Collocation Is Vital!

What does collocation mean? The concept is very simple. It means bringing together the people who work on a software product in a physical environment. This seems to be natural. But in highly distributed work environments that we have today it is not anymore.

I’ve been working on agile projects for many years and I always hear that collocation is difficult. Especially in larger enterprises it seems that the hurdles are high. There are many reasons stated by different people.

Here are some examples:

  • There are no adequate rooms available (managers).
  • The buisiness guys don’t understand IT. We can’t work in the same office (developers).
  • The IT guys don’t understand our business. We can’t work close to them (business).
  • Our outsourcing partners are from country xyz. It is impossible to work with them in one office (managers).
  • The business people have their work to do. They simply don’t have the time to work closely with IT (business).
  • I have to concentrate. Working close to others would always disrupt my work (developers).
  • We don’t like travelling. (all of them)

All of those are valid arguments, but to me it seems that they are sometimes artificial. In this case reluctancy to change is stronger than the will to increase efficiency.

From my experience collocation is an underestimated factor that can greatly improve effectiveness of teams. The study Collocation Impact on Team Effectiveness goes in the same direction.

Another interesting read is Collocation, Collocation, Collocation. Quote from the blog:
“A big part of the problem is socio-political in nature and would appear to be deeply embedded in the human DNA. We naturally tend to come to trust those that we have regular contact with (our family / village / tribe / region / country / team) and have an equal and opposite tendency to distrust those on the outside of these habitual daily contact networks (all those that the lock on our front door or the defences around the tribal village are designed to keep out).”

If a company is interested in real agility and effectiveness, I think it should try really hard to create collocated work environments and not give up early. It might somtimes be difficult, but the reward will be better results and most likely even better motivated staff.