Distributed software development: challenges and perspectives in 2023

As it becomes harder and harder to source local talent, more companies are adopting the distributed software development model to complete their projects. We’ve compiled this short article to help you decide whether or not distributed software development is the right model for your team and project. 

What is the Distributed Software Development model?

Distributed software development services refer to the process whereby multiple teams or individuals physically located in different locations collaborate to complete a software development project. 

Managing distributed development teams can be a complex exercise and requires the use of tools like project management systems, version control software, and other communication platforms that enable remote co-working. Many businesses have turned to distributed development teams in order to access a larger pool of talent and resources than is available to them locally or to enjoy the increased flexibility that comes with remote working. 

How are distributed development teams structured?

Companies may choose to structure their distributed development teams in a variety of ways. Virtual teams, for example, are made up of individuals who work remotely for the majority of their time. They may seldom or never meet face-to-face and rely heavily on digital communication and collaboration tools to coordinate their work.

Hybrid teams consist of both remote and on-site team members. They have some face-to-face interactions but still enjoy the benefits of remote working. Shared services teams consist of a central team that provides services and support to several geographically dispersed teams. This model allows for specialized skills to be centralized and shared across different projects, business units, and teams. 

Matrix teams are structured so that team members report to multiple managers. This gives businesses the ability to assemble project teams quickly, with the necessary skills assigned appropriately.  

Hub-and-spoke teams use a central hub or team to coordinate the work of multiple smaller teams (the spokes). This is suitable for organizations that prefer using a centralized point of management and coordination while leveraging the benefits of distributed development. 

Regional teams are composed of members that work in the same geographical area. This enables better coordination and communication and few differences in time zones and culture.  

Whichever model you choose will depend on the project and your goals and needs. It’s best to find a structure that enables the most effective collaboration and coordination between team members themselves and the business units they serve. 

What are the challenges of distributed software development?

Managing and even assembling distributed teams comes with a unique set of challenges:  

  1. Communication and coordination: When working with a dispersed team located all around the world, it can be difficult to maintain clear and consistent communication, especially with time zones and cultural differences. This can lead to miscommunication, confusion, and even delays in the development process.
  2. Time zone differences: When teams are globally dispersed, scheduling meetings and coordinating work can be tricky, especially when there is minimal overlap in time zones. 
  3. Cultural differences: Cultural differences can lead to miscommunication and even conflict as different cultures have different approaches to things like PTO, scheduling, hierarchies, and communication. 
  4. Lack of face-to-face interaction: Building trust and establishing relationships is important in every team, but this can be difficult when teams work remotely. 
  5. Technical challenges: Distributed teams may have to work with different tools, technologies, and infrastructure, which can add complexity to the development process.
  6. Dependency management: Dependency management (where one team cannot proceed with their work until another team completes a specific task or component of the same project) is more complex within distributed developer teams. This requires careful project management and coordination.
  7. Security risks: Distributed development introduces new security risks as teams need to provide one another with remote access to sensitive data. This needs to be managed closely. 

What are the advantages of distributed software development? 

With so many challenges, you may wonder why businesses pursue this model at all. In truth, there are far more advantages to this model than there are disadvantages, including: 

  • Access to wider talent pools: Distributed development means that businesses can tap into a global talent pool, along with the skills and expertise that come with it. This makes it easier for start-ups to compete and hire staff. 
  • Increased flexibility: Team members can work from anywhere under this model. This is useful for attracting staff and enables flexibility, working with the need for a commute, and may even lead to more productive teams. 
  • Reduced overhead costs: Distributed development can reduce costs associated with office space, equipment, and other overhead expenses.
  • Diversification of the team: Distributed teams generally have more diverse backgrounds, cultures, skills, and experience that can enrich the team and the company as a whole and present a new competitive advantage. 
  • Better risk management: We’ve already covered that distributed teams come with inherent risks. However, in many cases, using a distributed model will reduce risks. When businesses use this model, the risk of the project is spread out around the globe by allowing different teams to work on different components of the same project. If a natural disaster, conflict, or hack disrupts one team, others can pick up where they left off. 
  • Increased scalability: The model allows organizations to scale up or down quickly and easily. This can be useful for businesses that experience seasonal peaks and troughs or other fluctuations. 

In short, the distributed software development model will give your business the edge over the competition and enrich the company as a whole. It’s clear to see why so many companies are turning to distributed teams. 

Dan Smiljanić

Dan is a practitioner of project management and our resident geek. With a background in computer science, Dan is the lead product tester at Binfire. When Dan not writing code, you will probably find him cycling and hiking with friends.

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