20 years on: Why co-location is no longer a requirement for Agile

How many times have you heard someone tell you that co-location and face-to-face interaction are some of the most important features of Agile? I’m guessing the answer is: A Lot.

Agile has 12 central tenets, which can be read in less than 60 seconds, this is the Agile Manifesto, the only tenet one that refers to location is here:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Agile Manifesto

I imagine that just about everyone agrees with this one. How many times have you had back and forth emails with someone which were going nowhere until one of you either picked up the phone, or just walked across the office to get any progress?

But you have to remember that the manifesto was written 20 years ago and was being worked on in it’s embryonic form for 10 years before that. So we’re talking from 1991 to 2001. Do you remember where we were technologically speaking in 2001? In the UK we were on the cusp of moving from 56k modems to something called ADSL, WindowsXP was a flagship OS, everyone was still using Nokia 3310’s and Skype still had another 2 years before it would be invented.

So looking back technologically, it’s no surprise that the only answer to face-to-face communication was co-location, because there was no alternative.

If we zoom forward 2 decades to the present day, and in part thanks to Covid which has driven a technological surge in the past 24 months, you can see we have a plethora of face-to-face solutions including Teams, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Meet and many more. There are also a huge amount of collaborative tools, remote teams can use tools such as Miro for online whiteboarding and design, there are online polling tools, calendar tools … everything is online and collaborative in 2021 and there’s no excuse for not using these tools.

I think I might expand all of this out into another blog post on the pros and cons of remote working in the future, as I feel I could happily write an essay on this subject.

On my team the switch to remote working was revelatory, the levels and ease of communication using Teams meant that we were communicating more often, and doing so more effectively. Without the constant background distractions of an office environment we could focus on the tasks in front of us making the most efficient use of our time. We also built new and stronger relationships with our testing team and our business analyst team as they fell into the practice of using Teams.

The downsides of co-location are also considerable, but people generally don’t focus on this because they’ve always been accepted as the cost of doing business. Hours of commuting time lost, expensive office space and maintenance, staff expenses. The general lack of efficiency of co-location is quite staggering in terms of lost time and lost money and is this really the environment they need, or is it just accepted because it has always been this way?

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

Agile Manifesto

So next time someone tells you that Agile teams must be co-located, don’t just accept it as gospel. Just because something was the right answer 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean it still holds true today.

One thought on “20 years on: Why co-location is no longer a requirement for Agile

  1. A refreshing read and breath of fresh air.
    Truly revolutionary concept that people from geographically distributed locations can work cohesively and without being in Silos remotely with the power of modern technology and software products.

    Like

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