Co-location. It is a reoccurring theme throughout the Agile Manifesto’s1 values and principles, and has been regarded as one of the primary Agile practices. In saying this, are teams remembering to follow the Agile Manifesto’s implications for co-location? More specifically, are Business Analysts co-located with their Development teams and customers when delivering software?
Stories where organisations are implementing distributed Agile (both on-shore and off-shore) are becoming more common, and are proving to be popular conference topics on how to work in a distributed manner. But is this really the best way for a team to work? Should we be striving for co-location?
In software delivery projects where I have been fortunate enough to be co-located with my Development team, I have noticed communication occurs far more easily and more conversations occur. Developers are able to ask clarification questions; Testers double check with you if something they found is a defect. But what happens when you, as the Business Analyst, are not sitting with the team for face to face conversations?
This is something I have experienced in the past few weeks. I am currently working on two projects and spending time co-located with both teams. I have noticed a dramatic decrease in quick questions from each team when I am not sitting with them. This is despite the fact that my desk is literally around the corner from them.
Communication becomes even more difficult, the further away you are sitting from your Development team. Denton (one of the Consultants at Elabor8) has also experienced this recently. “I’m experiencing a lot of communication problems on my current project as the team is so fragmented. The teams are all working on multiple projects, which then does not allow for co-location,” stated Denton.
Communicating with each other becomes a much more conscience decision when people are not co-located with each other. You have to plan to talk to each other, which slows everyone down. Below I have provided a demonstration of what happens when Larry, the Business Analyst, is not co-located with his development team.
Being physically present avoids the scenario where communication has to be planned. This requires a proactive approach from Development teams, which can be hard because there is work that needs to be done. They could have tried to phone or email Larry, however, this does not always offer the best results.
Business Analysts may argument against being co-located or the need for it, because they believe their requirements are clear and comprehensive. As much as Business Analysts think their requirements meet this criteria, written words will always be open to interpretation.
Communication and understanding are most likely to occur when two people are talking face to face. It is further enhanced when visuals can be used to communicate a point, which could include using a whiteboard or a pen and paper (Reference 3 & 4). This is one of the reasons co-location is important, and valued within the Agile Manifesto.
Obviously it isn’t always possible, but where it is, Business Analysts should strive to be physically sitting with their team. If you’re both in the same city within the CBD, then what’s stopping you? Desk space, processes, or politics seem to be the biggest blocker. However, all of these should be able to be overcome.
Simply ask the question of your leader or manager. Get your Project Manager, Iteration Manager, Scrum Master on board with the idea and ask for their help with influencing others to make it happen. Or you could simply pick up your things and move yourself! (This may not down so well in some companies, but sometimes it’s better to seek forgiveness than permission.) The point is that Business Analysts should be proactive about sitting with their Development team.
Co-location, in my opinion, will provide the best outcome for a Development team when developing software. This includes the Business Analyst being co-located with the team. It allows for communication to occur naturally and does not require additional effort to walk over to someone’s desk, or travel halfway across the city/country.
Face-to-face communication allows Development teams to spend less time on planning to asking questions, and more time on delivering software. So if you’re not currently co-located with your Development team, and there is a possibility, ask yourself… ‘What’s stopping me?’