Collocation, Trust, and Distributed Teams

Roman Pichler
6 min readNov 12, 2019
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Working with distributed or dispersed teams is a common experience for many product people in an increasingly globalised world. While we have powerful collaboration tools at our disposal that make it possible to work across sites, countries, and continents, being separated is not always beneficial: It can damage the chances of reaching product success, as I explain in this article.

A Tale of Two Products

I once worked with a telco company that was developing a brand-new commercial product. Product management and development were located at separate sites in different countries. But this didn’t seem to matter much as everybody was in great spirits and had high hopes for the new product. What’s more, the product people would occasionally visit the development site, and development group members would travel to product management from time to time.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan. The technical complexities were greater than anticipated and the development progress was slower than forecasted. As trust was low between product management and development, a blaming game quickly started. Instead of working through the issues together and supporting each other, the product people assigned fault to development, and the development teams blamed the product people. Unsurprisingly, the product failed to become the success everybody had hoped for. Would things have been different if product management and development had been at least initially collocated? While it would not have guaranteed product success, it would have led to stronger and more trustful connections that would have made it more likely to resolve the challenges encountered.

Compare this example with a different one: I was working for a large technology company, tasked with helping develop a new digital product. Despite its focus on reducing travel expenses, most people involved the development effort were collocated at one site in the US. I was one of the few individuals who stayed at their home site. But regularly traveled to the main site and stayed there for several weeks at a time. This allowed me to build strong connections with the other team members and work more effectively with them from my base in the UK. While the development effort was not all plain sailing, the product became a great…

Roman Pichler

Product management expert. Author of “Strategize,” “How to Lead in Product Management” and “Agile Product Management with Scrum.”