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What is your perspective on collocation?

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As part of the Scrum.org webinar “Ask a Professional Scrum Trainer – Martin Hinshelwood – Answering Your Most Pressing Scrum Questions” I was asked a number of questions. Since not only was I on the spot and live, I thought that I should answer each question that was asked again here, as well as those questions I did not get to.

In case you missed it, here is the recording of yesterday’s Ask a Professional Scrum Trainer webinar with Martin Hinshelwood! Watch here: http://ow.ly/ijiM50vwEkD

>>I am interested to hear your perspective about collocation. There’s a spectrum of opinions, it seems, from “Distributed teams and remote-only teams are the way of the future” to “The most effecient and effective method of communicating to and within the development team is face to face”.
My personal experiences and I suggest the vast majority of data indicate collocation is optimal. I’d go so far as to say that collocation is ’empirically’ best — in particular if/when a team is suffering communication challenges. Yet The Scrum Guide(tm) doesn’t take a definitive position on this issue.
What’s your position as a PST? What’s your advice to teams?

Lets first define what collocation is:

Collocation is a complimentary agile practice where all members of the same Scrum Team work on a daily basis in the same room, within visual sight of each other.

You may argue with my definition, but thats what I am going with and we should note that its a complimentary practice and not a core practice. That is, its not required to be agile or to do Scrum. However I believe that it is a very rare situation that would result in a distributed Scrum Team to become a high performing Scrum Team. I’m defiantly not saying that it cant happen, I have heard tell of highly efficient and value orientated Teams that were distributed. I just cant help but thing that is they were that awesome distributed, how much more amazing would their output have been if they had been collocated.

While collocation is not required, it is highly recommended especially for new teams. The practice of sitting together, solving problems together, and supporting each other is something that humans need in their lives. Its important for our physiological and psychological wellbeing. We need to interact.

You should head over to Scott Hanselman blog and read about the plight of the remote worker from someone whom has been able to leverage technology significantly. As you read I think you will see, as I did, that this is a lot of effort trying to mimic that personal interaction and physical presence. So while remote working is certainly a possibility, it requires the judicious use of right technology to make it work.

Ultimately for small organisations with few developer’s you may have no choice but to be remote, its not ideal, but we can make it work. I believe that ideally we should be collocated at least within the same Scrum Team. We can have a number of Scrum Teams that are not in the same location as long as the members of each Scrum Team are collocated.

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Microsoft has been studying the value of colocation and team rooms for quite some time and its interesting that they have been investing billions of dollars to remodel all of their engineering spaces into fully functional Team Rooms. Every team room is out of earshot of all the others, it has space for up to 12 team members, and has both a video conferencing room that can hold everyone, and two breakout rooms. These rooms are only for the team and are not bookable by anyone else.

This type of space provides not only a level of Focus, but a level of self, of ownership, that is just not posible in a shared space. These teams fell like they are valued by the organisation, and feel empowered to take control of their own culture.

Its clear from the data that collocation is best, but its just not always available based on company culture and how things are organised. If you are unable to be collocated then the role of the Scrum Master is to work to minimise the negative impact of the team while working on the organisational impediments that resulted in the problem in the first place. Hopefully we will all be working in team rooms in the future.

While there are no right answers there are some answers that are better than others. For your given situation select the most right answer, and iteration to the best version of it.

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