The importance of co-location cannot be overstressed. Projects failing to yield expected benefits can be ascribed to this fact.
Teamwork depends on constant communication. Through all channels: 1/ hearing the tone of voice, words used, 2/ seeing the body language, clothes used, skin color, 3/ scent: we pick up the messages from pheromones, 4/ tactile information, etc.
We humans have a bandwidth of approximately 10 Mbit/s when meeting face to face. All of this, except less than 20 bit/s, is unconscious communication.
Co-location of the team yield the following benefits.
When co-locating the team, the product, or a model, mock up, etc, of the product to be developed should be placed in the center of the group. This has many advantages.
- The team stays focused. No stealing of team members attention from other groups.
- Short communication routs.
- Easy to have impromptu meetings.
- If for instance the project leader talks over the phone with the client, then the team, by over hearing the conversation is informed.
- Facilitates the very important over hearing effect yielding efficient spreading of information. This also makes possible spontaneous problem solving which can happen when one team member hears about a problem and happen to have solutions to that problem.
Co-location of team members mean that they all sit in the same room. There should be no obstacles between them visually blocking communication.
- Works as a reminder of what we are there for. Helps focus attention to the product.
- Is a good visualization aid for talks and discussions between team members themselves and between team members and visitors to the team.
- Shows the status of the project if the most resent version is displayed.
In the close vicinity of the open room there should be small rooms available that can be used by the team, because from time to time there is need for secluded meetings. The project leader might want to talk to a team member, or meet with a sponsor. There is also need for team members to meet for problem solving without being interrupted. And there is need for private conversations and telephone calls.
It is convenient to have large white-boards on the walls and video projectors for projecting for instance CAD models on the white-board. Then the team can draw alternative concept solutions on the white-board on top of the projected image. There are numerous such smart aids to project work. Ones fantasy is really the limit.
Co-location also means that the project leader must never "hide" in his room isolated from the team. The place of the project leader is in the center of the team.
Using the walls
By writing on the wall:
1/ The high-level time plan should be plotted out in as large a format as possible and then hung on the wall next to where the team is located. Then it is always visible and serves as a constant reminder.
- Changes to the time plan can be written directly on the plot, making them very visible to the team.
2/ All important information such as:
- descriptions of the user of the product,
- pictures of its use,
- pictures showing the styling and environment where the product will be used is hung on the wall.
3/ Drawings such as assemblies, sections, and mating surfaces are all plotted and hung on the wall together with conflict areas, unsolved problems, sketches, alternative concepts, etc.
Whenever a team member leans back or raises her eyes they fall on the wall and the brain is filled with visual information that feeds the creative process of the subconscious mind.
This method is extremely powerful, but it seems to be almost impossible to convince people to use it. Not until they have actually tried, can one convince them. But they say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so go ahead and try "writing on the wall"!