The Agile Manifesto says: “The most efficient and effective way of conveying information to and within the team is face-to-face communication.” Not only is this true, but, particularly within the team, it is extremely hard to become high-performance if the team members are not sitting together. I’ve seen this over and over and over. Recently, one of my colleagues was working with a team which was really struggling. As soon as everyone got into the same room, things immediately improved. It’s not a quick fix for every problem, but the mere proximity removes so many problems that are related to communication.
Colocation of the team is used to improve communication efficiency and to allow the team to learn to be more collaborative. Perfect colocation would have all stakeholders and work performers in the same work space (e.g. a large room) during all working hours. This level of colocation is not usually possible, so adjustments are made.
Colocation reduces wastes associated with waiting, movement, and inefficient communication. Colocation increases learning and feedback and assists with team empowerment.
Colocation can present challenges to people used to working on their own. For these people, a careful consideration of how to accommodate their working style is important, but more important is helping them to understand the need for and benefits from colocation. As this understanding grows and as the team starts to produce noticeable results, most people start to enjoy the close working environment.
When perfect colocation is not possible, consider part-time colocation, video conferencing, having a decision-making proxy represent the stakeholders, getting rid of closed offices, moving into open or shared work spaces or co-locating part of the team.
I typically hear a great deal of positive feedback from teams that were previously not colocated after they come together in a common space. For example: “I don’t have to spend hours dealing with email anymore – it takes a few seconds to lean over and ask a question and get a response.” “Meetings that used to take half an hour to organize on people’s calendars now happen spontaneously.” “I can work much more efficiently because the people who I need to collaborate with are right there. No more emails, phone calls, scheduling, and pestering.”
[This article was originally published on Agile Advice on 14-Jun-2005]
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