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Co-location Transition, Tips and Concerns

by Mark Levison on Nov 16, 2008 |

Recently there has been a discussion making about transitioning teams to co-located environments and what it takes to make it a success.

Dave Rooney, of Mayford Technologies, says:

  • Noise is the first problem people notice - he recommends handing Nerf balls or foam bricks to bean people making too much noise. If people put on headphones to avoid the noise, some of the advantage of co-location is lost.
  • Some people will need to take short breaks outside of the team area.
  • Core hours, like: 9:00 - 3:00 (with a break for lunch), help ensure that the team is working together for most of the day, but still have a opportunity to do other things.

Robin Grosset said that when the transition happens, developers mustn't lose floor/desk space when compared to their traditional cubicles, otherwise they will feel it's just a management ploy to squeeze more people into less space.

Sam Edwards noted:

Initially there was very strong resistance from quite a few engineers - they felt they were giving up their privacy and "comfort zone". So we let them organize their desks with the open space, and found they ended up at the periphery, all facing away from each other (corner positions preferred to side positions). ...as pair programming began to creep through the teams, we found the engineers spending more and more time sitting beside each other, which made the actual location of their desks fairly irrelevant. My one strong piece of advice: give the engineers LOTS of time to make this adjustment - it's a big one for many of them, and impossible for some.

Adrian describes a transition he organized for a team of ~45 people:

  1. Make sure everyone is heard. They used Edward De Bono's "Six Thinking Hats" exercise to get the team to consider the change from all different aspects.
  2. Offer the change as six month experiment. People are more open to experimentation than being forced into a permanent change.
  3. Involve team members in designing the new space, there may be limits but the more involved they're in the planning the more ownership they will feel of the change.
  4. Make it fun: get a ping pong table, a couch or something other non traditional office furniture.
  5. Give them some personal space to express themselves and have pictures.
  6. Give them sufficient storage, Adrain's team were all given rolling storage cabinets.

Scott Ambler, Agile Practice Leader at IBM, while acknowledging co-location as likely to improve a team's chances of success, raised some concerns:

  • People who are used to working from home will struggle in this environment.
  • Some people work better in isolation.
  • Noise generated by the team can be a disturbance for the teams around them.
  • Information Radiators (corkboards, whiteboards, ...) are visible to people outside the team. This could be a security problem.

Finally Jay Conne shared the story of a "tech introvert" who told a VP in an elevator that he liked the interaction of team.

 

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Several of Scott's concerns seem specious by Mark Levison

When I team co-locates I don't expect people who work from home to change their habits. Their role on the team might evolve over time if only because of the isolation.

In addition he is mentions the security concern with information radiators. Frankly I'm baffled if they're a security concern you would never be allowed to have them in the first place (sad) team room or not.

Re: Several of Scott's concerns seem specious by Dave Rooney

When I team co-locates I don't expect people who work from home to change their habits. Their role on the team might evolve over time if only because of the isolation.

I love working from home, mainly because the traffic during the commute consists only of a dog, cat, my wife and kids. They tend to be more predictable than most drivers. ;)

In addition he is mentions the security concern with information radiators. Frankly I'm baffled if they're a security concern you would never be allowed to have them in the first place (sad) team room or not.

I don't buy this, at least on it's face. To quote Brian Marick, "an example would be good about now". I worry that for the < 1% of the time that this actually applies, the other > 99% of projects would use it as an excuse not to be open and honest about their progress.

Dave Rooney
Mayford Technologies

Co-location is so valuable - it outweighs the risks by Matthias Bohlen

My customer currently has a co-located Scrum team that has become hyper-productive in only five sprints they did together. They have a team room with lots of noise because some people have a naturally strong voice. I found out that after some time the rest got used to them, sometimes they call "be a little quiet", sometimes just they just have fun.

My own experience is: The more clear the requirement is that you implement, the less important becomes the noise. Noise is mostly a problem when you try to solve a difficult problem alone, in the privacy of your own mind. Having done this for years, I now simply try to avoid this lonely thinking entirely and have a peer for discussion or pair programming, instead. This has proven to be far less error-prone and much more fun!

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