The Culture of Agile–Colocation

In the fourth chapter of the Agile Practice Guide which focuses on implementing an agile environment, after discussion on p. 40-42 of the various roles on an agile team, there is a discussion of the various values promoted by an agile culture.   In this context, you can take “culture” to mean the various qualities of the interactions between members of that group.   So what qualities does agile recommend in order to have a successful team?

These qualities are:

  • self-organizing (working out problems as a group rather than expecting a leader to assign people work)
  • dedicated team members (striving to have team members working exclusively on a single project rather than than dividing their time among a lot of projects)
  • colocating (having a common workspace where meetings can take place to monitor progress on the project and to discuss solutions to any impediments that may come up)

In the last post, I discussed the quality of dedicated focus as it applies to an agile team, meaning that is best when team members’ time is 100% dedicated to the project.  In this post, I will discuss how there should be a space that is 100% dedicated to the project.  This means that there is some common meeting place where all members meet to exchange information and work on solutions to problems.   To do this, the members have to work in the same general location, and this value is called co-location.

The ideal situation is to have a social area where members of the team can meet to have stand-ups, retrospectives, or any other type of meeting required.   It should have private areas where small groups of the team can split off and work out any problems that may arise in executing the tasks of the project.

However, this ideal is not always achievable.   Geographically distributed members need to manage their communications with the “home team” so that the team can learn to trust each other and work together as effectively as if they were physically present.  How can this be achieved?

Well, the Agile Alliance recommends two things:

  • Set-up video conferencing links between the various locations where the team is dispersed.   Start the link at the beginning of the day, and keep it open during the day so that the various members can communicate spontaneously with each other.
  • Set up remote pairing by using virtual conferencing tools to share screens, including voice and video links.   This may prove as effective as face-to-face pairing.

There are two common attributes to these links.   They a) include a video component because you can tell a lot more than communication through an e-mail or even through a telephone call; and b) always open so that they can be used spontaneously whenever problems arise.

These three elements I mentioned at the top of the post–self-organizing, dedication, and colocation–are essential for the creation of an agile culture.   However, if the organization itself is more of a traditional mindset, there will be resistance that comes from the organization.   As an executive put it once from the Executive Council of the PMI Chicagoland chapter, “the corporate antibodies will attack any foreign body that tries to spread any contrary message.”   The antibodies in this case take the form of organizational silos.   These impede the formation of cross-functional agile teams.   How to overcome this corporate resistance will be the subject of the next post.



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