systematic approach to the planning and creation of the operational framework for managing distributed teams. With this approach, individual teams may be assigned distinct responsibilities to develop ideas that contribute to the overall product planning and strategy.

What is an Agile distributed development team?

An Agile distributed team is a distributed software development team that operates on and adopts the principles and practices of agile development. This includes communication, self-organization, continuous delivery, and efficient collaboration.

How do you create a software development team?

Building a great software development team starts with identifying your development needs and then following an effective recruitment approach. If you want to be awesome, you collaborate with TurnKey to create your team.

How do you build a high-performing software development team?

To create an effective development team, you must first hire the right talent, then clearly communicate the development goals, establish measurable objectives, and define operational rules and milestones.

Why do software companies have distributed development teams?

Software companies today require fast, high-quality output to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers, so they rely on a geographically distributed talent pool to swiftly deliver novel and improved products to the market. Also, distributed software development teams are more cost-effective yet offer high quality output.

How do you manage a distributed software development team?

To manage a distributed development team, you must ensure effective and regular communication. This helps team members remain engaged in the project development. You should also create a plan to manage time zones properly so that teams in various locations can collaborate efficiently without time-based hindrances.  Lastly, implement risk control measures and adopt collaboration tools.

August 29, 2022

TurnKey Staffing provides information for general guidance only and does not offer legal, tax, or accounting advice. We encourage you to consult with professional advisors before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business or legal rights.

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