Distributed Agile Development or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Remoties

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 26, 2014 from 3:45 – 4:30pm in B302/303


This is the story of how the mobile web engineering team at the Wikimedia Foundation became an extremely high-functioning and successful agile team: by embracing - rather than shying away from - a distributed model. This talk will explore the agile team's journey and how we cope with the inherent tension of remoteness and the agile principle, 'The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation'.


We are all remote* – whether we realize it or not. Yet when building and managing teams, managers tend to build entirely collocated teams. Particularly in the agile world, many point to the agile principle ‘the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation’ to enforce collocation. This approach, however, rejects the reality that we can’t ALWAYS be collocated (travel, illness, working from home, etc), and further it causes teams to miss out on the tremendous benefits of embracing remoteness (increased freedom/autonomy, larger hiring pool, etc).

While many point to the difficulty of communication on a remote team as the primary barrier to embracing distribution, the mobile web engineering team at the Wikimedia Foundation decided to embrace this challenge as an opportunity – both to make the aforementioned benefits available to us, but also to fine tune our practices. Coupled with our agile approach to software development, this ultimately enabled us to become an incredibly high-performing team.

Drawing upon my experiences as a remote worker and scrummaster for distributed agile development teams at the Wikimedia Foundation, this session explores how we’ve pushed the envelope of the agile principle and shares the best practices we’ve discovered that empower successful semi or fully distributed agile teams. Spoiler alert: these best practices are also the key ingredients for success of ANY development team – co-located or distributed.

This session is aimed at folks working on an agile development teams, but the subject matter is appropriate for anyone involved in a software development team.

  • Hat tip to Jon O’Duinn, who I believe coined this phrase.


agile, remote, distribution, team building, Best Practices

Speaking experience

I have presented extensively internally at the Wikimedia Foundation. My most notable external speaking engagements include OSCON in 2011 ('How to Raise Millions of Dollars with Open Source Software'), GNUNify ('Drupal + CiviCRM + Wikimedia Foundation = Awesome' in 2011, 'Hacking Mediawiki: Developing an Extension and Engaging the Community' in 2012), Women Who Tech ('Changing the World with Open Source', 2012). Some of the slide decks for those presentations are available at: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Presentations


  • Arthur Richards

    Wikimedia Foundation


    I am an agile coach, scrum master, and software engineer with the Wikimedia Foundation (the nonprofit organization operating Wikipedia and similar projects), currently working with the Mobile Web software engineering team. I am primarily interested in building and coaching exceptional software development teams, particularly in the world of open source software.