Co-location still matters

Co-location still matters!

It is 2019 christmas. Will you skip the traditional family visit in favor of remote communication technology?

“Dispersed teams is the reality that we have to deal with!” is a common reaction when people discover that the LeSS rules includes “each individual team must be co-located.” Do we need to accept that as reality?

Many claim that modern communication technology has made co-location irrelevant. This is not my experience. Although it is certainly possible for a dispersed team to become high-performing, a typical co-located team still performs significantly better.

A co-located team, where team members are sitting at the same table facing each other, has the potential to be fun and effective. But what makes co-location better? It is the face-to-face conversations that speed up building the high-trust environment required for taking a shared team responsibility. It is the dynamically emerging discussions. It is the unknowingly, accidentally overhearing of a conversation and then suddenly contributing an essential fact to it.

Co-location does matter! It’s impact can be huge.

There are many factors that impact team performance which are not included in the LeSS rules, so why include co-location? Because after exploring the reasons for having dispersed teams, we concluded the most common one is organizational stupidity. Nobody ever bothered to try to co-locate the teams. The most common scenario is where someone high up in an organization decided to have half of the development to be done in a low-cost location. Instead of then designing the organization to maximize co-location, that decision is propagated as a rule through each layer of the organization. The result is that every team becomes a dispersed team. Organizing the same people differently could have resulted in only co-located teams, for the same cost.

Another common reason for dispersing teams, beyond organizational stupidity, is that certain skills are only available in certain locations. This might be a valid reason when acquiring these skills relate to being at that physical location, such as being close to a customer. More often, it an excuse to avoid other teams having to learn that skill. If that location is truly important, it might be worth having a whole team there.

It is always possible to co-locate every team? Perhaps not. But by having co-location included in the LeSS rules, we hope organizations stop accepting dispersed teams as an unchangeable fact and instead put thought and effort towards co-locating teams. It will have an impact on the team and the development.

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