Tag Archives: co-location

Team Members Co-located

Co-location is a fundamental practice for Agile teams, including Scrum. I touched on this in a previous post, but want to spend more time on the topic now.

By co-location I mean that all Scrum Team Members, including the Scrum Master and Product Owner, work together in the same physical location.  Not just the same city, not just the same building, not just the same floor, but literally grouped together with constant access to each other.

No offices either. If each person is in his/her own office, we are not co-locating. And get rid of those cubicle walls. They inhibit conversation.  A friend calls offices and cubicles located next to each other co-isolation. Think about it.

Scrum assumes we are literally working together as a team.  Not a group of individuals who happen to be working on the same thing, but really a team working together to achieve a purpose.

Why is co-location important?

1. When everyone is together communication happens face-to-face. There are fewer misunderstandings when we talk with each other compared to telephone or written communication.

2. If you need to talk with me about something, we can do it immediately. Our work is not blocked because someone is not available. (Some smart person will say, well what if that someone is on vacation or out sick. Paired development resolves that issue.)

3. Team building happens. You don’t need special team building exercises or events. The fact that we are together working on something leads to us to form a team. (And if it doesn’t happen, that becomes obvious as well and we can take steps to resolve inter-personal issues.)

So co-location = less misunderstanding + fewer work blockages + becoming more efficient as a team

There will be times when someone (or some 2) team members really want to work uninterrupted by anyone else. You might find a headset handy. Or maybe you will create a “cone of silence” to surround you and your computer. Or ….  The team can get creative and find ways to communicate when there is a need for someone to be left alone for a while.

Then when you come out of your cone of silence, your team is right there ready to share whatever you created.


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Scrum Works Best When …

Scrum and all Agile methods work best when:

  1. Team members are co-located
  2. Team members are together through the entire work day
  3. Information is radiated visually
  4. Every member of the team is 100% on that team with no responsibilities outside the team
  5. All work is done in pairs of team members
  6. The team has a large suite of automated unit tests
  7. The team practices continuous integration of work
  8. The team is skilled in refactoring and has a large, maintained regression test suite

The first 2 items (team members are co-located and team members are together through the entire work day) address the importance of face-to-face communication. This is because all human language is imprecise. We make up for the imprecision through body-language, tone of voice, and emphasis on some words over others.

We lose all of those advantages when we use written communication, and therefore we lose meaning.

With telephone, we lose body language and have the added problem of possible noise on the line or words that are dropped in transmission, and therefore we lose meaning.

Video conferencing would appear to solve all these problems, but it is only as good as the clarity of the connection and how much the camera is able to see. Even with video conferencing, we lose the meaning of what others are saying.

Item 3 (information is radiated visually) is important because putting team information in an online tool inhibits the transparent sharing of information. If I have to open some software and browse to find the information I want, there is a barrier to me getting the information. If the information is posted on a wall in my team work area, then that information is instantly available to anyone in the area. Including me and my team mates.

Item 4 (Every member of the team is 100% on that team with no responsibilities outside the team) addresses the importance of reducing interruption. Study after study has proven conclusively that human beings do not multitask well. I don’t care what people choose to believe, the proof is overwhelming and it is true for every generation. Young people don’t multitask any better than mature adults.

Study after study has show that switching between tasks takes time, and the more complex the tasks are, the longer it takes to unload one from your brain and load the second one in. When a knowledge worker (writers, analysts, designers, coders, architects of all kinds) is working on two projects, approximately 20% of that person’s available work time is lost in switching between tasks. This is bad enough, but the problem only grows worse as more projects are added.

Item 5 (all work is done in pairs of team members) gives at least two benefits. First, by pairing the work, you always have more than one person who knows what that work is and who can explain it to others. Second, if someone has to be out of work for a few hours, then their partner can quickly catch them up-to-speed on what has happened on the project during that time. This greatly reduces the time to switch between work and the outside world. Pairing is also an effective way to quickly get a new team member up-to-speed.

Finally, items 6-8 (the team has a large suite of automated unit tests, the team practices continuous integration of work, the team is skilled in refactoring and has a large, maintained regression test suite) address the uncertainty of software. We will almost never get it completely right the first time, and so we need mechanisms to help us make continuous small improvement (kaizen), trying and testing until the software is what it needs to be. We are not looking for perfection, but quality and value. We get the quality and value quickly by writing small amounts of code, then testing it and getting it right before writing the next small amount of code.

This stuff works when you do it. If you want to pick and choose just the things you like, you will never get the full benefit of Scrum and Agile practices.


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