Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reality check for Agile projects- collocation vs virtual collocation

We all have an ideal view of the world surrounding us. That is OK as long as we are aware of the real world and know how to rationally deal with it. . We as agile practitioners also have our own view of an ideal agile world. I will talk about some of the "aspects" of this ideal agile world in a series of blogs. This is first in the series. Today the topic is "Collocation vs virtual collocation."

We all agree that face-to-face communication is the best. So much so that it has an explicit place in the Agile principles. However, we see growing number of projects have distributed teams for many reasons- outsourcing and offshoring, telecommute, multiple offices, lack of local talents etc. I think it is time for us to embrace the reality (as Agile was born from the realization of embracing the reality vs fighting it like the waterfall camp did) and update the Agile principle to say
"The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation in person or virtually."
Outsourcing and offshoring has become mainstream. It is here to stay for foreseeable future. It is elegantly explained by Thomas Friedman in his famous "World is flat" book. If you haven't read this book yet and want to understand the dynamics of today's connected world, I would highly recommend it.

Having a team distributed across continents is not any more a "tactical step," it is a "strategic need." Think where would Jason Fried and 37signals be without DHH, if it were not for "virtual collocation." There are many such success stories. If you are not open to working with the right talents irrespective of their location, you are at a great disadvantage compared with your competitors. Let me be a little blunt here- forget about competing.

In an increasingly crowded world, it is a growing trend for people telecommuting. Why would we require people to come together at a designated physical location everyday when a significant time and energy is wasted on the road? Why not we enjoy living in home town and being able to spend more time with family, yet have the opportunity to work on projects that could benefit from my skills and experiences?

Next generation (generation Y) are growing up in a virtual world (Facebook+SMS+Twitter+blog+iPhone). Virtual collocation is in their gene. They are forging lifetime friendship in this virtual world, coming together to support a cause, interacting on a daily basis as if they are in the same room. When they enter the workforce, they would not know anything different. In fact, they would prefer to work in companies where it is part of the culture.

So, agile practices should evolve to embrace virtual collocation rather than ignoring it, even worse resisting it. In fact, Agile is not at odds with virtual collocation. It is rather a necessity for distributed projects. There are many examples of successful adoption of Agile on distributed projects- large and small.

Yes, it is not easy to get it right. We may have to work a little harder to get it right. I would argue that getting communication right in a collocated environment isn't a cake walk either. Right communication is more than just being collocated.

I make a prediction here- in a decade or so most projects will have distributed teams. Collocation will not be a topic of conversation any more. 895gsubzpr


  1. I think some form of colocation will be around for quite some time

    that being said the entire team certainly won't be colocated...

    More and more I see groups being distributed from each other but there is still big economic advantages to getting people into cohesive teams

    infrastructure of working organizations need to progress slot before colocation stops being an issue regardless of outsourcing

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