Preston Smith's Corner

Haven’t virtual development teams superseded co-located ones?

March 2000 Quick Tip

We are moving toward virtual product development teams, due to globalization, the fragmentation caused by corporate acquisitions, and greater reliance on supplier chains.

However, many managers cave in too easily to this “progress.” They fail to appreciate that dispersed teams — especially virtual ones — always lose some of the effectiveness that co-located ones enjoy. In their book, Virtual Teams, Lipnack and Stamps, who have been promoting virtual teams for twenty years, state, “On the whole, a virtual team must be smarter than a conventional collocated team — just to survive.” (page 189) Likewise, Duarte and Snyder’s Mastering Virtual Teams emphasizes, “The complexity of communicating over time, distance, and organizations causes unique problems that are not easy to solve.” (page 77)

Basically, a co-located team brings higher performance at a certain cost of implementation. When time to market is vital, the speed of a co-located team can easily outweigh its cost. If you cannot completely co-locate, then partial co-location can bring much of the benefit at a fraction of the cost. For example, both sets of authors quoted above advocate bringing the team together face-to-face at the beginning of the project to build trust, establish their working processes, and resolve the fuzzy definitional issues that occur at a project’s outset.

You can also analyze your teams’ communication patterns to see just which individuals would benefit most from co-location.

Duarte and Snyder’s book provides much guidance in choosing virtual technologies appropriate to the task at hand. This book also guides you in building and managing virtual teams.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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