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A Win for Team Co-Location

2008 March 13
by Nayan Hajratwala

When I was brought in to my current client, I was essentially a one-man team working on an integration project with an external vendor. As such, I was sitting in an office with a co-worker and didn’t have (or frankly need) very much interaction with other members of the staff.

One of the pieces of implementation required a new SSL certificate in the QA environment, and after a bit of trouble, the infrastructure folks put it in place.

A couple weeks later, as my project was winding down, I joined a team working on the “next generation” of an existing legacy application, and thus needed to interact more frequently with my team members.

For this reason, and with agreement from the team, I covertly (i.e. without telling the helpdesk) moved down to a desk in the same room as the rest of the team. Within the first couple hours of me sitting there (here?), I overheard a conversation between a Business Analyst sitting next to me and one of her colleagues perplexed as to why their monitoring data feed had ceased working correctly in the QA environment. Listening further, it occurred to me that their problems seemed to have started right around the time of the certificate change. A quick check of my email history confirmed the date match up, and I quickly passed along the information which resolved the problem.

Had I not been sitting with the team, who knows how long this problem would have gone unresolved. I didn’t know their needs, they didn’t know what I had done, the infrastructure folks didn’t know who was using their systems, etc.

Note that it is not simply enough to have “all the developers together” … Effective co-location requires a cross-disciplinary group of staff to be sitting together, within earshot, and visible to each other.

Blockage is bound to happen, but co-location is an excellent tool to help prevent it. I’d love to hear more stories of blockages lurking within non-co-located teams.