Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sitting the Teams Together: Value of Co-location

If you are rolling out Agile to an organization, I recommend you consider sitting the team members together.  If you have multiple teams, I  recommend that you have these teams sit together until the achieve a base level of agile maturity that is self-sustaining.  Agile principles emphasize face-to-face communication wherever possible. The benefits of this are demonstrated best at the team level. When teams sit apart from one another, the overhead of communication and the problems that arise from a lack of easy communication are seen daily.  


My objectives in having the team members sit together in one area are to:

  • Improve Efficiency - Reduces coordination, speeds up communication
  • Create the opportunity for continuous collaboration - Provide central location for task board, information radiators and white boards
  • Foster closer working relationships – Encourages face-to-face communication, strengthens team spirit
  • Allow teams to learn from other team’s practices

If at all possible, have the product owners sit with the team.  Depending on the level of support you are getting with your agile transformation, this could be easy or tough.  In order of preference, here are the arrangements I try to make:
  1. Have Product Owner sit with the team full time
  2. If giving up an office is a blocker to having  the product owner sit with the team, reserve a seat for the product owner with the team. Product Owner should set up a schedule where they sit with the team (and the team knows when to expect him or her to be there)
  3. Move the product owner closer to the team   
  4. Move the team closer to the product owner  NOTE: For 3 and 4 above,  establish office hours with product owner so there is a set time when the team knows the product owner is available


By members of the team sitting together with access to their product owner, we hope to achieve what Alistair Cockburn describes as "Osmotic Communication" where  "questions and answers flow naturally and with surprisingly little disturbance among the team."  Sitting together as a cross-functional team, rather than being surrounded by those in the same role, will be an adjustment for some.  


A balance needs to be achieved in co-location, where team members can informally and quickly resolve questions and get into sync with each other, but also where team members have concentrated focus time to execute their work effectively.  If possible, providing a private team room, in addition to co-located team space. This team room is often used to hold the daily stand up, display information that is valuable to team members to do their job well (also know as Information Radiators), be a place to do more focused activities, and a space for private conversations.

In the spirit of self-governing teams, I look for each team to design the collaborative space and team room to maximize productivity.  There are lots of ideas and examples on how to do this, so I encourage teams to be creative.  I encourage teams to do a bit of research on visual management and team rooms to determine what will work best for them.


To maximize benefits of co-location and reduce any drawbacks, teams should consider updating their working agreement with good habits for sitting together.  The goal setting up setting up a working agreement is to be: "focused on amplifying desired patterns of behavior" and "aimed at helping the team achieve their task and team-work goals."   Perhaps, some teams will implement core hours to protect the team from distractions, desk flags to indicate when someone shouldn't be disturbed, or find ways to increase knowlege creation, collaboration, and shared understanding through the concept of "Ba".  



If you work in a distributed team, there are other ways to keep the team connected and minimize lags in communication and collaboration, but that is a topic for a future post.

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