Aug. 28, 2014

Co-location, no matter what?

Many people see co-location as a necessary condition to working in an Agile way, is this still the case today or has the world changed?

It's common sense in the Agile community that co-location of teams is beneficial and many people see co-location as a necessary condition to working in an Agile way. Ten years ago this was definitely the case. But is this still the case today, or has the world changed? Are there scenarios where maybe other aspects are more important?

Why do/did we see co-location as essential?

A team works closely together to achieve their collective goals. Close collaboration is a key for fast and efficient problem solving. It creates a dynamic where the performance of a team as a whole is more than just the sum of its team members. This applies also to the interaction between the Product Owner and the team. The whole idea of working with User Stories - which are short reminders of a conversation instead of full-blown detailed requirements, is the possibility to ask questions in order to clarify the non-written parts of the work. A decade ago this was thought of as only possible with co-located teams.

Since then, there have been a numbers of improvements, most notably,  the more reliable communication tools such as Skype or Google Hangout, which enable fast and easy communication exchanges with or without video. These are very helpful for the communication within the team and also to get feedback from the Product Owner. I have actually seen some teams that still make use of group chats even while being co-located, because they have found its  usefulness in certain situations.

In addition, Google-docs, Etherpad and other tools  allow distributed, collaborative writing of documents and code. Working closer together using screen-sharing has become more and more feasible.

Last but not least, tools like Agilo for Scrum provide close interaction with a task board. Immediate movements and changes on the board are visible on all open browsers without reloading, which is a big help during distributed Stand-Ups.

Agilo Scrumboard

Is this enough to work fully distributed?

Well at least it has become much easier to bridge the distance. I have worked with teams that were distributed over three time zones. While distance and timezones are still a challenge, I have even experienced environments where the distributed  teams outperformed the co-located teams. They were, in fact, more aware of their need to communicate. When considering a distributed team, in my experience, the time spent together, especially at the beginning, is one of the most important investments.

Co-location is still beneficial, but many companies have to make trade-off decisions.

For example, many corporations have different skills distributed over the globe. A trade- off between co-location and cross-functionality needs to be taken into consideration. In my opinion, it is much more beneficial to form cross-functional teams in such a case, than to stick to co-location. A lot of the challenges distributed teams face can be mitigated.

We should not forget that the world is continuously changing and we need to adapt to those changes.

Illustration by the author.

Image of ralfkruse81

Ralf Kruse

I'm an Agile coach. Sometimes I'm excited and sometimes I feel more like Marvin ;-) Follow me @ralfhh
blog comments powered by Disqus
Image of ralfkruse81

Ralf Kruse

I'm an Agile coach. Sometimes I'm excited and sometimes I feel more like Marvin ;-) Follow me @ralfhh

Latest Posts

Mike Freislich on the inevitability of change

Video of Mike Freislich interview with Klaus Leopold on the Lean Business Agility podcast

Image of abragad

Alessio Bragadini

Web community manager of agile42, trying to post relevant, informational, fun bits of content on the blog and social networks

Agile Portfolio Management in it-daily.net

A new article in German magazine it-daily.net

Image of marion

Marion Eickmann

I am one of the founders of agile42. Even though I am not an engineer I consider myself almost a "Techi" as I have been working in the field of software development for 10 years now.

Why Agile Transformations Fail – Do You Fall Into The Same Pitfalls?

Insights from TAC2017: Why do agile transformations fail? Identify whether your team or organization falls into the same pitfalls.

Image of hwong

Hazel Wong

Marketing Assistant at agile42. Passionate about gaining insights from data in order to create content that resonates with the audience. Eager to help teams and companies open their mindset about the application of agile methods to address their challenges.

Sponsoring Let's Test South Africa

Let's Test South Africa 2017 sponsored by agile42

Image of joperold

Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.

Niels Verdonk, new Certified Scrum Trainer in the Netherlands

Niels Verdonk has qualified as a Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Trainer

Image of andreat

Andrea Tomasini

I am an Agile Coach and Trainer and I am helping customers all around the world to become more Agile. I am more and more keen on adopting adaptive emergent approaches to improve people's quality of life. Through an holistic and pragmatic approach - I consider Lean and Agile very powerful frameworks - it is possible to improve results, performance and also personal satisfaction.